Speaking truth to those who only hear fake news

Opinion: Columns

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By Jill Wagner

I keep thinking about the former subscriber who called to cancel her subscription in Riverside, after fuming for a week about the article, "Pandemic forces campaigners to get creative: Local residents writing postcards, phone banking in swing state races."

See, she explained that this article only featured creative campaigns of Democrats. The Landmark even had a photo that had a Biden-Harris campaign sign in the background. She made her voice heard by cancelling the Riverside Brookfield Landmark.

I immediately spoke to the editor, Bob Uphues, about the published column. He said they had reached out to several local Republicans, but there was no creative campaigning locally that he could find. The story's "news" was about campaigning in a pandemic. If COVID-19 is a well-coordinated, political plot by Democrats, then yes, I could see why she saw the story could be a reflection of "fake news media."

I respectfully called her back, not to convince her to resubscribe, just to let her know that in doing the story, local Republicans were contacted but were not campaigning creatively; some were not campaigning at all, which was why it was not included in the creative campaign article. I hoped it would help her understand that it was not an attempt to usurp her candidate.

Instead, it validated her. At her Riverside home, she couldn't even put a Trump sign in her yard, because her "Biden-Harris, Black-Lives-Matter, socialist neighbors," would burn her house down.

While overwhelmingly, block by block, the majority of homes in the area do not have campaign signs, those that do paint the area blue. There was one condo balcony in Forest Park that proudly supported Trump and there is a house in River Forest with multiple Trump flags hanging high from their wide lawn's hundred-year-old oak trees, but by far the "Bye, Don," or "Biden-Harris" signs were (and still are) all over our area. As of today, those proud Republican homes are still standing, no sparks flying, no black-lives-matter-socialist-neighbors out demanding their neighbors be silent or their homes will burn.

In case you were wondering, a house was burned in Idaho, she said.

Empathy. I know I should empathize and try to understand her fear. I am stuck. The casual erosion of confidence in American systems, the breakdown of trust that has infected our whole American democracy. The trust that mail delivery occurs, to our door, six days a week; that leaf pickup will happen on Sunday night; that garbage will be taken away every Thursday; that clean drinking water will run in our home; and, yes, a small local media company will have a 700-word story about creative campaigning by local people and their 15-year-old child in a national presidential election. In addition, this media offers space for everyone to voice their opinions, and they are not limited to 280 characters.

The morning of Election Day, I went to Betsy Ross and saw Susan and Jim, people I know because they have been poll workers there as long as I can remember. Civil servants, dedicated to democracy. That morning I received a text from Officer O'Connor to let me know the Historical Society Little Free Library in honor of 100th anniversary of women's right to vote was damaged overnight. He even offered to fix the box after he got off work. Civil servant, dedicated to community well-being. I believe in my neighbors, I trust my community, I have faith in democracy.

I cannot change the former subscriber's point of view, and now she isn't even open to reading anything marked with the scarlet letter of the "Landmark." As I listen to the NPR podcast, "No Compromise," I wonder how we Americans can find common ground and what our local media can do to help bridge that gap. Our country is flawed, our communities are flawed, always have been, and as humans, we are also flawed, always have been, and will continue to be.

As Winston Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." Democracy is dirty and messy and requires so much listening and adjusting; I hope we can have conversations, and can do the work.

It starts right here, across our alleys, on our own blocks, in our own neighborhoods.

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