A Time to Mend

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A single man in possession of a good fortune may be in want of a wife, but he may not realize that the wedding industry kind of sucks.

That fortune is going to come in handy, Mr. Bingley.

If you follow me on Twitter or are #blessed enough to know me IRL, you know that I find the wedding tax extremely frustrating. Like the pink tax–which makes everyday items like razors, shampoo, and body wash more expensive just because they are marketed towards women, even though they do the same damn thing–the wedding tax charges more for…well, basically everything, because it’s for a wedding.

It’s a pain, yes, but it’s something I’ve (mostly) come to terms with. Weddings are just expensive. Like avocado toast.

But Drew and I are lucky. Our parents are kind enough to help with the bigger expenses, and our own bank accounts are in decent shape, so it isn’t the actual price tag that bothers me as much as the inherent consumerism of the wedding industry. Diamond engagement rings, for instance, are only popular because the diamond industry told us that REAL MEN propose with diamond rings that cost 2 months’ worth of paychecks.

Then there’s Pinterest. Do I need a shirt that says I’m about to get ‘meowied?’ No. Do I want it? Yes. Yes, I do.

In the end, I bought shirts for myself and my wedding party. But they have unicorns on them, and mine says that I’m a unicorn bride, so obviously I’m going to wear it until the end of time…even though I’m technically only a bride once.

Is that shirt completely amazing? Yes. Do I need it? Not really. No. I don’t.

I want our family and friends to celebrate with us, and I want to celebrate our future together during our honeymoon–so at the end of the day, I don’t mind spending money on these things, because they are important to us. The ‘extras’ that don’t impact our actual marriage are often harder to justify. Even if I end up buying these fun things, I feel a little guilty. There are real problems in the world (to put it mildly), and here I am, planning a wedding. There are countless people who don’t have the luxury of worrying about ties or cake; what right to I have to have an emotional breakdown because of wedding planning?

And yet, there is something beautiful about marriage that seems to make the world a better place.  My guilt began to subside when I listened to a recent episode (Book 3, Chapter 19) of my favorite podcast, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. Vanessa explains that in Judaism, mercy is shown through action:

“There’s the famous idea of tikkun olam, which is the idea to heal the world…It’s a story in the Talmud that the world gets broken into infinite pieces, and that it is each of our responsibilities to try to mend those pieces. And there are lots of ways to mend those pieces. In fact, by falling in love with somebody… you help heal the world…And the idea is that even just by marrying someone, you are helping to heal them, because you are bringing them a benevolent listener and partner.”

It reminded me of a chapter in A Year of Biblical Womanhood, in which the author focuses on charity:

 “While the word charity connotes a single act of giving, justice speaks to right living, of aligning oneself with the world in a way that sustains rather than exploits the rest of creation. Justice is not a gift; it’s a lifestyle, a commitment to the Jewish concept of tikkun olam—‘repairing the world.’”

– Rachel Held Evans

If falling in love can help piece the world back together, can a wedding do the same? Perhaps consumerism is not the issue; perhaps it is the way in which we consume. And like I mentioned earlier, we consume a lot during weddings.

Let’s go back to jewelry: aside from the fact that the diamond industry invented the diamond engagement ring, the diamond industry is notorious for human rights violations. Drew is wonderful and found an engagement ring from Brilliant Earth, a company that uses ethically-sourced diamonds (including lab diamonds!) and recycled metals.  They also donate 5% of their profits to communities that have been harmed by the diamond industry.  And my hand is super sparkly! We just purchased our wedding bands from the same place, and I couldn’t be happier. WIN/WIN/WIN/WIN/WIN.

Drew also had the idea to ask our guests to donate to our favorite non-profits instead of buying us a gift from a registry (in case if you haven’t figured it out yet, Drew is a really good person). Pinterest, while leading me to shirts I definitely don’t need, also introduced me to a site that inspired me to ask if we could donate leftover food to a nearby homeless shelter. Even the pre-wedding parties can be a way to spread the love: my maid of honor kept telling me she was going to get a stripper for my bachelorette party, and I found out that she instead donated to BeLoved, a program in Atlanta that provides for women who have been victims of sex trafficking or looking to escape the sex industry.

Weddings are also an amazing opportunity to support small businesses and artists! Catalyst lists some amazing vendors and has plenty of resources for planning ethically-conscious weddings.

Thanks to Rachel Held Evans, I’ve realized I should strive for ethical consumption in all aspects of my life–not just my wedding,that  or holidays, or occasions when we tend to buy the most.

We aren’t perfect, of course; I’m sure that not everything at our wedding will be ethically sourced, and not everything we spend will go back to charity. Not everything I’ll buy after our wedding will be 100% ethical, either. And as much as that sucks, I know it’s a process. I am still learning. We all are–and maybe this awareness is the first step to mending the world, piece by piece.

Art, Activism, & Apathy

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I was once told that I have emotions seeping out of every pore in my body.

It doesn’t take a plethora of scientific studies to prove that artists are sensitive (though many studies have).

At risk of sounding incredibly cliche, I find my own sensitivity to be a blessing and a curse. If you are having a bad day, I’m a good listener; I’m also fairly decent at reading other people’s emotions. I feel deeply and fiercely, and most decisions I make are made with my heart.

Emotions are also kind of a pain in the ass. Sometimes, I am brought to tears just because Drew said something really nice. For instance:

Me: I’m afraid I’m going to trip while walking down the aisle.

Drew: That would be hilarious. 

Me: What the hell!? No, it wouldn’t! 

Drew: I mean, I’d laugh, but then I would just think, “That’s the woman I fell in love with.”

Me [eyes shining with tears]: AWWWWWW. 

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So, yeah. I have emotions seeping out of every pore in my body.

That’s why I write, and why others paint or make music or dance. Art has a funny way of helping us understand and appreciate this beautiful, messy thing called life.

Perhaps this hyper-sensitivity is also why art so easily lends itself to social justice. If sensitive artist types like myself are already FEELING ALL THE FEELS and then catch a segment of the evening news, we’re going to start feeling even more feels. And, like everything else buzzing around our minds, those feelings have to go somewhere.

That’s why I continue to write. There are plenty of stories that are just for me, and there’s something beautiful in that, too–but I will have truly answered my call to create if my words can help make the world a better place.

In the past, I wrote about social justice and politics sporadically; in other words, I wrote about justice when I didn’t know what else to do. Words were the best way–the only way–I knew how to change myself and the world around me. I took my anger, threw it back at the world, and said, “Ha! I made something beautiful. You can’t hurt us anymore.”

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”
― Cornel West

After the 2016 election, I vowed to do everything I could to stand for justice and social change.  I would march. I would call my Senators. I would write letters to Donald Trump every day.  I would stay educated on every single bill. Most importantly, I would write. God, I would write. Because that’s what I was put on this earth to do, dammit.

This is a promise that is impossible to keep, even for a girl who feels too much and too hard. You see, the problem with feeling so many things at once is that you are in danger of burning out. Fast.

Not that my exhaustion stopped me. I called my Senators. I prayed every day and started writing more articles about justice. I wrote letters and Tweeted up a storm.

But I had started to feel numb. Everything I did felt useless. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be called an ‘activist,’ because I was just calling politicians and writing on my blog that barely reached a hundred people. I hadn’t started writing any thought-provoking dystopian novels or anything, either. I listened to the news, and instead of heartache I felt hopelessness. I was angry, but I was no longer surprised. It was a familiar reaction, really–how many of us catch a news story about a shooting or a terrorist attack, shake our heads, and change the channel?

That might be the scariest thing of all: that tragedy and injustice strike, and we aren’t even surprised.

We should be. We should be shocked to our very core. This is not how the world was meant to be. 

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A few months ago, my pastor taught a sermon on compassion fatigue. He explained that thanks to the Internet, we are bombarded with information every second of every day.  We can only process a certain amount of information at once, so our empathy fizzles out. We stop caring.

That Sunday, I realized how tired I was. I had stopped caring, and I didn’t feel like myself. Emotions may be a pain in the ass, but I would rather feel too much than nothing at all.

Rest was long overdue. I took a short break from social media, and listened to the news a little less. I was less weary, and I started to FEEL ALL THE FEELS again.

And, once again, this proved to be a blessing and a curse. This past week, I was in tears after reading the news and scrolling through Facebook. I was worried about healthcare and heartbroken for my transgender brothers and sisters; it had already been a stressful week without another blow from the government.  My empathy was back in high gear, but so was my hopelessness.

“I’m just so angry and sad,” I told Drew. “No matter how many calls we make or letters we write, it doesn’t seem to make a difference.”

Drew paused, and then in his thoughtful, wonderful, Drew way, he said something I will never forget: “Sometimes, you don’t fight to win the current battle. You fight to win the next one.”

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I do not write this little blog entry as a how-to, or an advice column, or even as a promise for myself–but I do write this as an encouragement to my fellow artists and hyper-sensitives.

We cannot afford apathy. We need your emotions–every single one. We need art to light up the world. We need fierce compassion so we can love the least of these. Stay sensitive. Empathy is indeed a blessing, even on the very worst days.

Pain is a part of life, yes; it’s unavoidable in this broken, brutal world. But we’re a part of this life, too, and that fact alone means that we are not powerless.

Listen to the aches of your heart and keep creating, whether you bake or write or paint or dance. The world may not need you in order to keep spinning, but it desperately wants you–because there are future battles to be won.

Rethinking Animal Advocacy

Like many young girls, I used to dream of being a veterinarian. Then, of course, I learned that vet school required far too much math, science, and handling blood–none of which I consider my strong suits. I later realized I wanted to be a writer, but I still love animals and often wish that our house could become a sort of animal sanctuary.

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Not that we could responsibly care for so many animals. Drew and I are already the proud parents of Constable Chubs. She’s been a part of our family for over a year, and even though I may act like an overbearing mother (“Constable Chubs, you are so cute. You are a literal angel. GOD HAD THE BEST DAY WHEN HE MADE YOU!”), I cannot imagine life without our sweet feline friend. Our roommate, Kate, also has a cat named Sam. He and the Constable usually get along, but I don’t think they would be too thrilled to share their food with another cat.

The best snow day/reading/napping buddy around. #catsofinstagram #constablechubs #crazycatlady

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I’m lucky to be with someone who understands my soft spot for animals. For instance, we have a strict no-kill policy when it comes to spiders, but Drew and I are both extremely afraid of spiders….so releasing them back into the wild is always a very dramatic process (BUT IT’S WORTH IT. Live your life, little spider. Just…please don’t come back inside, okay?).

“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.”
― A.A. Milne

A few months after I moved to Atlanta, Drew and I started volunteering at a local animal shelter. It was wonderful, but like many wonderful things, it soon fell out of our weekly routine. Once I found a steady job and a regular schedule, I started volunteering at another shelter.

Even though I love all animals, I signed up to work with cats. I have more experience with kitties, and I (usually) know what to do if a cat gets frightened or stressed. I didn’t want to work  at the front desk or provide adoption counseling, either–I’ve had enough of customer service jobs, and didn’t want my introvert self to get burnt out from something that was supposed to be fun.

Of course, that’s where I went wrong. Caring for animals definitely relates to caring for people, but it goes far beyond adoption fees or customer service. The goal of any shelter should be to find permanent homes for each and every animal; with that kind responsibility, how could we not extend our love anyone who passes by?

After all, I know how my pets have changed my life. I want everyone to have that chance: the children who visit and read to the cats; the mom who is trying to decide which cat to bring home; the couple who has too many pets but wanted to say hello. Adopting an animal is a win-win situation for everyone–you get a friend, and an animal finds a home.

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There are a lot of awful things in the world that we cannot change. But maybe we can learn to care for a lost puppy, or save a spider from being crushed. Peace starts with empathy; empathy starts with us. If we can learn to take care of tiny creatures, how much better will we be able to take care of each other?

Has an animal ever changed your life for the better? How have animals helped you become more compassionate towards people? Let me know on Twitter or in the comments! 

 

Change the World, One Step at a Time

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For every tragedy or major political event, I spend hours reading the news. Headlines and Twitter threads become my bedtime story; my heart breaks for people I will never meet, and they become my prayer.

And so often, that’s where it ends. I whisper kind words and send happy thoughts out into the universe, and then they are oh-so conveniently forgotten. Our paths split as soon as they meet on my wishful spiritual plane, because the world is too damn big, and there is nothing I can do.
If there is anything I have learned in the past year, it is that I have bought into a horrible lie: that, in order to help others, I need to do something drastic. Growing up, I heard stories of environmentalists and imagined what it would be like to handcuff myself to a tree. Now, I see people going on strike or going on hunger strikes. They’re running for office or becoming billionaires and donating every penny (okay, that’s basically just Bill Gates and J.K Rowling. But you get my point).

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

-Anne Frank

If you’re watching the news and feeling a bit discouraged, take heart. The fact that you feel this way means that you care, and there can never be a surplus of love in the world. Politics are important, of course, but our own circle is an excellent place to start. Here are a few activism-inspired habits that I’ve been putting into practice–and some tips you can use, too!

Practice self-care. Too often, the concept of self-care gets watered down to coloring books and taking a bubble bath. While there is nothing inherently wrong with bubble baths or coloring, we all need to consider what truly restores our souls. If you are burnt out, stressed, or feeling scatter-brained, you probably won’t have the energy for anything other than watching Netflix. Remember the basics: do the dishes, eat a good meal, stay hydrated; then, take a day just for yourself. You deserve it.

Be kind. Be kind to your cashier. Be kind to your barista. Be kind to the homeless man you pass on the street. Be kind to the receptionist. Be kind to your neighbor. It’s not that hard. Really.

Speak up! Contact your Senators and House Representatives–calling their office only takes a few minutes, and every phone call is tallied. If you are like me and absolutely hate calling strangers, websites like 5 Calls  provide scripts you can follow. You can also download Countable to learn more about various issues and send your reps a message.

Share informative and encouraging posts on social media. Whether you get caught in a heated debate or realize you’ve spent hours reading news articles, it’s easy to get stuck in the black hole of despair that is social media–but the Internet can still be a force for good. Share posts from a variety of (accurate) sources, and say something inspiring to go along with it.

Read. Aside from the all the fascinating things you’ll learn, reading can reduce stress and make you more empathetic. If you’re already a bibliophile, change up your reading habits: support indie authors or add more diverse books to your reading list.

Speaking of which…support artists! Writers, painters, photographers, musicians, filmmakers–they all make the world a more beautiful place, and they all need to eat. Check out Patreon and consider donating to an artist you admire. If you are unable to donate, spread the word. Share their posts on social media. If you love their work, TELL THEM! It will make their day, and your support will help them share their work with the world.

Start using apps and browser extensions that make a positive impact. Put all those hours online to good use! Install Tabs for a Cause to donate money to various organizations; ditch Google (gasp) and plant trees with Ecosia. If you’re an obsessive Amazon user, try AmazonSmile.  See? The world’s looking brighter already.

Adopt an animal. If you’ve been looking for a four-legged friend, visit your local shelter. There are millions of homeless animals in the United States alone; you are bound to fall in love with at least one, right?

Be generous. If you are financially able, donate money to your favorite organizations or non-profits. If you are on a tight budget, give your time instead; most non-profits have  volunteer programs. Find something you are passionate about–it doesn’t have to feel like work in order to be helpful!

Listen. Until we listen to someone else’s story, we will only ever see the world through one lens: our own. No one just decides what they are going to believe, and no one magically  becomes woke. It’s a process, and open dialogue can go a long way.

Pray. I know not everyone shares my beliefs, but I have found that just saying my intentions out loud can work wonders. Change starts with us, after all.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of good deeds, but for me, they have become a manageable starting point. Together, I think we can accomplish just about anything.

How do you incorporate activism and kindness into your life? Tell me on Twitter or leave a comment! 

March On, Sisters

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This post was inspired by Samantha Chaffin’s blog post about the Women’s March in LA. The title is not meant to exclude the wonderful men or gender non-conforming people who attended marches, and I love each and every one of you who showed up to support the cause.

November 8, 2016: 

Election Day. It’s finally here, and it feels like Christmas Eve and finals week all at once. Something exciting is happening, for sure–but I also know that things could go horribly, horribly wrong.

I wear the only political shirt I own, which is emblazoned with a donkey, an elephant, and a cat. The donkey and the elephant have no votes; the cat, however, is rewarded with a confident check mark.

I voted early, but I make the now-obligatory social media to encourage others to do the same. I listen to NPR and say a prayer for my country.

Please, God. Just let America truly be a country for all of us. 

November 9, 2016: 

I wake up early. My alarm still hasn’t gone off, and there is an anxious ache in my chest. With a forced sort of hope, I look over at Drew and say, “I hope Hillary pulled through.”

“I already checked. She lost.”

I immediately reach for my phone and open my CNN app. The first story is bright and bold and impossible: PRESIDENT ELECT DONALD TRUMP. 

It doesn’t feel real, but it is. It is so, so, real, and I close my eyes and try to forget–but of course, it’s all I can think about.

January 20, 2017:

I’m driving to work, and for the first time in weeks, I don’t feel like listening to NPR. Instead, I listen the Hamilton cast recording. I sing along–badly, loudly, happily–as I sit in traffic.

I’m just like my country/ I’m young scrappy and hungry/ and I am not throwing away my shot

But we’ll never be truly free/Until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me

When you’re living on your knees, you rise up/ Tell your brother that he’s gotta rise up/ Tell your sister that she’s gotta rise up

Thirty minutes later, I take the exit that leads downtown. There’s an explicit anti-Trump banner hanging from the bridge; it’s painted with sloppy red and black spray paint and for the first time that day, Donald Trump’s presidency becomes real.

I think of the rise of dystopian young adult novels. Perhaps we romanticized them too much. Perhaps we dismissed them too soon.

I take a deep breath, and I keep driving.

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January 21, 2017: 

I can’t stay off Facebook.

But it isn’t because I am left shocked and helpless by the news. It’s because there are so many people in Washington, D.C, marching for social justice.

And it doesn’t stop there.

There are people in London. Melbourne. Los Angeles. Chicago. St. Louis. They’re holding up signs that say things like ‘THE FUTURE IS FEMALE’ and ‘WOMEN’S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS.’

In Atlanta, it’s raining. We planned to march, but it doesn’t look good: the forecast includes severe thunderstorms and a tornado watch.

Drew can’t decide if he should go. “I just don’t want to be there if there is lightning,” he says. He tells me he feels guilty.

“I don’t want you to feel unsafe or uncomfortable,” I tell him. I understand completely–normally, I’m terrified of thunderstorms. “I just feel like I have to go.”

And I do. I feel it deep in my bones. That’s what Jesus did, isn’t it? Stand with the people who were ostracized and oppressed? Besides, I’m tired of feeling so helpless. I want to march. I want to remember why we have to keep fighting for what is right.

I’m finishing getting ready when Drew comes charging through our room.

“I changed my mind,” he says as he pulls on his shoes. “I’m coming.”

I squeal with excitement as he grabs a backpack and stuffs it with umbrellas and jackets.

“Should we stop somewhere and grab ponchos?” I ask.

“Nah. We aren’t wimps.”

I laugh, and after a quick lunch, we head out the door.

 

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We arrive to the march around two o’clock. I love Atlanta more and more each day, but this is by far the most amazing sight in the entire city.

There are hundreds and hundreds of people, holding signs and wearing shirts in support of women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, the Affordable Care Act, and the environment. People ask to take pictures of my shirt. I ask to take pictures of signs. I want to hug everyone and tell them how good and inspiring they are, but I figure that would be a little weird. By some miracle, the rain has stopped and the sun is starting to peek through the clouds.

“We’ve been blessed!” Drew says. He’s making a joke, but I think there’s some truth to it.

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Little by little, the crowd begins to move. We’re heading for the Capital building, about two miles from our starting point at the Civil Rights Museum. Soon, the crowd begins to chant:

“BUILD BRIDGES, NOT WALLS!”

“LOVE, NOT HATE, MAKES AMERICA GREAT!”

“PEOPLE UNITED–WE’LL NEVER BE DIVIDED.”

I look around. I love this place. I love these people. And despite everything, I have so much hope.

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During his campaign, Trump promised to make America great. I never believed him. We can’t change the fact that Donald Trump is president, but we can damn sure keep him accountable.

Today was only the beginning. March on, sisters.

The march in Atlanta was a peaceful and incredibly positive experience. Thank you to everyone who organized the marches across the world, and thank you to anyone who offered support in any way. If you have any questions about my political beliefs, the march or the reasons behind it, feel free to contact me. 

Don’t Read Rita Skeeter (or, Beware of Fake News)

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I am not a journalist, but I have always loved newspapers.

How could I not? After all, I had learned about newspapers from one of my favorite people in the entire world: my father. Every morning, without fail, Dad would drink his cup of coffee and read the paper. He’d stop reading to give me a good morning hug and help me make breakfast, but the paper was always there. I thought that one day, I might have the same routine.

As I grew older, Dad saved news articles he thought I would find interesting–usually from the Arts & Culture section, or articles that mentioned my high school or someone I knew. When the papers started re-printing Calvin and Hobbes, every member of my family made sure they read that day’s comic. Newspapers were a constant joy, even if the actual news was not.

But high school has a way of making even the most optimistic adolescents (me) a little skeptical. I believed that the media–especially television news stations–hardly ever covered positive stories, and focused instead on violence and shock value. In my advanced literature class, we watched Wag the Dog, a weirdly intriguing film in which the government uses the media to fake an entire war. I developed a habit of consuming media with a grain of salt–but we all have our biases, and admittedly, that grain of salt often changes size.

Much of that has changed.

It seemed to happen slowly–at first. My dad told me that the local paper was getting shorter and shorter, and started reading papers like the New York Times on his tablet. I went to college and met countless aspiring journalists. I graduated college, and the aspiring journalists became real, grown-up journalists. News started trending on social media and I could read important stories almost immediately. Memes were cited as sources. I started listening to NPR every morning.

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Then, 2016 happened. The election happened. Fake news became the biggest news.

A few weeks ago, I read that many journalists had received death threats over the course of the election season.

I thought of the journalists I knew, and my heart broke.

I knew journalism was changing. I never knew that journalists–my friends–could be threatened for doing their job and stating facts.

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In my state of anger and confusion, I turned to social media and asked if any journalist friends would be willing to share their thoughts. Fortunately, my good friend Ben was gracious enough to respond and contribute his thoughts on the current state of political journalism.

And he knows his shit. Just look at those glasses.

Ben has truly experienced Atlanta. #worldofcoke #atlantaadventures

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In all seriousness, Ben is my go-to journalism expert. In college, he studied journalism and political science; now, he works in Washington, D.C. Needless to say, I trust his judgement. If you are concerned about today’s journalism, please read and consider Ben’s point of view.

Read Ben’s article below (posted with permission)or read the original post here.

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Journalism in the era of fake news

“I have great respect for the news and great respect for freedom of the press.”

President-elect Donald Trump made this statement Wednesday during his first press conference in 168 days.

Since holding his last televised question and answer session with reporters, our new national leader has hired and fired key advisors, met with several world leaders and been accused of sexual assault. He was also elected president in a campaign that shattered not only most people’s preconceived notions about politics, but also about the vitally important profession of journalism.

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
– Thomas Jefferson, 1787

Political journalism in the United States is often called the fourth branch of government or the “fourth estate.” Journalists are meant to be an important conduit for citizens to learn about the actions of their representatives and to hold office-holders accountable by challenging their assertions.

Yours truly (right) interviewing presidential candidate Rand Paul and Trump cabinet appointee Mick Mulvaney.

Journalism is an incredibly powerful tool. It is often called the first draft of history, but it often ends up shaping history as well.

“You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”
– William Randolph Hearst, 1897

We are fortunate that thanks to the wisdom of the founding fathers, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects journalists. Many countries, such as Russia, don’t have a free press. One of my professors in college was arrested for teaching an investigative journalism workshop in Russia, and described the fear he saw in Russians eyes when he just discussed the idea of a free press.

“Do you think, for Christ’s sake, that The New York Times is worried about all the legal niceties? Those sons of bitches are killing me. They’re using any means. We’re going to use any means.”
– Richard Nixon, 1971

Politicians and the press have always had a love-hate relationship. The media allowed them to get their message out but also criticized them frequently. However, beginning with the resignation of Richard Nixon after The Washington Post and other media outlets exposed his illegal behavior during the Watergate scandal, the relationship has soured a great deal.

Which brings us to the present day.

Our next president has perhaps the most complex relationship with the press in American history since Thomas Jefferson.

“As for what is not true, you will always find abundance in the newspapers.”
– Thomas Jefferson, 1806

“I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news.”
– Donald Trump to CNN’s Jim Acosta, 2017

Trump has pushed to change libel laws to punish the press for coverage he does not like, encouraged mobs at his rallies to heckle and berate female reporters, and fomented distrust of major media outlets while peddling insane conspiracy theories with no basis in reality.

The Committee to Protect Journalists last year declared Trump an “unprecedented threat to the rights of journalists and to CPJ’s ability to advocate for press freedom around the world.”

But Trump is also a master manipulator of the media and may be the most interviewed candidate of all time. Even as a lowly college student, I sat in on one of his press conferences and stuck my mic in his face after a presidential primary debate.

Part of the reason the American people sided with Trump over the press in this election is that the media has become increasingly polarized and partisan. Partisan political newspapers have existed since America’s founding, but never has division and mistrust of “the media” been so high.

I saw it first-hand covering this presidential campaign.

Yours truly (right) interviewing presidential campaign Rick Santorum after the Republican primary debate in Charleston.

I was yelled at by an angry Trump supporter at a rally in South Carolina in September 2015. “The news people are trying to shut everything down, with the lies they tell,” he said to me. “I’m fed up with the news people.” At that same rally, Trump pointed to the riser where I was sitting with my fellow reporters. “Those are some dishonest people, folks,” he said as they began booing us loudly.

My credentials from the Democratic convention.

I also covered the Democratic convention, where angry Bernie Sanders delegates stormed the media center, overwhelming police. They were furious at what they saw as media collusion that helped Hillary Clinton win the Democratic nomination, and they weren’t entirely wrong — the interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee recently resigned from a commentator role at CNN after it was revealed she gave Clinton the questions to a primary debate in advance.

Is it any wonder, then, that a recent Gallup poll found that only 32% of the public trust the press?

“Fox News gives you both sides of every story. The president’s side and the vice president’s side.”
– Stephen Colbert, 2006

Opinion and analysis is being blended with hard reporting. Talking head pundits shout at each other all night on partisan cable channels. Websites, blogs and social media mean people can read an endless supply of “news” that caters to their preconceived notions. Facebook is awash in false news stories.

But hope is not lost.

There are a few simple steps you can take to be a more informed media consumer and to support responsible journalism in the era of “fake news.”

  1. Understand that all news sources have a point of view. Just because Fox News is conservative and MSNBC is liberal, it doesn’t make them wrong on the facts. Sometimes they are — and it’s important to recognize the difference between a fact (i.e. the earth is round) and an opinion (i.e. climate change doesn’t exist)
  2. Support your local newspaper/TV newscast/Radio station by subscribing or tuning in.
  3. Support local public journalism such as NPR and PBS affiliates.
  4. If you can, donate to organizations like the ACLU, ProPublica or the John S. and James L. Knight foundation that work to help journalists.
  5. Watch/listen to/read sources with a different point of view than your own. If you are liberal, read The Wall Street Journal. If you are conservative, read The New York Times. Huffington Post, meet Daily Caller. Etc.
  6. DON’T TRUST ANY NEWS ARTICLES POSTED ON FACEBOOK UNLESS THEY ARE IN THE GOOD AREAS ON THIS CHART.

Bad journalism certainly contributed to Trump’s victory in this campaign.

Good journalism will help keep Trump accountable to the American people over the next few years and help to diffuse some of the partisan and ideological tension our country is feeling right now.

Please make sure you know the difference.

Reading List: Dumbledore’s Army Read-A-Thon

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I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions. I’m not sure if that philosophy is due to my previous failings or some deeply rooted cynicism, but every year is the same: while everyone toasts to the new year and announces their goals, I stay silent. If I say anything at all, it’s more of a hypothetical musing than an actual commitment…and if it’s been a particularly awful year, I look forward to better days.

But if there is one goal I have for 2017, it is to read more books. I fell short of my reading goal this year, and I’ve been re-evaluating what (and when) I choose to read. I have a horrible habit of buying books faster than I read them and adding more and more to my to-read list; even if I lose interest in the story, I become more determined than ever to finish the damn book. Because if I don’t finish it, I’ve just wasted my time! Right?

As you have probably guessed, that stubbornness only results in reading less. And there is so much to read and so much to learn.

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Words have power. That is a truth that I have never, ever disputed. Books entertain and comfort and educate, and it’s all part of an incredible magic that constantly amazes me.

To kick off 2017, I am participating in a read-a-thon that focuses on diverse books, appropriately titled Dumbeldore’s Army Read-A-Thon. If stories help us empathize with others, then diverse books are yet another a tool we can use to make our world a little kinder.

There are seven read-a-thon prompts, all based on spells from the Harry Potter world. Take a look at my reading list, and feel free to recommend some of your favorite diverse books in the comments!

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Expecto Patronum: Read a diverse book featuring an issue of personal significance to you or a loved one.

For the first prompt, I chose an old favorite: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. While this novel features various issues, the two that are closest to my heart are mental health and LGBTQ rights. Charlie has his own struggle with mental health, and one of his best friends is gay–and it is a story that is still all-too familiar and important.

Expelliarmus: Disarm your own prejudices. Read a diverse book featuring a marginalized group you don’t often read about.

I consider myself fairly well-educated in terms of LGBTQ rights, but I know I still have a lot of work to do. I’ve never read a book about someone who is trans or gender-nonconforming, and so I’ve chosen Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin. It’s about a gender fluid teen, and I’m looking forward to learning and reading more about gender fluidity than what I’ve seen on Tumblr.

Protego: Protect those narratives and keep them true. Read an #OwnVoices book for this prompt.

Diverse books are important, but we must also strive to read stories about marginalized groups written by marginalized groups. #OwnVoices is a movement that supports authors and their stories. For this prompt, I’ll also be diving into some fantasy with Serpentine by Cindy Pon.

Reducto: Smash that glass ceiling. Read a book that empowers women from all different walks of life.

ALL THE FEMINISM. There are so many options, but I decided to go with Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. I loved reading essays in my gender studies classes in college, and I can’t wait to read about the author’s thoughts on today’s feminist culture.

Impedimenta: Read a diverse book that’s been left unread on your TBR for far too long!

I picked up a copy of Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson ages ago, but it’s been sitting on my shelves gathering dust–so it’s the perfect book for this prompt! Woodson tells her childhood story through poetry, and I have a feeling it will become one of my favorites.

Stupefy: Read a diverse book that has stunned the Internet with all its well-deserved hype.

I haven’t been as involved with the book community on Tumblr or Instagram as I have in the past, so this one took a lot of Google searching…but I finally settled on When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore. This book has stellar Goodreads reviews and features characters with diverse, intersectional identies. And hey, more magic!

Lumos: Read a diverse book that was recommended by one of your fellow book bloggers.

I turned to Twitter and asked for  recommendations. The lovely ladies at Black Chick Lit suggested two titles, one of which was Another Brookyln by Jacqueline Woodson (yes, another one!). I probably would have never found this book if it weren’t for Black Chick Lit, and I am so grateful for their input.

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Only two days until the #DAReadathon begins! If you’re interested in joining, visit Read at Midnight‘s blog to sign up (and hit me up if you are a fellow Hufflepuff!). Oh, and Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s to an ink-stained 2017 that shines with love and compassion. ❤️