The transition to the news editor's chair here at the DCN has kept me busy, and has been a pain at times — literally, the lumbar support on the chair didn't sit well with my spine. I had to switch back to my usual one that creaks and groans like an old sea skiff. And, as one might imagine, my newfound duties haven't left as much room for ruminating to readers as I might have preferred.
And that's been a little disappointing for me. Plenty of happenings worthy of comment and critique have occurred in our world since the transitions in our newsroom.
I didn't appreciate relief for derecho victims being excluded from the COVID stimulus bill. I think Biden's push for electric vehicles is more flash than substance. I even had a thought or two on immigration before the current border crisis. I promised myself every week that I'd make time to contribute to page four. Yet, inevitably, I continued to find myself scrambling with the last bits of content for press each Tuesday night — a column not among them.
So, after 10 weeks without a column in print, I know a thing or two about the sense of regret that comes when you feel you could have stood up for what was right, but stayed silent instead.
And that's what I want to write about this week. In recent years, there has been plenty to both stand up for and stand up to no matter your personal persuasion may be. Even here at the newspaper, we've heard from some of you out there on various concerns over the years. We opened the video link of a woman making racial inferences while standing on the trestle bridge. We received the flash drive full of questionable images screencaptured from the social media pages of particular groups. We read the email about the bar owner who belittled others for following health guidelines.
Sometimes these things come to us anonymously. Sometimes the sender tells us they were too uncomfortable saying something themselves, and they feel the newspaper should take on the task — however, they're not always newsworthy. Assuming the best, the goal of these often-anonymous tips is likely to keep small acts of prejudice, immorality and incivility from bearing any significant fruit in our community — a worthy goal to be sure. But it takes a community —not just a newspaper — to traverse even a few steps along the arch of justice.
Like I said, there's been plenty to both protest and protect in recent years. The myriad flavors of hate our society has tasted aren't new, and they weren't created by any particular federal official's term in office. In fact, that sort of thing doesn't trickle down to the masses, it surges up from the grassroots level, no matter if it's on the coasts or on the plains. Small allowances of hate in our daily lives can build upon themselves like zebra mussels on a boat hoist until they result in something capable of drawing blood.
They can be as simple as a passing comment, but approving of them invites more of the same until there's a cluster of razor sharp shells encrusted on our community's common tongue — regardless of whether or not we contributed to it ourselves. Then one day we suddenly find ourselves justifying or rationalizing things and wondering how we got where we are — or worse yet, we never give it a second thought.
But we can stop the little things. We have that power. We can stand up and scrub the barnacles from our lips and hands before they manifest in words and deeds. I know there are times in my life when I have seen prejudice right in front of me and stayed silent — to my shame — and I know I have some apologizing to do for those times. I'm sure I'm not alone in that, but it's no reason to lock ourselves away in a prison of our own judgement. An awareness of our shortcomings can stir us to change, and that can be the key to betterment, not just for ourselves but for our friends and neighbors.
So, while your local newspaper will always be a reflection of your community, it cannot be its sole voice, booming from some perceived pinnacle of radiant power. That's not what we are. The newspaper's power lies in the community it serves. It tells your stories. It shares your words. The community has the same power as the paper in its ability to speak up against what is wrong.
So may our words repel the seeds of prejudice and hate before they take root in our community.