Free, Link Economies and Moving From Politics to Emotion

This was originally posted on the Local Fourth blog as part of my participation in a community media innovation project at the Medill School of Journalism.

One aspect of spending so much time working on this project in Evanston is eating at a lot of Evanston restaurants. Today, the project coders went to Bat 17, which has become one of my favorite places for lunch in Evanston. Just after lunch, we had some tough conversations about how a site built on the platform we’re developing might be sustainable and why, if we’re able to drive content to local publishers sites, we don’t charge them for that privilege. One example of how another local business (one big takeaway from the Block by Block conference was that online local news sites need to convey that they’re small local businesses too) leveraged free stuff to get more business was right there, digesting away in my stomach.

Bat 17 has free coffee, not just for people stopping to eat, but for anyone who wants to stop in. Their reasoning is that people may come for the free coffee and decide to stay for lunch, or appreciating the service, come by after work or class for a few drinks. I don’t have the numbers, but it seems like a smart move because the restaurant has been full the couple of times that I’ve been there. The restaurant also makes a big deal about sourcing ingredients from other local businesses like Bennison’s Bakery.  Rather than competing in the Evanston food space, the two businesses have  a relationship that is mutually beneficial. Sourcing from Bennison’s gives Bat 17 local credibility (according to the Bat 17 website, Bennison’s has been around since the 1930s) and also drives business to Bennison’s. If local news organizations want to compete with the emerging Paneras of local news, they need to find platforms for mutual benefit in the same way that Bennison’s and Bat 17 have used sandwiches. I want to think that we’re imagining such a platform.

Another good analogy for the link economy is this YouTube video. It illustrates that part of what builds a business’ reputation isn’t just what it sells – it’s also its knowledge of who can best provide the goods or services it can’t offer.

A few weeks ago, Terri Gross interviewed John Stewart, host of “The Daily Show” on her show “Fresh Air.” Though the title of the show was “Jon Stewart: The Most Trusted Name In Fake News,” Stewart had some insightful things to say about real news:

GROSS: Did doing the show make you more political than you ever expected to be – more politically aware, more politically engaged?

Mr. STEWART: I think it made me less political and more emotional. The closer you spend time with the political and the media process, the less political you become, and the more viscerally upset you become at corruption. So its – I dont consider it political because political – I always sort of denote as a partisan endeavor.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. STEWART: But we have – I have become increasingly unnerved by just the depth of corruption that exists at many different levels. I’m less upset about politicians than the media. I feel like politicians, there is a certain, inherent – you know, the way I always explain it is, when you go to the zoo and a monkey throws its feces, its a monkey.

Mr. STEWART: But, when the zookeeper is standing right there, and he doesn’t say bad monkey…

Mr. STEWART: Somebody’s got to be the zookeeper. And that’s – so I tend to feel much more strongly about the abdication of responsibility by the media than by political advocates.

I found Stewart’s juxtaposition of politics and emotion particularly intriguing and it made me think of some of the comments I had read while exploring the online news ecosystem in Evanston. Many comments expressed anger, frustration or fear about things that were happening in the city, but many also seemed designed to overwhelm opposing viewpoints. People were voicing their concerns or trying to raise their pressing questions, but these perspectives where often overshadowed by the conflict, sometimes with the commentors losing their own valuable insight amidst a rant. People respond emotionally to the things that happen in their life. I think part of the media’s job should be to validate that emotional experience, but it needs to take care to not exploit it.  In his book “What is Happening to News: The Information Explosion and the Crisis in Journalism,” Jack Fuller even suggests that emotionally honest reporting becomes more important in an age of media overload and responding to increasingly emotional media stimuli.

The point of our platform, which drives rich context for local news through questions, concerns, answers and responses all tied to discovery from local media, isn’t to de-emotionalize people’s responses to the news in their community. Instead, by forefronting brief questions and concerns that distill responses to their most direct form, I hope the platform can validate people’s perspectives while offering a path to discovery of new information.

Asian-American groups weigh in on state redistricting process

Asian-American groups are pleased with Illinois Senate approval of a constitutional amendment to change a redistricting process that has split the community’s political power. But they haven’t stopped their advocacy yet.

Group representatives had testified Monday in Springfield  before the State Senate Redistricting Committee, which  passed the proposed measure Monday, and the full Senate approved the amendment Wednesday.

CW Chan, chairman of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community who testified before the committee, said he endorsed the measure, championed by State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), because it included language protecting the interests of minority communities.

The amendment, if approved by state referendum, would “provide racial and language minorities who constitute less than a voting-age majority of a district with an opportunity to control or substantially influence the outcome of an election.”

Chan said the expanding Chinese-American community that now includes 59 contiguous precincts on the city’s Near South Side has been particularly hard hit by past redistricting.  While community organizing efforts increased the number of registered voters from 2,000 to 6,000 in the past 10 years, Chan said, the political power of these voters has been diluted by redistricting.

“We’re scattered all over the place,” Chan said, “We would like all of these voters to be included in the same district.”

Rebecca Shi, a community organizer with the Chinese American Service League, said the Chinese-American community in the Chinatown, Bridgeport and McKinley Park neighborhoods is split between four city wards, four state representative districts, three state senate districts and three U.S. congressional districts.  As a result, Shi said, elected officials can’t be held accountable.

“Any problem that we face, we have to go to multiple legislators,” Chan said. He cited an overcrowded public library, a shortage of recreational facilities and long waiting lists for subsidized housing as community concerns that had been neglected by elected officials.

Ami Gandhi, legal director of the Asian American Institute, also testified about  her concerns with the current redistricting process and its impact on Chicago’s Asian-American community.  The process, Gandhi said, “lends itself to politicians picking their voters rather than voters picking their representatives.”

While the institute is still evaluating the ramifications of the Senate measure, Gandhi said, “It is definitely a step in the right direction for minority voting rights.”

Gandhi said the institute is advocating for redistricting reforms that would include greater protection for minority communities that make up less than 50 percent of an area to elect the candidate of their choice.  The institute would also like to see more  hearings about proposed maps to allow more community input on the redistricting process, Gandhi said.  Removing a requirement that two state house districts be nested in a senate district would give map drawers greater flexibility to reflect the needs of communities, she said.

Gandhi said the institute was working with non-Asian-American communities to ensure that redistricting changes that would benefit Asian-Americans  would not harm other communities.  Still, she said, Asian-American communities may have different needs than other groups who share political districts, citing the need for multilingual and culturally relevant social services as an example.

Chan said a meeting with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was planned for Saturday to encourage House passage. Chan said his goal was to help the legislature know about his community’s situation: “Recognizing the problem is the first step to rectifying it.”

Read the text of the state redistricting amendment

Originally published April 15, 2010 as “Asian-American groups weigh in on state redistricting process” at Medill Reports.

Holla at your representatives that you don’t want to fund abstinence-only sex ed.

Act at

This is what I wrote:

I am very concerned about the safety, health, and happiness of youth in Indiana and across the nation.  So, I am writing to ask you to end funding for ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs including:

* Title V Abstinence Education program, Section 510 of the Social Security Act – (state formula grants), funded at $50 million

* Community-Based Abstinence Education under Title XI of the Social Security Act – (direct grants), funded at $116 million

* Adolescent Family Life Act (Title XX of the Public Health Service Act) abstinence-only grants, funded at $13 million

GRAND TOTAL: $179 million per year

It is my hope that by de-funding programs that don’t work, we can provide support that will help youth in Indiana, and across the U.S., safer, healthier, and equipped to make the best choices in their lives.

I know that my local school district has an abstinence-based curriculum and not an abstinence-only sex education curriculum.  However, the pressure of funding programs that do not fully discuss contraception, STI prevention, and acknowledge the reality that youth in Indiana (and around the US) are sexually active, regardless of whether this is the best choice or not, means that many youth in my community do not have the information they need to be safe and healthy and to encourage their peers to make safe, healthy life choices.

I have first-hand experience working as a volunteer doing presentations about healthy relationships, sexual assault, and domestic violence in Bloomington-area middle schools and high schools.  I have found that, because of the local school district’s and Indiana’s emphasis on abstinence and reluctance to talk about even the biological mechanics of sex, many youth lack the basic information they need to participate in a comprehensive discussion about preventing sexual assault and relationship violence.

This is just one local and personal example about how non-comprehensive, abstinence-only-until-marriage education sex education is failing to make Hoosier youth safe and healthy.  However, there is ample additional evidence at the dangerous shortcomings of such approaches.

Here are the facts:

• In spite of their receiving over 1.5 billion dollars in federal funds since 1996, not a single, sound study has shown these programs to have a beneficial impact on young people’s behavior.

• Recent studies show these programs can create harm by undermining contraceptive use when young people in abstinence-only-until-marriage education become sexually active.  In one study, abstinence-only-until-marriage program participants were one-third less likely to use contraception when they did have sex compared to students not receiving the restrictive abstinence-only education. Nationally, over 60% of young people will have had sex before graduating from high school.

•  Over 135 national organizations, including the country’s major medical organizations like the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, belong to the National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education and strongly believe in teaching young people both abstinence and contraception.

I know that issues around sex and youth can be controversial, but I believe that I stand with the majority of Americans who want comprehensive sex education for their young people.  A 2004 survey by National Public Radio/Kaiser Family Foundation /Harvard University Kennedy School of Government found that 86% of voters want young people to receive a comprehensive approach to sex education that includes teaching about both abstinence and contraception.

By voting to end the 179 million dollars per year funding for the following failed programs, you will be sending a clear message that you support science and common sense.

Both fiscally and in terms of public health, we cannot afford to continue funding this unproven, dangerous approach. Young people’s health and lives are at risk.  We urge you to side with public health, with the medical community, with parents, young people and teachers and oppose any new funding for the abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.

Asian Americans Reluctant to Stand Up for Immigration Issues

From Asian Americans Reluctant to Stand Up for Immigration Issues:

NEW YORK – The Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston recently released a study showing that many Asian Americans pay close attention to immigration issues but few of them are willing to stand up and do advocacy work. According to The World Journal, a survey of 412 Asian Americans by Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute and associate professor of political science at the university, and his colleagues found that about 80 percent of them were “very concerned” or “concerned” about immigration. The study shows that 58 percent of Asians are sympathetic to undocumented immigrants and 52 percent of them are supportive of the idea of legalizing undocumented immigrants. About 33 percent of the Asian Americans surveyed said they would become involved in collecting signatures on petitions for immigration issues, but only nine percent said they were willing to do anything further, such as participating in public protests.

Even the most informed of us, I think, gets a certin picture in their head when they hear the phrase “immigrant” and “illegal immigrant”.  I remember being surprised when I learned that the first law to limit a specific group’s immigration to the U.S. was directed to Chinese Americans.  I wonder if there’s any data about Asian American political engagement in general and whether the behavior in this study is any different from the general case.

I can only think of my dad yelling at the radio, but being pretty resigned to the way things were in the world, even if he acknowledged that they were unjust.  I was excited that my mom told me that my dad had volunteered during the Obama campaign, making calls to potential voters.  Things are always more complicated when it comes down to it.

Voting and CommUNITY

From Georgia early voting: Prada wearers, discount devotees together:

There, overlooking an Office Depot and, in the distance, a Wendy?s and a McDonald?s, an anymore rare public coming together of the classes has been congregating on recent weekdays to exercise an all-American right: the right to stand in line.

Voters decked out in everything from Prada to Family Dollar have been queuing up for weeks now. The other day, a priest stood shoulder-to-shoulder with some lunchroom ladies, in front of a man in full camo, a uniformed school-crossing guard, a local TV weather guy, a woman in a Dave Matthews Band T-shirt and a fellow in a half-zipped-up blue hoodie with nothing underneath but his bare, hairy chest.

This was also my experience early voting yesterday in Bloomington.  I thought it was great.  I also loved the number of parents and young people voting together, though I hope that each had the mobility to make up their own minds, with input from each other.

Republican environmental policy

Republican flyer on tree

I’m as sick of snarky partisanship as much as the next guy, but couldn’t help but share this flyer for Indiana Republican candidate Mike Sodrel that I found stapled to a tree on the IU campus.  I think the tree will survive, but it just seemed crass to me somehow.  Still it wasn’t quite as crass as the flyers discussion of “The more you make, the more they take” tax policy.

U.S. “legal” immigration explained in flowchart

It’s dangerous to oversimplify what are ultimately complicated policy issues, like immigration, not to mention the huge variety of experience that immigrants face, but most of the public debate on this, and many other issues, seems founded on information, that, even at a basic level is pretty misinformed.  This diagram about different pathways to legal residency and citizenship is an example of helping people understand the basics of policy in a really clear way.

I’ve  always loved things like this.  Recently, I saw a great breakdown of the different positions of McCain in Obama that really concisely summarized the candidates rhethoric, their voting record, and analysis from non-profit issue advocacy groups.  This was in Glamour magazine, but it’s the kind of coverage that I think has been sorely missing in other media I’ve seen.  I’d rather see lots more of this issue-based breakdown, rather than being overwhelmed with manipulative identity politics or Monday Night Football-style coverage of campaign strategy.

As a kid, I read Zillions Magazine, who, like many other print publications, has since gone out of print.  It had a lot of similar diagrams that broke down the dynamics of finance and marketing for youth, trying to help make them critical consumers.

Seeing this flowchart got me pretty stoked and made me start thinking about a How do people get and stay incarcerated in Monroe County flowchart.

race and the election

I heard this awesome piece, Does Race Matter In ’08? The View From York, Pa., on NPR yesterday afternoon and I want to write more about it, but don’ have time right now.  Still, I wanted to through it out there because I think the people profiled say some very awesome and very scary things, but they’re all very real in a way that I rarely see the media create space for discussions about race.  I think that people said the things that they did because the reporters framed race in precisely the right way, asking about race not just as who you are, but as what you’ve experienced:

Most voters say they won’t decide between Barack Obama and John McCain on the basis of race. But, in a question that is more subtle than the standard questions in a poll, can a decision be based on the racial experience of the voter?


Reported from the Defiance, Ohio site:

Two nights ago, at our show in Bloomington, I talked about why I’m voting in this election and why I’m frustrated that many of my punk and activist friends feel like not voting somehow changes all the things that are wrong in our world and all the things that are problematic about electoral politics. As usual, I didn’t feel like I articulated myself as well as I wanted to, but instead of trying to explain at greater length why I’m voting for Barack Obama in November especially in the presidential race, despite realizing all the problems with many of Obama’s policies and rhetoric and the shortcomings of electoral politics in general, I’d like to quote from Adrienne Marie Brown (who works with projects like the Ruckus Society, League of Pissed Off Voters, and Allied Media Projects) from her post i want barack obama to be the next president of the united states, but.. because she says it really well:

… i feel like two people watching sees this strategic, dynamic, mixed race man, skillfully touching all the bases on his way home to the white house. that self drinks the kool-aid as much as a cynic can, i am impressed by his grasp and execution of community organizing and mobilization, how he has crafted himself as king and kennedy and more. he seems to have been made for this moment, even for skeptics and community organizers. i lean in when he speaks, trying to disguise my own smiles at some of the lovely lines that slip in between the ones that hurt me, or disappoint me.

the other side sees the parts i disagree with, the special interests, the effects of a broken and at this point actively stupid and elitist, capitalist, empire-protecting system. i see how he has to say things that are morally reprehensible if he wants to consider being elected to this position, and god knows which of his values will have to be compromised once he’s in office, that place most distant from the people of the nation. i believe that we would need 50,000 baracks or people more radical than him running at the local level to experience any changes based on leadership like his. and yet…

what the rest of world will understand with this shift!

i am not on a fence between republican or democrat, i am not tempted by green at the federal level. i want a multi-party system with permanent records of voting (paper ballots), same day registration, a vote for anyone paying taxes, and proportional representation, but i don’t think the path to get there is by placing us in john mccain’s fragile, feeble, maverick hands by splitting the progressive vote. i specifically want barack obama to be the next president of the united states, in spite of all my doubts and cynicisms and fears. i like how he splits the difference on the hardest issues, i like his (or his speechwriter’s) ability to find a common sense middle ground, and i like that he is passionate and visionary at a time when the easiest space to occupy is debilitating and isolating anger.

and because it scares me to feel even slightly authentic in my excitement about a candidate, understanding what i do about the history of candidate failures, disappointments, flip-flopping or sheer incompetence, the broken system, the inherent flaws of humanity that makes us desire hierarchy so…i will not hit the streets stumping for obama, i will not start a little fundraising page for him that spirits more money away from the projects i work on 365 days a year election or not. i will continue to pour my energy into election protection, and raise money to support grassroots organizations who make sure candidates who are willing to listen have organized bodies to hear from.

but behind a closed door, rereading the transcript of his speech on race, delving into his organizing analysis from his early years in chicago, seeing parts of my story in his own, and wanting to debate him about those issues on which i deeply disagree with him, i confess: i want barack obama to be the next president of the united states.

I urge everyone to read the post in its entirety. What I love about it is that it shows that political engagement is not about a singular decision or moment, it is not about investing oneself fully in the promises or rhethoric of a candidate (or a grassroots movement for that matter). To me, politics have always been about the constant process of questioning and requestioning both the external and internal messages. It has always been about reconciling hope, fear, anger, cynicism, and accountability to my history, my family, my loved ones, my community, and the social work that I do.

MED on Obama, Rev. Jeremiah Write

I’ve been interested in Michael Eric Dyson since seeing him speak at IU over the winter.  An NPR news blog wrote this about a recent interview where MED linked Obama and his pastor with the different phases of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life:

Obama is the pre-1965 King. The one the holiday is named for, said Dyson. The King who spoke of brotherhood and non-violence. The one who doesn’t scare white people, who they could incorporate into their world view.

Wright is the post-’65 King. The one Americans know little about. The King who spoke out against the war in Vietnam. The King who said that most whites in America were racists. The King who spoke out against social and economic injustice in America. People remember that King was murdered in Memphis, Dyson says. But they often forget why he was there – not to promote equality, but to help lead a strike of garbage workers in the city.

Dyson said that people forget that when King gave his “seminal” anti-Vietnam speech on April 4, 1967 at New York’s Riverside Church, he was condemned by many white – and even black – pundits and church leaders for “going too far.”