The Way Governments Chill the Lives of Their People

San Pedro Sula   Driving through the cities of Honduras, there are stretches that seem like fast food heaven for global companies.  It’s hard to know what to make of the many complexes that include Popeye’s, Dunkin Donuts, Subways, and Pizza Hut under the same roof virtually.  Traffic is heavy and unregulated.  Passing on the highways is random and reckless without regard to any road signage.  In short, life in the years since the coup or golpista looks and feels normal.

Talking to people in all walks of life though the new normal post-golpista reality is living in a world with a thundercloud always hovering in the sky above.

Because some radio and television stations were shutdown because they expressed opposition in the coup or allowed contrary voices and opinions to be expressed, one reporter or station owner after another told us what they did not allow on the air.  One mainly broadcast religious programming in Nicaragua because of the government there and had largely shifted that way in Honduras as well after the coup. Journalists would turn off their tape recorders or put the pen down on their pad after talking with us and then describe their interest in finding outlets for their writing outside of the country for fear that another shutdown of papers and journals expressing anything but fawning support of the government could come in the future.

Nothing any of these people had said was out of line or critical.  No new laws were cited that expressly forbade what they could broadcast or print, but everyone seemed to be internalizing the experience of the coup as a permanent warning light instructing caution, drawing lines that should not be safely crossed, things that could not be said.  Talking to lawyers who offered ACORN help in various ways there was always a warning that more care needed to be taken on all documents, because the government was hyper attentive to any nonprofit organizations with international connections.  This is what is meant when people talk about governments chilling the rights of their citizens.

One of our organizers told us a story about going with several leaders to respond to interest in organizing in a new barrio in one of our cities.  They were suddenly confronted by several individuals in police uniforms with guns drawn and pointed at them telling them they had to leave the neighborhood.  Because gangs have regularly infiltrated the police ranks and many have simply obtained uniforms for their work, organizers are unsure if they are dealing with police or worse.  In this case they kept talking so nothing got out of hand, but they kept talking while leaving the neighborhood.  Because the government cannot protect the people and seems to have little interest in doing so, despite the fact that security is on everyone’s minds, we don’t articulate security as an issue, because we never know in our own meetings whether there may be gang members or relatives, so the issues have to be framed carefully.

To say nothing is as it seems ignores the screams masked by the silence shrouded in the fear of a people unsure of their place between a government that does not protect their rights or their safety and real experiences of violence from both the government forces and the forces of even worse evil.

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Academics Find that Partisanship Has Become the Great Divider

New Orleans   Families everywhere in America get together for Thanksgiving.  They travel.  They honor tradition and renew bonds.  They cook and bake.  They eat too much.  They try to talk about how children have grown and how with each advancing year they miraculously haven’t aged a day.  They avoid talking about politics at the table.  According to some huge data crunching of smartphone data, it turns that most of that is still happening, but the impact of rabid partisanship enflamed by political advertising has created a wedge in families across the country.

Ok, we all wondered if this was the case.  Some of us may have suspected it.  Most of us would probably have denied it.  Now the evidence compiled by Professor Keith Chen of UCLA and Professor Ryne Rohla of Washington State reported in Science magazine makes it harder pretend that the Trump Era is not opening up even deeper fissures in families.

The professors managed a pretty amazing feat by using anonymous data from literally millions of cellphones that provided movement and location information on families.  They were able to sort out where people resided and where they journeyed for Thanksgiving and by overlaying voting data from the 2016 election they could identify Democratic precinct residents and Republican precinct leanings.  Looking at the political advertising in geographical markets, they could also tabulate the information with the precinct and dinner locations as well.  Then they compared it all against the 2015 Thanksgiving, a year before the Clinton-Trump contest.

Here’s what they found from their summary:

“…we show that Thanksgiving dinners attended by residents from opposing-party precincts were 30 to 50 minutes shorter than same-party dinners.  Reductions in the duration of Thanksgiving dinner in 2016 tripled for travelers from media markets with heavy political advertising – an effect not observed in 2015 – implying a relationship to election-related behavior.  Although fewer Democratic-precinct residents traveled in 2016 than in 2015, Republican- precinct residents shortened their Thanksgiving dinners by more minutes in response to political differences.  Nationwide, 34 million hours of cross-partisan Thanksgiving dinner discourse were lost in 2016 owing to partisan effects.”

Let’s all agree on one thing:  that can’t be good, either for families or the country.

Don’t write this off as inconsequential and something we’ll easily get past.  The professors note elsewhere in their piece the evidence that political choices at the level of such profound partisanship are a bias that casts a frighteningly wide and divisive net.  Based on other research, they write:

“Animosity towards political rivals is not limited to the ballot box; implicit partisan biases manifest in discriminatory decisions even more frequently than racial or gender biases.  Parents express intolerance of their children dating and marrying across partisan lines, and observed dating and marital choices segregate more strongly on politics than on physical attributes or personality characteristics.  Political polarization affects decisions such as where to work and shop, at higher rates than race, ethnicity, or religion.”

            This increasing division is way more important than whether we like white meat or dark, cranberry slices or berries.  We need to fix this, family to family, if we’re going to fix the country as well.

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