Over the past few months, I‘ve become intimately aware of just how much I don’t know. If it’s not a shocking headline (of both the wait-when-did-this-happen-this-is-the-first-I’ve-heard-of-it and I-can’t-believe-this-is-actually-happening varieties) making me feel like I’m out of the loop, it’s my sheer lack of knowledge of how to respond to said headlines making me feel powerless. How did we our government get so out of hand? Was that last order even legal–and does it even matter if it does at this point? How can I even begin to help?
In order to conquer this gnawing void of ignorance, I seek out information to fill it. But sometimes finding information, rather than making me feeling better-informed, emphasizes my ignorance. For instance, when Trump’s executive order barring travel from seven majority-Muslim countries initially came out, I read article after article about how devastating it would be (and in truth, already was), and how people were rallying to counter it. I read about the ACLU’s plans to take Trump to court over the order–followed by a piece about how the ACLU defended Nazis in the past as part of their mission to protect freedom of speech. I saw tweets denouncing the order with strings of replies accusing the writer of denouncing it in the wrong way. I came across an article claiming all this attention on the executive order was actually detracting from the real problem (at the time, Trump’s reorganization of the National Security Council to include Steve Bannon and remove joint chiefs of staff). The more information I unearthed, the less I knew what to do with it. Should I support the ACLU or criticize it? Should I say something now, or wait until I read more? Should I actually be reading about a completely different, lesser known but even more dangerous, crisis right now?
Amid this overflow of information, full of contradictions and conflicting advice, I’m often tempted to shut down. It would be so much easier to just stop checking the news. I’m white, I’m middle-class, I’m not even in the country right now! This new period of difficulties, as any other, generally won’t affect me personally. Ignoring current events, or following them and not responding to them, will always be an option for me.
But ignoring current events, or following them and not responding to them–even when that lack of action is based in a paralyzing sense of duty with no outlet, rather than true apathy–will always be the wrong option to take. I cannot sit idly by while an administration attacks the rights of others, not in spite of the lack of direct impact on myself, but because of it. As a privileged person, I have a certain degree of power–my voice is more likely to be listened too without punishment, for one thing–and a responsibility to use it.
So I can’t avoid the news, but the problem remains that there is an absolute deluge of information on the Internet and elsewhere. And the problem remains that I am a student, I am abroad, and I am allowed to enjoy my life, be it amid politically-driven turmoil or no. So how do I cut down on stimuli to avoid being overwhelmed, but still read enough to stay informed and equipped to act?
In truth, I haven’t found the perfect balance yet–I can always learn more, and I can always expand the range of sources and voices I see and promote. But nevertheless, here are my major sources of information as of this (tumultuous) political moment. They make me feel like my finger is, if not on the pulse, at least somewhere on the metaphorical body of current events:
I’ve downloaded and turned on the notifications for the New York Times, Democracy Now! and CNN news apps. Push notifications help me stay up-to-date when I can’t stop to read an article in full. Unlike Facebook news article titles, they aren’t as click-baity and actually give you the information you need within a few hundred characters. Plus, receiving back-to-back notifications from multiple apps helps me see the differences in how each source decides to frame a story–remember kids, there’s no such thing as non-biased media!
As the name suggests, this email service searches through headlines and brings you concentrated versions of the day’s top news stories. They’re pithy; they’re short; they’re enough to catch you up on what people will be sharing on Facebook that day. Is it a replacement for in-depth investigative journalism? No, but for those with only a twenty-minute metro ride for the news (or those of us with the emotional fortitude of only a twenty-minute metro-ride’s worth of news in this slurry of right impinged after right impinged by this administration) it’s a good start.
Yeah, I use Facebook for news. It’s not like it’s news written by Facebook–it all comes from somewhere else, and articles shared on Facebook can be evaluated for accuracy and bias (i.e., which way its bias leans and how strong it is, not whether it has it–again, no such thing as unbiased media!) just like articles found anywhere else online. My rule of thumb is to read articles in full before I share them. Not only does that guarantee I’m sharing something I can stand behind, it also prevents me from impulsively sharing an incendiary article that turns out to be untrue, that has since been updated, or had nothing to do with its eye-catching title (click-bait is and likely will remain the bane of Internet news). Facebook news is efficient, in part because it only shows me the articles my friends have shared–and when there’s millions of articles available, it’s helpful to have a suggested reading list from people whose judgement you trust. In turn, I can then share things to my page, which, while weak as a political practice to incite change, nevertheless makes it clear where my loyalties lie and still holds the potential of bringing information to my Facebook friends who are less politically engaged (maybe someday, they’ll stop complaining about how “Facebook’s gotten so political” and click through one of the articles I relentlessly place before them). Finally, sharing articles on Facebook is one way for me to promote the words and perspectives of people who are better situated to understand a topic than I am, rather than further flooding the market by stumbling through my own inaccurate attempt at a political take just for the sake of saying something (being abroad is not the only reason I haven’t been posting as much).
This podcast is a digestible and un-intimidating way to fact-check popular rumors–it runs the gambit from the benefits of the paleo diet to those of gun control and even has an episode demystifying the g-spot (yes, that is a political topic–when a podcast can teach you more about your own anatomy than your high school health class did, it certainly gives you perspective on public schooling, especially in light of Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as Education Secretary). True, the episodes are fairly short and light, but it’s a good way to begin aggregating concrete data to back yourself up during Facebook arguments with your family members–which, if you’re abroad like me, may be the hub of your political discourse for the time being.
This second podcast, specializing in “the science and history of food,” has always been one of my favorites (and one of the most extensively researched), and I’ve noticed that they slip in more and more politics amid facts about the origins of honey and the history of sriracha. In a recent episode, focusing on chocolate, you’ll catch criticisms of colonialism in the past and of commercial agriculture in the present–the end the episode plugging independent chocolate companies that support fair trade and biodiversity. Even the episode about eating insects is about more than the ick-factor–it explains how insects are a viable, environmentally conscious option for a food source. There’s an episode on Native American food and the people devoted to maintaining its history and expanding its popularity today, and it doesn’t skim over the role the U.S. played in putting traditional Native American foods into obscurity, even from many Native Americans themselves. The narrators are respectful and funny, the episodes engaging and informational, and overall its an excellent example of how to incorporate politics into daily life, and how staying informed doesn’t have to be painful or depressing.
Bi:Notes for a Bisexual Revolution
I read this smart, engaging, concise book by Shiri Eisner before I left for abroad. It’s thorough, covering even the things you didn’t know you didn’t know about bisexuality–like how monosexism may be as big a threat to bisexuality as heterosexism (I didn’t even know that was a term before reading!). At the same time, the language is clear and direct, and there’s a glossary of terms and additional definitions in the margins. Overall, it’s an academic text that even those unaccustomed to academic texts can consume–oh, and it presents the tools to shift your worldview and institute radical change, whether you’re bisexual or not.
One of the best things about my host mom is that she watches TV all the time (so I’m always immersed in the language), but one of the better things is that she’s almost always watching the news. And unlike my dad with his twenty-four-hour streaming of Fox News at home, she changes the channel often. And I’m not just getting Spain-specific news; the stations covered all of Europe and the U.S. as well. These stations offer outside perspectives on Trump, which tend to be, if not as critical, is at least as worried as American news–and is equally hard to take while the TV is on at the dinner table. What’s more, I can practice opening conversations with people at back in the States by discussing the news (albeit in clunky, often misinterpreted Spanish) with my traditional/conservative host mother. I’ll get her to stop laughing when she sees people breaking gender roles before this semester is over, I promise.
These are not all of the news sources I consume, nor should they be, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from struggling to work through current events, it’s that doing something is better than doing nothing.