By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
Indian tribes are some of the most under-represented and misrepresented communities in the United States. We are only heard from in the mainstream media when there is a crisis, like the Standing Rock incident, or tragedies at Pine Ridge.
There are small, sometimes active groups, like Idle No More, who undertake to bring awareness and change through passive and vigorous protests. Again, media attention and public awareness typically come when a protest involves a sit-in of thousands and for days on end, or when violence erupts. When I worked with our own tribal tourism office, we often commented that the only time outside media showed interested in Cherokee was when a trial of a tribal official was taking place or when a body was found on the Boundary. The many good and positive things the Tribe was accomplishing was rarely received more than a brief mention in regional media sources. Things haven’t changed much over the past 15 years, except for the fact that many news outlets will not inject writer commentary into their news stories to “spice up” the articles to garner more readership and revenue.
I worked small market commercial radio before becoming a marketer and finally an editor. As a salesperson in for-profit media, it was interesting to watch the slow decay of the wall that was always between the sales force and the news department. Early in American media history, a concerted effort was made to protect the news department from influence by political parties, business executives and all other “powers that be.” The integrity of the news department was protected from all the other “entertainment” within a media outlet. The wall between journalism and entertainment has become so perforated that news networks now have people who purport to be journalists who also serve as categorical experts who not only report news but tell you what it means and what you need to think about it. Writer bias is so prevalent in modern media that it is impossible, at times, to distinguish between fact and writer’s opinion.
Concerning elections and politics, it is even more challenging to find truth in media. Passionate divides have formed in our society, all the way down to the individual communities we live in, to the point where families are divided on tribal government seats of office. And, disputes over politics can be very ugly. Pick up a paper, turn on a TV, or flip on your smartphone, and you will be bombarded with propaganda disguised as news for one political side or the other. We are turning into a culture of hate, whether we talk about national, state, or tribal elections.
Instead of honest, factual debate on issues, we gravitate toward aggressive anger to the individuals who hold opposing viewpoints on the issues. And, those on the extreme fringe of discussions are not at all afraid to use violence to accentuate their points of view. The latest craze is planting bombs in the mail of selected public officials because they hold a particular view or because it would gain attention to the cause they are bombing. Either way, speaking to the public through this type of destructive message is another example of the sorry state of some in our national community.
“Don’t stoop down to their level.” Back in the day, it was a commonly used saying when talking about what action to take when someone feels slighted or wronged. Today, we the people, seem to be in a national political limbo contest, many of seeing how low we can go. It is sickening to watch, regardless of the which end of the political spectrum you lean.
I decided to vote early this year. I think it is a great convenience to not worry so much about being sick or somehow indisposed on election day. I also like not having to stand in line or fight crowds to make my choices. And I take voting very seriously, whether it is a tribal election, local, state, or federal election. I take it seriously because I know that it doesn’t matter how “jumping up and down mad” I get at the decisions that are made, the only way that I can effectively make any kind of change is through my vote.
We have at least three tribal member candidates on ballots for local and regional elections. Those candidates had a least one thing on their minds that should matter to you. They understand the importance of having a voice for the people on the Qualla Boundary, not just at the table, but with seats among the decision makers of this region. Routinely, decisions are made at the local, state, and federal level that impacts the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Those decisions, directly or indirectly, affect you and your family.
Before I vote, I think about a vision of what I would like to see our Boundary, our state, and the United States be in five, 10, 20 years from now. And then I watch, listen, and gather information about candidates to determine which of those have the values and the mentality to work toward the vision that I have for the future.
It makes no sense to complain about the way your government is run and the decisions that your elected representatives make, and then sit at home and not cast a vote, whether it is a tribal election or the statewide election that is being held now and on finally on Nov. 6. Even if you think that your vote likely won’t make a difference, you can rest assured that your vote definitely won’t count if you don’t go to the polls and cast it.
By not voting, you effectively put your future in the hands of others, who will go vote. And you do not know if most of those voting will have the same thoughts and positions as you do. What if the candidate that most opposes your way of life gets voted in, by one vote? It happens.
We can talk to you until we are blue in the face, but you are the one who must get up, go to the polls, and make your mark. We can’t do it for you. We shouldn’t do it for you. It doesn’t matter how many protest marches or social media campaigns you participate. It doesn’t matter how you rave at your radio or TV when you hear the voice of opposition. It doesn’t matter how much you gossip about governance that you don’t agree with at the water cooler at your place of work. You make your difference at the voting booths.
So, will you please go vote? I am turning blue here.