A few weeks ago I watched Bill Maher's Real Time, as I often do. In fact, I enjoy his show and clever wit. But, a short video produced by Alexandra Pelosi (daughter of Nancy Pelosi) was aired on the show in which she interviewed Republicans in Union Beach, NJ. She asked people what government programs they thought should be cut to decrease the national deficit. Having met some of the nicest people when I was documenting the devastation that Hurricane Sandy left behind, I was utterly dismayed at the tone of Maher's and Pelosi's version of "the voices" of Union Beach.
I continue to find that we are missing the boat on an important conversation, both in the media and among friends and colleagues. And it doesn't have any foundation in poking fun or being disrespectful of citizens, regardless of their party affiliations. On the same day that Pelosi's video ran, President Obama told an audience of students in Israel that social change doesn't happen without citizen participation, and placing pressure on politicians. So why isn't this message loud, clear and central to conversation and debate about our democracy?
We are doing a disservice to each other. Pelosi's video misses the point altogether, yet still illustrates that politically we aren't as far from each other in beliefs and values as pundits would like us to believe. As citizens we need to come together and build consensus on how to fix our broken democracy and political system. An obvious gap is the fact that no one TALKS about the solutions needed to come together. Maher, Pelosi and others prefer to make jokes than be of practical help. As citizens we need to take responsibility for our own part in the problem and step-up to fix it, instead of complaining, joking around or, simply being apathetic.
This is why I've been developing a web series about role-model citizens who are building up our civic fabric, instead of continuing to tear it apart. The Engaging People Series shows people who are concerned about problems in their communities and society as a whole, but actively work toward positive change. Union Beach, NJ and nearby towns are the key to valuable stories of citizens who come together to help each other, especially after Hurricane Sandy. If solidarity works in the aftermath of a natural hardship, then we certainly have the power to work out citizen-driven problems with citizen-driven solutions every day of the year.
We need positive representations of people doing good in our society so that we can see there are people who are understanding, empathetic and tolerant so trust can build. When we are able to actually feel what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes then we can begin to find ways to meaningfully derail political grid-lock and corruption.
Come back each month and see what's new with the Engaging People web series and watch citizens making a difference—providing hope for a better future in communities—through volunteerism, service or political activities. As much as I like comedy, let's stop poking fun at one another's expense and find our commonalities as many at the Jersey Shore have found to be the most positive aspect in life after Hurricane Sandy.