Challenging the dominant narrative

“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.”

Few writers have shared more prophetic quotes than George Orwell, and these words have a frightening reminiscence to the current landscape we find ourselves in today.

Just as Winston, the protagonist in 1984, who found himself facing a subversive act against his conditioned beliefs when he decided to start writing in a journal, we too face this struggle every day.

What is truth? How do we share it? There is truth in media, which we must wade through to find, and sometimes never actually do, and there is our personal truth. The truth that we tell ourselves, and the truth that we all create from the aggregate sea of information that exists in mainstream news, social media, textbooks, magazines, television, photos, videos, etc.

The list goes on and on, but how do we create our own truth amid so much propaganda? How do we communicate this truth to others?

Being in the media as a columnist and a videographer I am part of this vast network of information, and I hold my own bias. We all do. But when I share stories I am always conscious of how I may be contributing to our extreme division of opinions, and maintain integrity in what I’m telling, even if it may not fit into my pre-established narrative.

I seek to interview individuals who have a strong voice, but lack a platform to speak from, and I always seek to share stories that challenge the institutions of perceived power that exist in our city and society.

Most media does just the opposite, and is a tool to maintain power in the hands of those who have historically controlled it. White. Wealthy. Male.

The Jamar Clark case is a tragic and fascinating example of institutional racism, power and the media. Say what you will about the details of the case, but Jamar Clark deserved due process in a court room and did not deserve to be murdered in the street.

At the 4th Precinct, I witnessed organizers receiving unprovoked brutalization and pepper spray from the police, yet moments later I read major news outlets reporting on social media that the violence was coming from the protesters.

Clark’s mugshot was used when a major news network reported on the story, but when three white men shot at protesters the pictures shown on the news were of smiling school boys.

The case ultimately resulted in a strategically crafted speech by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, which was then supplemented by major news networks justifying the non-indictment. Four months of messaging tug of war and shifts of public opinion was undeniably controlled by media for 99 percent of the people who had an opinion on the case.

Unless you were a witness at the scene of his murder, your opinion has been crafted by the propaganda created in your respective news feed, and depending on the truths that you allow in your world your position will fall into one polarized category or the other.

One side says black lives matter, and the murder of unarmed black men, women and LGBTQ people of color by the police must stop.

The other side says cops shooting and killing thugs that break the law is justified.

What side of history are you on?

I recently spent two weeks out of the country without the Internet, the news or social media. It was necessary, healing, and thought provoking. I felt less anxious and less demoralized about the state of our world.

I was reminded of the toxicity of media when I asked a group of young people from Australia what they think of when they think of America. As anticipated, and as I feared, they replied in unison, “Donald Trump.”

Trump denounces the media, as he does women, Muslims, Latinos, and most things except the KKK, but he should recognize what the media has done for him.

Whether for praise or to satirize his ludicrous statements, he is always trending. I’m disappointed in myself for giving him any words in this column. The more he is in the media, the more he becomes a part of our conditioned belief of having power in the world, when he shouldn’t even be in our thoughts at all.

Click bait creates perceived relevance, whether it is relevant or not, and subsequently creates power.

In February videographer, educator, organizer and community leader Adja Gildersleve and I facilitated a workshop on social justice storytelling at Race to Justice Day at Southwest High School.

Race to Justice Day at Southwest High School.

Students organized a full day of workshops and joined together with activists from around the city to teach the untold history not in their curriculums. We stressed the importance of developing your own narrative and sharing your truth with the world. I’m constantly inspired by young people. Although they can’t vote and are limited in access to systems of power, we must listen to the stories of youth today and make sure their truth is part of the broader narrative.

Instead of continuing to be frustrated with the information that is in the media today, and regurgitating the propaganda that already exists, I commit to create my own truth. I will listen to the voice of youth, I will lift up the stories of those who are underrepresented, and I will seek media from the grassroots. We don’t have to believe everything the mainstream media tells us, and we don’t even have to pay attention to it. When it comes to honest, grassroots media these are some of my favorites: photographer Patience Zalanga; on Twitter @babewiththecam; videographer DA Bullock of Bully Collective; and Becky Zosia Dernbach, NOC communications director.

We are in a difficult time in Minneapolis and the world. We are in a time that great change is needed, and in the words of George Orwell, “In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Ryan Stopera is a social worker and community organizer in Minneapolis. He is on the board of directors of MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and the Lyndale Neighborhood Association. 

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