If you aren't terrified to get up in front of a crowd of strangers and make a speech, I think you have a bit of the psychopath in you, which helps explain our political mess. To get up in front of a crowd of strangers in print is even scarier, because you can't take back words once they go to print and it is difficult to backpedal from them after publication.
That's one reason why, when Hank Sims asked me to come up with a "Best of Humboldt" column for this issue, I thought of the "My Word" column in the Times-Standard -- each one of them, the ones I agree with and the ones that make me foam at the mouth over my Kinetic coffee. The "My Word," which comes out day after day, from one resident after another, demonstrates the courage and conviction of the citizens of this county.
They aren't the most elegant reads. These are from the non-professional writers. These people don't have degrees in journalism under their belt. And to get into the "My Word," the Times-Standard forces them to condense their complex issues into less than 750 words. I get more space than that here. But the result is refreshing. I like my media raw, home-grown and biodiverse. The "My Word" column lets me hear from all kinds of people about all kinds of things.
Through the "My Word," I learned about the frustrations Christian Jordan feels when the Mac High student sees bullying or fighting among fellow students the day after Challenge Day, when the school devotes an entire day to teaching ways to resolve differences without violence. "Why is it that the lessons we're supposed to hold to heart always seem to die out so quickly?" Jordan asked.
Petrolia resident Ellen Taylor wrote about the tragic suicide in San Francisco of David Wehrer, known locally as Nature Boy, who at 19 was arrested as part of a demonstration to save the Mattole forest. Our community, she pointed out, has come out of a decades-long timber war, but we are foolish if we think that we have fully healed from the effects of that war.
Diane Day, a senior citizen in Eureka, wrote to say that she was opposed to a second marijuana dispensary in Myrtletown, but felt uncomfortable with the reasons most of her neighbors were opposing it, so she withdrew her opposition. But that wasn't the point of her "My Word"; it was to point out to the community that some 50 seniors live in a small housing complex near the dispensary and that she and many others are too infirm to make it to the Planning Commission meetings to voice their opinions on the issue. Our government needs to take into account vulnerable populations of people who might be affected by zoning changes and other government decisions, she said, particularly because these are the people who often can't get to the government meetings to have their say. Through her "My Word," Day was able to wave her hands from the back of the crowd and say, like the Whos on their speck of dust, "We are here! We are here! We are here!"
The "My Word"s in the Times-Standard cover any and all topics and come from all types of people. Some are heartwarming, others heart-breaking. Many are about the things that are important to many of us but are too mundane for the press to consider. Xandra Manns wrote how Keep Eureka Beautiful has planted some 500 street trees over the past five years and described the vast effort by volunteers to not just plant the trees but keep them alive through watering and monitoring.
That is the beauty of the "My Word." It is a space for all the nobodies of this world that have important things to say and no one who will say it for them.
So many of us spend way too much time talking to ourselves. By that I mean we talk to people about things we already know and already agree on. At times, we find ourselves in an argument with someone when we disagree -- but even then it is over something we are already versed in. In the Google world, we don't search out information on topics we know nothing about, so little new information comes to us. The invisible remains invisible, the silent remains silent.
That's why general newspapers still play an important role, and why features like "My Word" are so important. When the press and the politicians get caught up on what they think are community priorities, what I call the Real People can butt in, through the written word and the prominence of the "My Word" space and say, "Hey! These are the problems I face, and here are the ways I think we can start solving them."
It is most valuable in the Times-Standard, which alone of all daily newspapers I have read does not appreciate the importance of the newspaper editorial. When your leader fails to lead, everyday citizens must step forward, and that is what they do day after day with the "My Word."
It allows for conversations across the entire community. Some "My Word"s generate letter after letter, first in fervent opposition, then in opposition to the opposition and on and on. In a rural community where we live so far from each other, and where too many people live too far from our government center, it is crucial to have a safe shared space for discussion of important issues.
I say, let's duke out our disagreements in print. I'll bet Christian Jordan will agree that's a much better way to try and resolve our differences. For me, that represents the Best of Humboldt.
Marcy Burstiner is an assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at Humboldt State University. She can be a bully in print, but in person she's a 5' 2" weenie.