My earliest political memory is of Richard Nixon on TV, speaking from the Oval Office and my father yelling. It was the day he resigned from office, August 8, 1974, and my father, a staunch Republican was pissed off. He didn't want Nixon to resign.
My dad, Frank Moceri, is the person who taught me about community service by example and despite (or perhaps because) of his Republican affiliation, is also the person who awakened my interest and involvement in politics.
As a writer, university lecturer and activist, I wear my politics prominently on my (left) sleeve. Especially in Spain, people are surprised when I recount that when I turned 18 my dad promptly took me down to city hall to get me registered to vote. Republican.
Yes, I was a Republican during a short time in the late 1980s and, in fact, voted for George H.W. Bush in 1988. It was the first and last time I voted Republican. At that time I was a student at UCLA, where one of the debates was held between Bush and Michael Dukakis. (Many years later I had the pleasure of presenting Dukakis at a talk in Madrid and his humanity impressed me -- I omitted telling him how I had voted way back when.)
My studies transformed my early ideas about individual responsibility and the myth of equal opportunity into a conviction that the role of government is to improve the life of citizens through social services and safety nets that benefit everyone. I realized that I had a great advantage in life, having been raised in a nice suburb of San Francisco with excellent public schools that prepared me to study at UCLA. This public university pretty much guaranteed me a bright future. Perhaps more importantly, I realized that this position in society -- that of a young person prepared for success in anything she undertook -- was not necessarily due to my hard work as an individual but to dumb luck. By the time I graduated from UCLA my politics had shifted sharply to the left.
Vague as it was, my newfound lefty-ness nevertheless gave my father fits and soon my trips home centered around bruising political debates. I'd walk away with clenched teeth and cinched up shoulders while my dad not only shook it off but seemed to thrive on it.
This intellectual journey and revolution that I had at UCLA is what we expect of any engaged university student and is certainly not restricted to any one ideological destination. To question everything, think independently of the influence of one's parents and be open to changing our minds is the idealized university experience. But this attitude of openness shouldn't be left behind with our books and class schedules, it should continue throughout our lives and this is where we often fail.
We use our universal state of "busy" as the reason why we don't make an effort to get exposed to a variety of ideas and ideologies the way we do as a matter of course during our university years. If we seek out the news we tend to go to the same old newspapers, TV or radio shows that often tell us what we want to hear. What's worse is that these news organizations are mostly owned by large corporations. The corporate media doesn't necessarily gives us shoddy information but what gets reported is filtered through their corporate, profit-making interests and this affects what you learn about your community, government and the world.
In political science we call the press the fourth estate of government because of its critical role as the government watchdog. We moan about the biassed and sensationalistic press and the corrupt and hypocritical politicians. But it's just plain lazy to blame the press and the politicians without recognizing their interests in relation to the money-dominated systems that we allow to exist: corporate media will do whatever it takes to make money and politicians will do whatever it takes to get re-elected, usually involving large amounts of money. But since the watchdogs are controlled by the money-interests, they're not going to be so quick to call out and explain why campaign finance is the root cause of our society's seemingly unsolvable problems. In fact, the corporate media is also reluctant to publish stories that might anger the government or big business. They tend to glorify the wealthy and the powerful while demonizing civil disobedience.
My father always admonished "if you don't like it, then DO something about it!" This has echoed in my head over the years as I've done community organizing. And whether or not he personally believed in the cause I was working on, and much of the time he was rooting for the other side, he was proud that I was rolling up my sleeves and getting involved.
Citizen engagement and protest is the only thing that has ever changed the world. So, to honor my father's passing on September 5, I'm asking you to take one simple step towards becoming a more engaged citizen by examining and broadening your list of go-to news sources. Do you tend to follow right or left press? Then look for something on the other side. Do you frequent news by big corporations? Add a couple to your mix that are independent from the yoke of profit-making.
Do you follow only American news organizations? Borders mean less and less in this world, especially when it comes to news. Even if you don't speak another language, there is plenty of English-language press from around the world to give you a wider perspective on the issues we face globally.
It's true that we are what we consume: from food to what we read, listen to and watch. A diverse political diet is the first step towards expanding our horizons and challenging our ways of thinking. The cost of standing around and waiting for politicians or the press to change is too high. It must start with something concrete, something tangible and although it seems small, sharpening your own mind is the starting point to changing the world.