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Thoughts On One Year Later

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It has been a year since Donald Trump was inaugurated as the president—and it has been a constant drum beat of insults, Twitter fights and sudden reversals of policy. The news cycle has been dominated by the reality TV show broadcast from the White House, and in homes and cafes around the country, people have had tense and bewildered conversations about what it all means.

The Messenger caught up with local civic leaders to get insights about what are the prevailing thoughts and attitudes about the Trump administration—and how national politics do, or don’t, affect local attitudes.


Tod Davies, writer; Director, Ashland Literary Arts Festival;
Messenger Board Member

On a scale of optimistic to pessimistic, what is your mood – and please elaborate why/how?

Optimistic. But then, caveat, I’m not just a glass-is-half-full person, I’m usually a glass is half-full-with-something-intriguing person.

How do you feel your life is different one year after Trump’s election?

I’m on Twitter a whole lot more. Alas.

What do you predict we will be saying about national politics/mood/etc. one year from now?

This is mysterious. But I think we can safely say that whatever we’ll be saying, we’ll be surprised we’re saying it.

 

Richard Herskowitz, Artistic and Executive Director, Ashland Independent Film Festival

On a scale of optimistic to pessimistic, what is your mood—and please elaborate why/how?

I relate to Antonio Gramsci’s motto, and feel a “pessimism of the intellect, and optimism of the will.” The racism, misogyny, and greed of Trump and his enablers is activating the strongest resistance I have experienced since the 60s. I try to contribute through actions and donations every day, and that helps fight the despair that arises from following the news.

How do you feel your life is different one year after Trump’s election?

I can no longer be caught up for long in my private or professional concerns, without being wrenched back into an awareness of how trivial they are in relation to my civic responsibilities in this national emergency. I do believe that the work we do at AIFF is a political corrective to Trump’s demonization of minorities, in that the independent films we screen build empathetic identification with disempowered groups and voices. For example, a film we’re likely to screen this year follows a Syrian refugee family as they struggle to enter Europe, and anyone who sees it will have his or her stereotypes of Islamic immigrants shattered. 

What do you predict we will be saying about national politics/mood/etc. one year from now?

I have no predictions to offer. I shudder to think how scarred we will be if we undergo another year as traumatic as this last one.  What I pray is that the scapegoating of immigrants and other outsiders will stop working as an effective strategy for Republicans, they will pay at election time for their greedy tax bill, and our national mood will be soaring.

Stephani Seffinger, Ashland City Council Member

This last November I was fortunate to visit Fiji where my sister in law, Judith Cefkin, is the US ambassador. My time there included dinners with a number of diplomats from a variety of countries and along with this came discussion of the how other countries were perceiving the decline of leadership in the role of the United States in environmental and human rights issues. Discussion of the COP23 (Bonn Climate Change Conference) which was presided over by Fiji, the first country to relocate an entire village due to climate change, was a hot  topic of discussion. One of the items that came up was the changing role of both cities and private sector entities in their increasing roles on the world stage of addressing these issues. 

So back to the question of how my life is different a year after Trump’s election I see the increased roles that are now being placed on cities to address issues that the Trump administration has abandoned. The implementation of CEAP is one example of this. The threat to the reduction of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is another. Priorities of the current administration are also impacting Ashland in terms of cutbacks in programs and funding at a state and county level which means that Ashland is faced with the need to address issues of affordable housing, homelessness, senior services, social services and mental health services with less federal money and leadership. 

Trying to address the expanded role of the city while balancing basic services and increases in taxes and funding to such programs as recycling has been heavy on my mind and soul. How to balance the needs, and priorities of the citizens with the realities of funding. How to stay positive in the face of continuing federal destructive policies and erosion of the meaning of our  pledge of allegiance “freedom and justice for all.”

Jeanine Moy, Outreach Director, KS Wild

On a scale of optimistic to pessimistic, what is your mood – and please elaborate why/how?

I try to neither be overly optimistic nor pessimistic, but just maintain a middle way – or as Ed Abbey describes, be a part-time crusader, half-hearted fanatic. This is 1) personally important as an activist, to not go insane and burn out, and 2) has implications for the public as a whole – our collective call to action should be of a realistic mindset. Realistically, the political climate is only going to get worse but I think a lot more people are becoming more politically aware and taking action for change.

How do you feel your life is different one year after Trump’s election?

After the initial grieving period last year when Trump was elected, I had new community organizing goals and felt way more resolute in my mission for the year: to bring more diverse groups together for the sake of justice: the local science community, the conservation community, and those working in the realms of social justice, and climate justice.

What do you predict we will be saying about national politics/mood/etc. one year from now?

Well, we can’t kid ourselves – it’s likely that the same type of horrific news will still be coming out of the White House BUT I think that we will be able to look at all the hard work that is happening at the local and state level and have reason for hope. I also think that by next year we should be getting energized around the 2020 election and really start mobilizing for change.

 

Julie Gillis, Messenger Board Member

On a scale of optimistic to pessimistic, what is your mood—and please elaborate why/how?  

I find myself bouncing between both optimism and pessimism. I have seen a surge in political engagement, a struggle to understand the dynamics of what brought us to this particular juncture, and an increased demand for marginalized voices to be heard from Black Lives Matters to the #MeToo movement. Here in Oregon, I think we are seeing increased action and activity in the progressive movement, with folks emboldened to confront racism, anti-Semitism, and more. But, I am increasingly worried that our political culture is veering towards the reality TV movement. Cycles for sound bites are shorter and shorter, it’s become hard to differentiate between news and fake news and fake fake news, bots and trolls, and a sense of grounded civil engagement seems limited. Even some authentic movement activism seems easily pulled into an online consumer model.

How do you feel your life is different one year after Trump’s election?

My life since the election has been one of reflection. One of review. One that has been digging into what democracy even means at this point in history. There has been confusion and confoundment, despair and frustration, and a hell of a lot of Twitter and Facebook scrolling, much of which didn’t really seem to help much. The outrageous news cycles and hot takes and breaking scandals have been exhausting, but seemingly never ending and I think that leaves us, me at least, less able to do the day to day work of change-making and grounded activism. I’m trying to be much more specific and thoughtful about online media use right now.

What do you predict we will be saying about national politics/mood/etc. one year from now?

I think we may be seeing the next presidential election cycle begin (if we haven’t entered impeachment territory). I think it’s highly possible we’ll be watching Hollywood/Reality candidates running, and we may even see older establishment candidates running again, neither of which would be my hope. I’d prefer to see “newer” folks from various state or federal government take the chance to run Kamala Harris, Julian Castro. I know Beto O’Roarke in Texas is challenging Ted Cruz and that’s exciting.  I’d like to see civic engagement at an all-time high. That being said, it’s also possible we couldn’t possible predict what might be occurring one year from now. I surely didn’t expect half of what’s happened this year.

 

Nolan Kenmonth, Messenger Freelance Writer

On a scale of optimistic to pessimistic, what is your mood – and please elaborate why/how?  

I see that people’s awareness of the world’s political climate is very high, and that awareness gives me hope. For a while, I had a difficult time feeling any kind of optimism or hope, because it seemed that so much of what so many of our leaders were doing ran counter to the needs of the people. Yet now, more than ever before, I see people becoming involved, speaking up for what they believe, and standing their ground. I see friends and family, secure in their knowledge of where they stand on social and political issues, and making stronger attempts to open up to discussion. I feel cautiously optimistic, because a world of people can wield the power to create a world of change, as it has throughout history. I think we have a long way to go, but I have a feeling we are on the right track.

 

Christopher Lucas, SOU Associate Professor, Messenger Freelance Writer

To warp an old phrase, I am dedicating 2018 to the “optimism of the intellect.” Sure, the national and international picture worries me. Some of those worries became acute a year ago, but a lot date back much farther than that. I am reminded of a man I knew as a kid—a farmer born at the turn of the last century who, with his wife, had raised twelve (!) children through the depths of the Great Depression. He told me, “I worked hard before the Depression. I worked hard during the Depression. I worked hard after the Depression.” Well. Yes. I am feeling that. He had worked hard and he had worked local, which to him still meant walking a hundred yards each morning to milk his cows by hand. In 1986. To quote another philosopher of concision: just keep swimming. In 2018, I hope many of us get into the local waters—into the Herculean efforts in our neighborhood schools, on city councils, in non-profits and faith communities—and see the many small, incremental ways toward a more resilient, just, and healthful Rogue Valley. A valley with more affordable housing, sustainable consumption, and economic opportunity for all ages. More art and celebration. Week by week, I become more thankful for our higher education institutions. The places where enthusiasm and exploration are still currency. Southern Oregon University, where I work, is adding staff, there’s a new president, and a new strategic plan; Rogue Community College is adding specializations and a High-Tech Center slated to open this summer. These are cornerstones we are fortunate to have, that generations have fought to build and keep. I invite everyone to dive into the pools of knowledge there—for professional advancement, for personal goals, for just the #WTF of it all. The old philosophical saw actually goes like this: “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” I get it. Let’s all strive to see the world as it is, and not through a tinted lens. But this year I will be working to put intelligence and aspiration on the same side of that equation.

 

Stephanie Raffelock, Messenger Freelance Writer

On a scale of optimistic to pessimistic, what is your mood – and please elaborate why/how?

This past year has left me feeling exhausted.  I am anxious and fearful that there is a man in the White House who demonstrates that he doesn’t know anything about the constitution or the rule of law. Worse, he doesn’t care that he doesn’t know. My mood is a blend of pessimism and optimism. I can see that our leaders are more concerned with power and position than they are with serving the American people. At the same time, I have faith in the people of this country, who I believe are awake and alert to the power of their vote and their advocacy.  In that I find some hope and optimism.

How do you feel your life is different one year after Trump’s election?

The horror show in Washington has created a palatable undercurrent of anxiety that permeates daily life. The coarse, divisive language and behavior coming from the White House has provided a permission slip for racists and bigots to speak up and that causes me great sorrow and as well as great concern. I am more inclined to speak my mind, stand in the light of my truth and become involved in the resistance.

What do you predict we will be saying about national politics/mood/etc. one year from now?

I hope that we will be saying, “thank God we survived.” I hope that we will be celebrating a change of leadership in the house and senate that will keep the president in check. And I pray that the out-of-balance man at the helm does not accidently take us into a nuclear conflict.

 

Andrew Robison, Manager, Talent Health Club, Messenger Board Member

This past year has made it clear: Earth is an interconnected and inseparable community. Lines that historically have separated–by design–are dissolving. The well-being of humanity and our home cannot rely on traditional structures of resource-controlling power. Borders do not create vacuums . . . our actions effect those who reside beyond. We must start to think globally by redefining ourselves via local communities, not arbitrary lines.

This deconstruction is striking when writ large on the worldwide media stage. The world’s power-players are in the limelight broadcasting their true colors: Our national government cannot rise above its own muck to even consider the well-being of the American people (or any other people for that matter). The current administration of the U.S. government has, without reserve, exposed the horror that is the status quo; one ‘hidden-in-plain-sight’ for quite awhile now. More than ever, the nature of media is such that bad actors can no longer help but expose themselves. Corruption and conspiracy abound. Human rights are privileges. Dividing marginalized peoples to maintain power and control is the norm. Americans expect our representatives will push legislative boundaries to make disparity in wealth THE accepted fact of life. We often can’t even get mad anymore because it’s too hard to hold our attention on every cause that violates humanity. Fear-driven consumerism makes the rich richer and the poor poorer by systematically tearing down our ability to “keep up” with daily life or even come close to achieving well-being.

Yet, this year has given me much hope! The audacity and up-front nature of the power-players are forcing human beings to be honest about the state of our country! We have social permission to shake out the cobwebs from “The Great American Media Intoxication”. . . to realize that reacting to sensationalized and distracting news is what fuels the fire. We are refocusing the lens. We see the affront to humanity. States are voting on and enacting laws that fly directly in the face of genuinely BAD federal laws. Communities are coming together, bridging traditional divides, and making the world they can see and affect better by involving themselves in something tangible and meaningful . . . with measurable and achievable outcomes.

I’m optimistic because shifting our purpose and acting to make the world a better place from our local communities outward–grassroots style–is the right direction to go when creating a “new normal.” And we are starting fresh right here in the Rogue Valley!

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