Things I’m Verbing: “We Reject the President-Elect” and a WPA for Journalism

I marched in my first take-over-the-streets mass protest Wednesday night. Conveniently, I’d scheduled therapy for the day after the election, but I’d done all my crying before that. I’d heard there was going to be some sort of protest at Union Square, about a 10-minute walk from my therapist’s office, so I grabbed a pita from the halal food truck parked on Sixth Avenue and planned to go eat in Madison Square Park before joining in. But I heard the roar of the crowd just then; the front of the march streamed past me. “Join in!” someone yelled. So, carrying my Gatorade under one arm and my styrofoam plate of chicken and hot sauce in my other hand — I did.

What is there to say? I’ve never felt the national mood change so direly before, and I include 9/11 in this. I’ve been glued to Twitter; it seems like the only place I can rage and grieve right now, and make no mistake: this is grief. Last night I had dinner with a dear friend; we ordered three very hot dishes by accident, but neither of us cared, because at least we could feel something, as we joked.

I’ve been thinking about this tweet a lot:

I’ve started speaking up more now. I don’t feel so constrained by the fear of getting into online fights with other people’s conservative friends and relatives. The stakes are too high. Donald Trump has spent the past year and a half promising he’s going to harm the most vulnerable among us, and I believe him.

This is not normal. I’ve never seen my nation this scared. Only one-quarter of eligible voters elected this man, and Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Children are terrified. Minorities and queer people are terrified. White nationalists are openly celebrating; antisemites are getting bolder; our enemies abroad are pouring champagne. Trump voters are getting angry that they’re being called out for supporting bigotry, passively or tacitly. They were only 25%. They had voter suppression and intimidation on their side, whether they like it or not. They have no right to hold us hostage like this.

I see the desperate petitions for President Obama to simply appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, for California to secede, to eliminate the Electoral College, for the electors to go rogue and simply not empower such a profoundly dangerous, unethical and uninterested candidate. I don’t know what I believe can and will happen anymore.

Earlier this week I said I believed that “objectivity,” whatever that means in journalism, is a copout and that supporting or at least not challenging Donald Trump puts everything I hold dear in danger. I stand by that more than ever now. I know we in the media are supposed to be soul-searching right now, to be less snide and presumptive. I wonder how many have simply forgotten j-school in a bumper sticker: Afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted. Moreover, as I think going back through this blog will show, the media did tell the truth about Donald Trump. Voters simply didn’t care.

I am a journalist, and I believe journalism should be a force for good in the world. Over the next few weeks, I want to talk to people who can help me make that happen. I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one who wants a 1930s approach to media — a New Deal, a Civilian Conservation Corps, a Works Progress Administration. I grew up in Appalachia, in “flyover country.” I will go back if someone invests in sending me. I call on media companies to put their money where their mouth is. I don’t need to be in New York to do great work. You have a surplus of immensely qualified journalists here. I suggest you use them.

Obviously this will mean figuring out what a WPA for journalists would look like. I’ve spent a lot of time outlining questions — who will these journalists serve, local or national audiences? What kind of journalism do communities really want? How can we support the journalism that’s already out there, but suffocating from being understaffed, devalued, hated, underpaid? What could we do to support journalists who expected to make it in New York, but would find themselves in communities they don’t recognize? What’s the desired end result, and is it achievable? How do you compete with for-profit journalism that simply tells audiences what they want to hear?

Please email me if you want to talk about this further: esther.bergdahl@gmail.com. I want your help, your ideas, your energy. A lot of people are out there doing good works today. This is going to be my thing. Let’s fix what we can, no matter how small the steps.

And now, a few links, though I hope you’ve also been browsing those included above:

Things I’m Verbing: Giant Meteor 2016

Growing up, I always wanted political lawn signs at our house, and I was always disappointed we didn’t have any. It’s not like it would have been a drastic statement of any kind. We lived in a college town surrounded by some of the last New Deal Democrats of an increasingly red Ohio. Was anyone going to be surprised if we had a Clinton/Gore or a Ted Strickland placard out front?

I mentioned this to my dad the other day. “Well,” he said, “we wanted to, but your mom didn’t think her patients should have to worry about how their therapist was voting.” I don’t know why that never occurred to me, and it makes all the sense in the world. Now, as a journalist, I’m also in a profession that asks me not to declare allegiances when it could create a conflict of interest in my reporting. I understand the instances in which I’d want to be a blank slate for my sources, to be as neutral a palette as possible for them to speak their truths to, and I admire those who can.

This year, however, I do think a vote for Donald Trump is a vote against everything I stand for, as a journalist, as a Jew, as a woman, as an American, as a human being who lives in a wider world. I’m not just saying that as a lifelong Democrat; this year, we’ve been given plenty of evidence by both major candidates about fitness for office. Today’s link roundup is already a bit backward-facing. Poynter, for instance, has already listed its choices for top political journalism of the year. But like a lot of my friends, I think Roxane Gay speaks for me: “This anxiety is exhausting to watch,” she writes for the New York Times. “But regardless of this election’s outcome, Tuesday will not and cannot be the end of the world. We don’t have that luxury.”

Here are some big-picture pieces to tie up the discovery phase of this election, plus some other things — because we have to remember that, in fact, there’s still more in heaven and earth, &c.

Go vote.