"Alternative Facts," Pussies Grabbing Back, and What to Do Next

Hi friends! Hope you've had a good (or at least tolerable) month or so. I'm finally back to blogging, and I don't think there's anywhere else I could start than with the current political situation.

Inauguration Time

Well, Trump got inaugurated. So that happened, and we are now living in the crazy, scary unknown of a Trump presidency. The biggest piece of advice I have for anyone right now, whether you're into politics or not, is to stay engaged and informed. Listen to or watch every speech, hearing, and press conference (I'd start with the proposed cabinet's Senate hearings, personally, they're pretty crazy). There's nothing more proactive you can do than go right to the straight to the source. I say this NOT because the media isn't trustworthy (newsflash: THEY ARE, usually, more on this later), but because then no one can argue with you and tell you you're biased or uninformed.

If you didn't catch the inauguration, you can read the whole speech, with annotations and fact checks from Vox's fantastic team here. If you've been paying attention to Trump's campaign for a while, the tone and contents won't surprise you at all. But compared to other inaugurations, the mood was very dark and fear-mongering (sorry, it just was, I watched every second of it), and the crowd in attendance was smaller than in the past, which is a pretty irrelevant fact that turned into a much larger news story. 

FAKE NEWS?!? THE MEDIA LIES?

The new administration lost no time this weekend when it comes to the media. Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer held a briefing in which he refused to answer a single question and instead yelled at reporters for being unpatriotic liars (that was paraphrasing, don't yell at me, Sean). You can watch the clip here. Spicer was VERY pissed about one fact of media coverage for the weekend: what he referred to as "deliberately false reporting." What he's talking about here are the photos, first (I believe, correct me if I'm wrong) circulated by AP that showed a very obvious difference in the crowd at Trump's inauguration in 2017 and Obama's in 2009.

We now know the facts (or as close as we can get with crowd number estimations): an estimated 700,000 to 900,000 people attended Trump's inauguration on Friday, which is roughly half of the numbers that were present for Obama's first inauguration in 2009. Obama's second inauguration in 2013 drew about a million people (all according to Vox).

Why does this matter? It really doesn't, at all. If Trump and his team could've let this story go, we would've all gotten over it by now (or at least would soon) and be focusing on something more substantial. As Eric Levitz New York Magazine points out, the inauguration crowd numbers mean very little. D.C. is a majority African-American city, he notes, so it makes sense that that the inauguration of the first black President would draw a larger crowd. Trump received an extremely low number of votes in the District of Columbia, and the smaller crowd could've been explained simply by this, coupled with the fact that (as Trump likes to remind us), most of his voters are "average Americans" who maybe couldn't afford to or didn't care to fly to D.C. to see him inaugurated. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter, and no crowd size should ever be used to draw conclusions about a President. It is just a fact. But the way that Trump and his team handled this is extremely telling and important.

So first, we have Spicer berating reporters for irresponsible coverage (again, the pictures in question and the D.C. metro data the organization tweeted out are not exactly hard-hitting journalism, but they are facts) and stating "facts," like that the crowd stretched back to the Washington Monument when Trump took his oath of office. Note: It is extremely easy to prove this statement wrong, we have photos. The event was live-streamed by multiple outlets.

Then, the always lovely Kellyanne Conway telling Chuck Todd, in defense of Spicer/Trump/whoever had this idea's actions, that Spicer used "alternative facts" in this press conference. (You can watch it all here.) Now, I am NOT saying this because I am a crazy bleeding-heart liberal (that is irrelevant right now, because I am a journalist FIRST AND FOREMOST), but

THIS. IS. ENTIRELY. INSANE. AND. IT. IS. NOT. OKAY.

Yes, inauguration crowd numbers are a small thing. But using "alternative facts" as a defense is a HUGE issue. ALTERNATIVE FACTS = LIES. Plain and simple. So, sure, it's not hurting anyone if Spicer wants to embellish reality with his "alternative facts" about the inauguration crowd, but what happens when we're talking about REAL issues here? What happens when the press conference is about climate change, women's right, immigration policy, LGBTQ+ issues, foreign policy? Where is the place for "alternative facts" then? You can call me a big liberal baby for throwing a fit about this now, but let me be very clear: If we don't start off demanding the truth right now, we are never going to get it. And like it or not, Trump does not have a very positive history with telling the truth. We, as U.S. citizens, need to set a precedent. We need to demand better, and we need to demand the truth.

I don't mean JUST from Trump and his team (but let's please start there, since that is his actual duty and job as President of the United States). Demand the truth from the media, news organizations, and your fellow citizens. Engage, read, listen, watch, and think critically. If you think a news organization isn't being truthful, is being too biased, or isn't digging deep enough, PLEASE call or email them. I am extremely serious about this. If you don't care to actually challenge them and try to enact change, then you don't care enough. (FUN FACT: If you call The Atlantic to complain, it will be me picking up the phone as of 7 days from now, no joke, so PLEASE call and share your thoughtful criticism! I will gladly hear you out and pass it on!! Literally, every single one of you all have the right to opinions!)

But before everyone starts yelling as loud as they can, let's get something straight: If you expect your opinion to be heard and respected, please be educated on what you're talking about. Everyone deserves an opinion and they always will, but no one is going to engage with or place much value on yours if it isn't based in fact. Let's all agree right now to do the homework and be informed about what we're arguing about. (This goes for me too, obviously. I have a notoriously bad temper when it comes to things I care about, and I need to practice listening, learning, and thinking BEFORE I speak, too). The amount there is to know and learn and think about is overwhelming. I feel dizzy and tired just thinking about it. But knowledge and empathy are the ultimate tools, here, so please use them before you make an argument on something.

But McKenzie, what about fake news?!

A quick note on journalists: If you're reading this thinking skeptically, why should I believe any journalists anymore than you're saying I should believe Trump and his team? Aren't you all biased liberals with an agenda?

I HEAR YOU, I really do, but hear me out. First of all, journalists are taught ethics in school. That's the first thing we learn, along with the idea that facts trump all (pun intended). It is not a profession you go into and take seriously because you want to play with words all day and spread your own opinions, but one you choose if you feel morally and ethically obligated to disseminate the truth as widely as possible.

Sure, a lot of journalists are or seem to be liberal, but that does not mean (most of them) don't put their job and duty to their readers above their own political opinions, just like most public servants and politicians? No way. Even if you choose to believe that all journalists are liberal pawns (we're not), if you step back and look at reality as it is right now, you'll see that there is NO POINT in furthering a "liberal agenda" against Donald Trump in the media. This would be entirely pointless, and no one is going around making up lies to make Trump look worse. Honestly, at this point, he doesn't seem to need anyone's help on that one.

No sane journalist wants the president of this country to fail, so what would we possibly have to gain by purposely circulating lies? What is the next step of that master plan? Impeachment? President Pence? NO THANK YOU. No journalist at a reputable paper or magazine has any business in distributing lies, and as much as people like me are actively angry that Trump is our President, that does NOT change the fact that he is, and that I so, so hope he succeeds. Him failing will make the country worse for every single one of us, and no one wants that. There is a huge difference between being disappointed, wary, and skeptical and actively rooting for Trump's failure. No one (sane) is doing the latter. Also, let's face it, no one (or I guess I should say hardly anyone) is rolling in cash or being bribed to do X, Y, or Z thing in journalism. We're all poor and mostly overworked. I could go on about this for a LONG time, so if you have thoughts or further doubts, please talk to me, I'm happy to discuss and to listen. But for now, moving right along to...

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The Women's March!

I cannot tell you how happy I am to have been a part of the NYC Women's March on Saturday. More than a million people came together across the world on Saturday to express solidarity, supposedly for women and women's rights, but it felt like a hell of a lot more than that. Signs in NYC were covered in traditional feminist statements like "women's rights are human's rights" and "only weak men fear strong women," but that was certainly not all. Men and women around me held signs saying "SCIENCE!" (thank you to that sign-maker), "the pussy grabs back" (great), "we are all immigrants," and "black lives matter." There were so many more, and being inside the swelling crowd of humans who took over 42nd street from 1st to 5th Avenue, and all the to Trump Tower, warmed my heart and bolstered my confidence to yell louder, listen harder, and make a difference.

The protest was peaceful, and long. My friends and I met some fellow NU alums (much older than us), laughed with an adorable girl dressed as Wonder Woman with a sign reading "Girl Power!", snapped pics of women in giant vagina costumes, marveled at a beautiful RBG poster that someone had clearly ripped from their wall to march with, and laughed and chanted and marched with the men, women, children (and a few dogs!) who'd also taken to the streets. "This is what democracy looks like!" the crowd yelled in unison, and I have never felt more like an active part of a democracy than I do now, and it's never felt more important. 

You can argue back and forth about whether protests matter or make any difference, if this movement was intersectional enough, and how big the protests actually were (the Internet has been doing plenty of this if you're interested). But if I added one more face and body to the crowd that hopefully showed everyone who feels threatened by this administration and the future of our country that I AM WITH THEM and they are not alone, then I'm happy. 

What matters so much more, though, is what to do next. I've learned a LOT over the past year or so, and I'm taking this as the biggest single learning opportunity of my life as a baby feminist and activist (thanks, CYG). In the past, I have not done enough. I have not volunteered and donated and called my senators and fought BEFORE it was as gravely serious as it is now. I accepted things as they were. I thought that I was doing my part by voting and treating everyone in my own life with respect. I thought I was living my values, but I was not living loud enough. I was not living bold enough. But now, I'm going to. The time to be silent, to let others do the work, and to hope for the best is over. I wish I'd seen it sooner, but here we all are, and I'm going to fight like hell to make sure that the voices that have historically been silenced are heard. This is NOT about me, and if you still don't understand why people are so, so upset by this administration, I'm seriously not shitting on you, I just want you to try and understand. Think about these policies, these opinions, and these actions as though they were affecting your life every day. Think about what it would be like to live in a country that has made it very clear it does not want you or value you as a human being. Just think about it, please, and see how that would feel.

What can I do next?

We are always #StrongerTogether, but if you think you've done your part by participating in the march, you are part of the problem (like I was until very recently). That was the first amazing but tiny step, and it's only the beginning. Make every day of the next four years (and hopefully the rest of your life) count and strive to be an informed, engaged, attentive, and politically active citizen. It's your right (and your duty) as part of this country!

The Women's March on Washington founders have started organizing next steps, so I'd definitely recommend following along on the site. The first step is to write a letter or postcard to your senators, so please join in on that! 

If you want to do more (I know I do), you can follow along with this Medium post by the wonderful Nicole Silverberg (who's an NU alum, #honored to share your alma mater, Nicole). She breaks it down step by step and explains basically everything you can do at this point to make a difference, and I'd suggest reading that post through from start to finish. 

I am significantly less #woke and engaged than others, but I'm also trying my best to change that, so here's what I'll personally be doing:

  1. Calling my senators every day. You can find yours, their names and numbers, here. Even though I'm moving to DC soon, I'm going to be sticking with my old buds representing Ohio in the Senate since, let's be honest, DC is liberal and engaged enough without my voice. I set an alert in my calendar, where I included both OH senators' phone numbers, that will go off every day at 12pm. I WILL be calling. You can bet we're going to get super friendly.
  2. VOLUNTEER. I have not done nearly as much of this as I should have so far in my life, so that is all going to stop, and I will hopefully do as much as humanly possible to make up for it, starting now. Here's where I'll be starting. My super active/smart friend Kristin (most of these descriptions are hers, btw) sent me a great list to get me started, and if you have any suggestions that are DC-specific since I am very new, I'm all ears.
    1. Planned Parenthood (duh) - nonprofit that provides reproductive health services for women and men, including abortions (yes, they provide abortions! but that is just one thing of many), birth control, STD/STI testing, breast exams and cervical cancer screenings, vasectomies, LGBT services, and sex education. Trump has vowed to defund the organization (which probably doesn't mean exactly what you think, read about it) but will mostly result in restricted services for low income individuals on government-provided healthcare. PLS correct me if I'm wrong, but this is how I understand it.

    2. The American Civil Liberties Union - works to defend individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution 

    3. EMILY’s List - political action committee that works to elect pro-choice Democratic women candidates to public office. 

    4. NARAL - political advocacy group focused on fighting for women’s reproductive rights and freedom. 

    5. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) - advocates for victims and attempts to change policy surrounding domestic violence

    6. The National Immigration Law Center - fights for the rights of low-income immigrants through litigation, policy analysis and advocacy, and various other methods

    7. The National Immigration Forum - immigrant advocacy group that offers various programs to integrate immigrants into the workforce and obtain citizenship

    8. National Organization for Women (NOW) - an activist organization, foundation and PAC that advocates for equal rights for women.

    9. The Reproductive Health Access Project

    10. Running Start

    11. She Should Run

    12. The Southern Poverty Law Center

    13. The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights

    14. Sister Supply

  3. Donate! I know as well as anyone, since I've been mostly financially independent and totally broke for the past few years, that this can be tough. But honestly, if you were lucky enough to go to an awesome school like I did or live in a cool city like I do now, chances are VERY high that you have a few dollars a month to spare. And that's fine! It all makes a difference! I'm starting low with monthly donations to a few of my favorite organizations and increasing them as I can after I move.

 

That's all for now

Originally, this was supposed to be a different blog post. I had other plans and two other ideas up my sleeve that I wanted to get out this Sunday, but this is more important. Maybe I'll post again tomorrow! Or maybe I'll be so busy drowning in boxes and moving tape and my feelings to post for a bit, I'm not sure. But the next thing you can expect from me is definitely a very long, very personal, very info-filled post about getting a job in journalism after graduated from one of the country's best J-schools. Spoiler alert: IT IS HARD AS HELL. I've gathered a lot of tips, tricks, and info in the past 6 months of searching (in case you missed it, I'm finally employed for real!!!! Hence the moving to DC thing), and I want to share it ALL with my baby journo friends, classmates, and whoever else out there. 

And with that, I'm out for tonight, because I want to watch TV and I need a few minutes to clear all of the boxes off my bed so I can sleep. 

In closing, because this post couldn't end without this, THANK YOU to my mom for raising me to be a freakin' nasty woman. I don't think I've ever been more thankful to be raised by (and alongside) amazing, strong women. My mom taught me to be as loud as I could (but always to know when to shut up and listen), to never back down from my opinions and what I stand for, and to demand the respect, equality, and the future that I deserve. Sure, I got in trouble for being opinionated and "bratty" in school many a time, but hey, nasty ladies are always going to get some shit. I'm so thankful, mom, that you raised me to fight for everything that's right, and to fight for myself. It's women like you that are responsible for all the nasty young ladies (AND MEN!! Feminism is NOT exclusive) marching the streets all over the country and world yesterday. Thanks for teaching me to be a better person every day, and to care about other people and their rights as much as, and sometimes more than, my own.