Privilege of Information

The power and responsibility that comes with media access

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IMG_1579I arrived home after four months of little wifi to “Betsy DeVos and God’s Plan for Schools,” “2,300 U.S. Foreclosures Show a Racial Divide in House Decay,” “Biden, Sanders, Warren: Too Soon for 2020?” “How Social Isolation Is Killing Us,” “What’s hurting California’s budget: The rich aren’t getting richer as fast as they used to,” and “Police: At least 14 dead after hours-long attack at Somalia hotel.”

During the election of Donald Trump, I was studying abroad in the South Pacific. When I heard the results, I thought the Australian news was wrong. I had little access to wifi so hearing the results 12 hours after the election was about as current as it got.

While studying abroad I spent time in Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. I met new people and experienced new places, lifestyles and religions, which gave me a new, global viewpoint. I was coming to understand my own privilege, but when I returned to the U.S., I realized my work had just begun.

Upon returning home, the first thing most people asked me was if I heard who our president was going to be. In the days after arriving back in the States, it became clear that there was an overwhelming anxiety about how the upcoming presidential term would change this country.

Illustration by Anna Mcgrew
Illustration by Anna Mcgrew

I heard fears about the potential appeal of the Affordable Care Act, the threat of a Muslim registry and the U.S. building a border wall separating it from Mexico. After 12 executive orders in Trump’s first three weeks of office, I felt unable to continue to stay informed. I decided to follow the thousands of other Americans my age and turn a blind eye to current events, joining the 41 percent of adults ages 18-29 who choose not to follow the news regularly.

It was a time of national chaos, and I felt ignoring current events was my only option to soothe my own anxiety. I thought by not knowing Trump signed an executive order to carry on with the Dakota Access Pipeline — which threatens the rights of indigenous communities, the environment and the millions of people who rely on the Missouri River for water — I would feel better.

But the Dakota Access Pipeline is much more than a headline. Hiding from reality would not change it. There were many demonstrations and actions I could have participated in, including ones on campus, and there were and still are ways for me to engage.

I had the means and choice to avoid headlines — that’s not a luxury everyone has. Because our president banned travel from seven majority-Muslim countries and authorized a U.S.-Mexico border wall and the Dakota Access Pipeline, it is not the time to practice passiveness.

News can be depressing, but avoidance perpetuates these issues. Denial is an option but not a path of action.

Since 2015, the Afrikan Black Coalition (ABC) has been a leader in demanding the University of California regents divest from Wells Fargo due to its investments in private prisons and consumer exploitation.

In February, the UC regents announced plans to divest $475 million from Wells Fargo in direct response to student demands. ABC took on a major bank because media had watchdogged the UC’s investments and Wells Fargo’s integrity. ABC then created a direct path of action, and the UC’s divestment shows that by staying informed we can make change a reality.

Reading about ABC’s success, I admired the passion and dedication of those who continue to be involved in changing the way the UC invests. For me, activism has come in the form of journalism and holding myself accountable to stay informed.

After my break from news and media, I realized that while social discourse through demonstrations is important, it is only one aspect of change. The activism in the streets, which brought almost 5 million people in 673 cities globally together for the Women’s March, is largely catalyzed by media. Media is a platform to educate and share knowledge. It is a megaphone that echoes the call of society.

Media blew the horn for equality after the 90-day travel ban, and it has challenged the Trump administration’s spread of misinformation and hazardous lies. Through the media’s passage of information, lawyers and protesters heard about this injustice and gathered at major airports across the country to defend the constitutional rights of those affected by the travel ban.

Staying in touch with realities outside our own, through media, creates a space to form an opinion. The media plays a large role in informing the public so that conversations can expand and lead to action. It is then the public’s turn to respond to this information through petitions, demonstrations, banding together or just having discussions.

By being more active in the media, I have found that staying informed is an extremely powerful tool that can help inspire change.

We live on the cusp of a time when there are the lowest number of war-related deaths, fewer children are dying worldwide and people of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and women have more rights in the U.S. than ever before. And we still have much more to do.

Activism has put pressure on our government to make serious political changes. By tuning out, we lose touch with what is happening in this country, and we forfeit the fight for more equality, more rights and more peace.