O Brave New World: What Forum for Common Values and Goals?

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CommonDreams.org

O Brave New World: What Forum for Common Values and Goals?

"[Arnold's] musings reflect misery and distain [sic] in 95% of her writing."

"[Her] Sunday articles ... are silly, repetitious and 99% negative ..."

"Look at Kent and what her way has done ... turned Kent into a post- industrial slagheap!"

"To the snob who ... enjoy[s] Arnold's tiresome and wordy dreams about a socialistic America. ... us un-edji-cated can only hope she is fast approaching the letter Z."

- Recent Record Courier "SoundOff!" comments

Hopes are sometimes realized unexpectedly: last week I received this notice from my Record Courier editor:

Because of the need for an overall reduction in Editorial Department expenses, including our budget for correspondents, I need to put your column on a once/monthly basis.

It's hard to believe that our local daily paper can only keep going by cutting $15 (my stipend per column) a month from their editorial page budget. But I also don't believe that the paper is deferring to critics of my column, or to advertisers who don't want readers exposed to my "negative" liberal views.

The next day I received a phone call urging me to take a trial subscription to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The sales-pitch cited $700 worth of coupons for goods or services as a reason for signing up.

Then I got an automated call from "Sprawl-Busters." The recorded voice first asked: "Are you in favor of the Sheetz gas station at the corner of Fairchild & N..Mantua?"

My reply of "Well, maybe not" was not acceptable - I had to answer Yes or No. I chose the latter and the script continued: "Do you agree that it will [assorted unpleasant options were recited that I didn't write down]?" I said No, because I'm not sure it would reduce property values or keep families from wholesome destinations or cause traffic jams or .... The automated system terminated the call.

O brave new world! Electronic media are replacing daily newspapers, which are no longer profitable. Only 31% of adults get their news from daily papers. The web-site Paper Cuts reports that over 8,000 jobs in print journalism have been lost in the first seven months of 2008.

And web-based consulting firms are apparently finding a ready market for citizen protests. Sprawl-Busters didn't ask me to participate in resolving the problems raised by the proposal for a new gas station in my town - only to ratify a list of statements designed to polarize opinion and elicit support.

I'm not reassured to have negotiations over the location of a gas station in my town undertaken by an on-line consulting firm. Worse, I don't like my views reduced to scripts of Yes/No questions, and I doubt that we can run societies - large or small - on the manipulation of reality by online entrepreneurs or through the anarchy of blogs, YouTube and FaceBook.

It seems to me that our society - government, economics and politics - is already pretty dysfunctional, and the imminent demise of our daily newspapers is merely a consequence of this dysfunction. It remains to be seen if a humane society, a sound economy, or a system of democratic governance can be built on electronic communications, media empires and performance art mostly designed to generate profit for the rich; it remains to be seen if neighbors can support one another and build liveable, sustainable communities through e-mail, text-messaging and on-line consultants; it remains to be seen if communities can negotiate common values without the common ground of a daily newspaper.

In the past, with a daily newspaper and engaged citizens, Kent has had lively discussions about shopping malls, drug stores, the Cuyahoga River, a new library, bridges, parks, and schools, and through them they built a vibrant city. On September 11 we will dedicate Freedom House( http://www.ohio.com/news/27420909.html) a shelter for homeless veterans uniquely supported by the community.

The Record-Courier editorial this week was right about the proposed Sheetz gas station: we have the opportunity to work with our neighbors and developers to produce a better outcome.

We are a car-oriented society; Kent is a town with a large number of commuters who will buy gas and food as they pass through; Kent is also in need of jobs and economic development.

The daily work of living together cannot be done by merely responding to theatrics from the worlds of media, finance, oil, war, religion, entertainment or ideology. We all have an obligation to see the world as it is, not as we would like it to be, nor as others design it for us. We also need the public forum of a daily newspaper in which to work out our common values and common goals.

I'll continue my columns with the Record Courier until after the election. But I think it's time for me to step back and hope that We-the-People can make electronic wizardry and carefully crafted virtual realities into liveable sustainable communities, and a healthy world without war.

I'm not hopeful ...

The present challenges are enormous, and reach far beyond Kent's city limits. We-the-People didn't pick up the challenge three decades ago when Jimmy Carter advised us to end our "intolerable dependence on foreign oil." Even now, with global warming added into the equation, we're hearing "Drill here, Drill now!"

... but I've been wrong before.

Caroline Arnold

Caroline Arnold retired in 1997 after 12 years on the staff of US Senator John Glenn. She previously served three terms on the Kent (Ohio) Board of Education. In retirement she is active with the Kent Environmental Council and sits on the board of Family & Community Services of Portage County. Her Letters From Washington has been published as an e-Book by the Knowledge Bank of the Ohio State University Library.  E-mail: csarnold@neo.rr.com

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