Steve Clift is one of the most successful community media advocates in the nation. His e-Democracy is both a standard and a clarion call for more participatory journalism. In part this is a response to the failure of traditional media to cover what we need-to-know, and their inept response to the medium of the internet. In part it’s “backfence news” that transforms gossip by challenging others to correct it. In any case, it’s the earmark of why you have access to this post in the first place.
Steve recently explored the story of a murder in his community in Minnesota (<a href="http://forums.e-democracy.org/groups/mpls-poho/messages/topic/4gGQ4DQ9u4ylS0j9WS0RPd". His news gets to a remarkable 10% to 15% of the homeowners and nobody knows how many tenants, and one of those “users” was killed not very long ago. He then mused about how much we didn’t know – and the neighbors didn’t know – which might have saved a life.
Last year one of my students – a good kid – got me to drive him to visit the family of a friend of his brother, since, the day before, that friend had been stabbed to death at the Mystic housing project. How many of you know there was a murder in Somerville last Fall? How many know the circumstances? How many know if or how it might have been prevented? How many knew the family? How many shared that grief? (Two of my student’s best friends went with us, and when I asked why we were waiting outside for him, they logically – and with gentle patience and care – explained that he’d just found out in school, and they were there to help him if he needed it.)
Part of my frustration with Tufts’ Tisch College comes from this experience last year at the Mystic. They have students working with and through several nonprofits in that neighborhood, on projects that may actually have saved other people. But, instead, they write about smiley-faced programs doing maple sugaring. ‘Taint all smiles, yet, they may have more wisdom in promoting naivete, if in fact it’s a promotion educated by the reality of the life of the poor, of the ignored, often of violence and despair. It’s good that it is not an automatic thing to respond to despair with only compassion. And many of their responses – those maple sugaring exercises – build community in a much more positive and productive way. But it is also wise to acknowledge the violence and despair in this larger community, and address it directly. Get jobs for kids. Clean your yard with a neighbor. Engage. Don’t just wring hands or complain. Fix it. The same university that does good work wiped out educational benefits to all its maintenance staff a few years ago, and consigned them to a third party union buster. So be it.
In part this note is a guilt trip – echoing Steve’s note about a similar situation in Minneapolis. Yet it could not have been expressed without this medium, so, at least in some part, it’s a congratulation to those who are reading this much. It is also a challenge. Not to become a “neighborhood watch” and bully people who seem unfamiliar, as they do, it seems, in Arizona. But when you meet a neighbor, be neighborly. If somebody needs help, at least offer it.
Finally, let me give kudos to the same Tufts I’m criticizing. For the past few years Tufts admissions has looked for new students who show Wisdom-Intelligence-Creativity and the Synergy to use those talents. They’ve defined wisdom as “anticipating consequences on behalf of others.” Those kids who I drove to the Mystic to console a family, including the two who were consoling the consoler, showed exactly that kind of wisdom. That flatters both the kids and the college that recognized such talent is critical in this century. Let’s all learn from them. And thank Steve for the provocative insight.