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Free the Press! call to protest Aug. 12, 2017.

Free the Press! call to protest Aug. 12, 2017.

A Free Press in a State of Hate

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God willing and if the creek don’t rise, a year from now I will have successfully defended my doctoral dissertation, which is in the field of King Studies. Over the past two years, I have experienced what many in activism and spiritual work undergo: a sense of being overwhelmed by how much we are surrounded by injustice and hatred. My myriad privilege as a “white” (I’m Finnish and Irish, two cultures that I won’t let be whitewashed), cisgender man has allowed me to keep the totality of reality ever at bay. But let us not turn away now; we are surrounded by hate.   

On August 12, right around the time that a car was plunging into a crowd of people in Charlottesville, a car with an Ohio license plate and an Ohio resident behind the wheel, I found myself taking the stage at the “Free the Press Protest” at Courthouse Square in downtown Dayton. The crowd was sparse–a beautiful Saturday afternoon found Yellow Springs busier than just about any other location in the Greater-Dayton area–but enthusiastic. We did not yet know of Heather Heyer’s brutal death, but our minds were on Nazis as much as they were the need for a free press.  

The event was organized by Emily Bennet, a 2017 graduate of Centerville High School, who could have spent her summer relaxing by the pool or gaming. But the audacity and mendacity of the current occupier of the Oval Office made her so angry, she wanted to do something about it. Never having organized a protest before, she utilized her mother as a resource and secured permits. She contacted Dayton-area artist Professor X, who wrote his first commissioned protest poem (it was powerful). I’m not quite certain how she found out about me, but such is the case when your calling card is, “have big mouth, will travel.” And while she is now off to a college she chose precisely because of its social justice work, before she left Emily put on her first protest, replete with a march. This gives me hope, friends. Apathy will not win out.  

So we found ourselves there, acutely aware that were news cameras or reporters to be present, we most likely would be lampooned in the comments sections of Facebook for the low numbers, accused of not having jobs or asked about Benghazi or Hillary’s emails. But we didn’t care. The torchlight parade in Charlottesville the night before was a macabre sight that elicited both January 30, 1933’s torchlight march after Hitler was named chancellor and a movie Jon Belushi might have made were he to lampoon preppy fascists. It was good to be together with those who were stunned; it helped to feel seen and to see others. At least, that’s what I tell myself. 

The horrors of what occurred in and around the UVA campus should not be diminished in any way. Nor should we forget the steady assault that the current administration has levied upon news outlets. To be sure, there are reasons to dislike and even distrust certain media sources. Corporate ownership has moved television news increasingly toward opinion and bombast. When one media magnate heads a corporation that controls television news, magazine and literary publishing, and newspapers throughout the world, we are closer to a new world order than ever could be achieved by the United Nations. A free press is the only hope for a free people. But let us be clear: The Washington PostThe New York TimesThe New York Post, and numerous online and television platforms have helped push the government to address the myriad issues that accompany this trainwreck of a presidency.

We should be deeply concerned that a media tool such as Twitter, which can reach tens of millions of people within seconds, is President Obama’s successor’s weapon of choice against tens of thousands of journalists who are trained, responsible, and serve a Constitutionally-mandated check upon the government. We should be concerned by hashtag FAKENEWS. The obsequiousness with which He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named’s deceitful tweets are met by his coterie of followers, fuels an anti-intellectualism that has been motoring along since the Second Great Awakening.  

I’ve noticed that many around us are feeling overwhelmed and fatigued. Through listening, I’ve learned that what many of us are experiencing in this intensity for the first time is what billions of people of color feel each and every day. Nazis marching down the street may shock and unsettle us, but Ohio is home to numerous white nationalist groups. Has been for years. Why else would the Confederate flag fly in a Union state? My 5-great grandfather, Peter M. McCain, was one of the founding members of the Republican Party in Ohio and he fought in the way. I think of him everytime I see that flag in this area. Other times I can just forget that while we in Ohio were on the frontlines of the Underground Railroad, we’ve got all manner of socially-acceptable racism that is just as damaging as flying the stars and bars. 

A free, independent press like we have at the News comes with responsibility. At least, I think. I haven’t been here very long, but it is how I try to write stories. Here is another level of privilege, that of being a published voice, so I often think to myself, what are the stories I can cover so that voices that aren’t often heard can speak? And what can I do to get out of the way so that I don’t provide an interpretation of the story, but rather get as close as I can to what is really going on?  

We need a free, independent press more than ever because the chief executive is telling us to ignore the media and just pay attention to what he says. When he says “believe me,” Iet us start reading. 

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