Thursday, 24 November 2016

First They Tried to Silence the Artists

My alter-ego, the co-editor of all the sins, had a bit of a go at Donald Trump this week. He had a go at the cast of Hamilton: An American Musical last weekend and demanded that the theatre be a safe space. This seems rich coming from a man who encouraged violence at his campaign rallies and has failed to condemn the hate crimes being perpetrated in his name.

There is so much to speak out about, from the admission of illegal activities by the Trump Foundation to foreign leaders being hosted at Trump Tower to Trump's children and son-in-law being positioned for high-level roles in his administration despite being in control of his businesses. The conflicts of interest are numerous and serious and the president-elect needs to be held accountable for them all.

The concern I have now, is our ability to do that. In my article on all the sins, I warned that the silencing of artists would lead to the silencing of more voices. And now there are reports that he summonded the press to Trump Tower for a dressing down of their coverage of the campaign - this after he banned press from his campaign if he didn't like their coverage - and he was on Twitter berating The New York Times. Discrediting news sources, denying access and trying to control coverage are all serious warning signs.


Only today, I spoke to a friend of mine here in London who is a visual and performance artist and who has this week postponed a show he is due to put on in New York. He is an immigrant and a person of colour whose work addresses and questions of gender, sexuality and race. He said he doesn't feel that it would be safe for him in America, right now, and that he is concerned about how he would be treated going through immigration.

Another voice that will not be heard in Donald Trump's America.

These silenced voices are a problem. Soon, we will be told that this silencing is 'normal' and the danger is that we will accept it. It is not normal. Information is important. Art is important. But the ability to speak out is essential. The media is not perfect, but we cannot hand control over to the people in power - regardless of who those people are.

So another call to action: support reputable news sources by putting money into them. News agencies are struggling to do essential, in-depth, investigative reporting because so many of us get our news for free on the internet (me included). If we want journalists to do excellent work and not be beholden to large corporations, politicians or the wealthy, we have to make that possible. We have to support the work that is a critical part of democracy and then we have to demand more from them.

We must demand that they not be bullied by Trump; that they report critically and investigate thoroughly; that they get feet on the ground and don't let all the flash-bang tactics of the Trump transition team obscure real issues like his conflicts of interest and the ongoing attacks on the Standing Rock Sioux and other protesters trying to protect sacred land and clean water.

If you believe in free speech, let me assure you that it is under threat. Again, I don't say this to scaremonger, I say this to inspire. You have options. Fear will not solve the problems, we have to look for common ground. The North Dakota protests are happening on Obama's watch. Freedom of the press and demanding that they act in all of our best interest is not an issue of liberalism or conservatism. We all want and deserve correct information. We must reject the post-fact world that many of all political positions say we live in now. Opinion is not fact.

We are all hearing about the echo-chamber of social media, but unreliable or heavily biased reporting is not new. Noam Chomsky has long championed independent media and warned that those with power manipulate the messages we recieve in order to preserve a status quo that favours them. Seek out trustworthy new sources, but this requires a level of critical thinking that many (most?) of us simply don't apply to the news we read.

Think critically. Read widely. Seek out the facts. Do not be swayed by rhetoric and fear tactics. Demand more. Demand better. And keep speaking out. Keep making art. Keep telling the truth.

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