Just Look Away but Stay Active

By Lee Ann Tysseling

This post was written by my friend Lee Ann. She relates how she’s been dealing with the onslaught of election news and about her get-out-the-vote efforts. She also mixes in two themes I’ve recently written about – my early morning attempts to avoid the news and my attempts to respect the humanity of people with whom I politically disagree. I welcome Lee Ann’s entry, my first guest post, on this election day.  

My mornings typically start with NPR and coffee.  This Monday as I reached for the button on the radio I recoiled.  I knew the news would be about the election.  I just could not listen.  There was actually pressure in my chest and gut—I could not bear thinking about what the coming election was going to mean for our country.  Then, as my finger hovered over the button I thought “Well, maybe they’ll cover something more cheerful, like the earthquake in Turkey.”  It paralyzed me—that reports about a huge natural disaster would seem more cheerful than the election (or as some call it, the battle for democracy)?

Earlier in this election cycle I made a decision—I was going to save myself first.  I am a committed voter and citizen of the United State of America.  How could I save myself from the damage being done to my soul by the current media coverage of the political battles in our country while still being an active participant in democracy?  My response was to take action.  I volunteered to join a phone bank on Get Out the Vote day.

That did not work out too well.  I am not cut out for phone banking.  I was greeted with obscenities, rudeness, wrong numbers and long waits for a connection.  I replaced phone banking action with a more local activity—creating “handmade” postcards to encourage voters in my state to vote for candidates for our state legislature who supported education and healthcare.  That was a very satisfying and soothing activity.  I felt I had contributed and there was no violence done.

Thus, I have made a new promise to myself.  Look away from the media circus and turn instead to small local actions.  Years ago, I read State of Fear, by Michael Crichton.  His message still resonates with me, that the media and politicians are having the effect, intentional or not, of making us all live in a frenzy of fear.   And that was written before the internet grabbed us all.  Later Myra Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy forecast the rise of social media (and misinformation) in the face of a pandemic.  Her work helped me believe in the power of social media, both to inform but also to mislead.

My answer to these tensions that many of us are feeling is twofold.  Look away from the media and take two steps to the center.  The fear created by media and politicians have driven us to extremes.  I still watch or listen to some news but when I start feeling the churning in my gut or the pain in my chest I stop. 

I have been intentionally listening to interviews of “average citizens” trying to understand those with a viewpoint different from my own.  To protect myself I’ve chosen the PBS interviews Amna Nawaz has done with a mix of voters after the presidential debates.  Listening with love in my heart for all of America, I have tried to hear their concerns and beliefs.  As a result, I think I understand that there are honest concerns and good intentions in at least some of the “opposition.”  I hope that as we move past the election that we can find these points of agreement or sympathy and build on them.

Lee Ann lives in Boise, Idaho. She also keeps a blog. Check it out at https://leesbooks.blogspot.com/.