Friday, September 7, 2012

Skye's Column "Conventional Wisdom", Fayetteville Observer

  The Fayetteville Observer
"Conventional Wisdom"
Skye Dent

Published: 12:10 AM, Thu Sep 06, 2012

Having watched most of the Republican National Convention on TV, I pretty much felt I was getting everything important without having to be there.

Yes, the commentators annoyed me by continuously pushing for feedback from an opposing side on everything. By now, you would have thought on-air journalists would know that context matters more to Americans than controversy.

But I forgive TV journalists for baring their teeth. Every other series normally airing during prime time features sharp-toothed vampires.

So, where comes the sun, now that it's the Democrats' turn? For me, it was a three-hour drive to Charlotte. I wanted to watch the convention in the privacy of my own home. But when you have ink in your blood and rare national events like the conventions or the SuperBowl are in your home state, you gotta go.

That's where the dreaded "C" word comes in. No, I refuse to diss Clint. He's one of my favorite filmmakers.
He's shot films in my Boston hometown. And the last time I saw him, he spent about 15 minutes talking with me about one of my two favorite novelists, Dennis Lehane. He's allowed a senior moment.

We're talking about Compromise. In my case, that meant driving to Charlotte for some pre-DNC meetings inside and hanging outside at the protest with my homeboys - police officers and journalists.

The protest was a bust. Twenty times as many spectators as protesters.

But conventions always hold wonderful surprises. Mine came because I couldn't take the heat. I went into the Caviar Nightclub for some air conditioning and stumbled upon famed musician Gerald Albright rehearsing.

Finally, my stupid iPhone came in handy. I got permission to shoot some footage while he played and even obtained a semi-commitment to score my short film.

My second planned event was equally rewarding. I was one of a fortunate 50 invited to The Charlotte Observer for a brunch hosted by UNC's School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Hodding Carter, a political commentator and President Carter's State Department spokesman, spoke with the folksy wit of Grandpa Walton and the relentless intelligence of Star Trek's Data.

His key point? The South is going through a fundamental change. The economically vital South is not static in its population base and thus has vast streams of people not tied to the past. "It was not a small thing that three Southern states voted for Obama," Carter said, "but revolutionary."

Peter Coclanis, an economic historian and the director of the Global Research Institute, was more pessimistic. He softened the blow with an intro joke, describing an economic historian as one "who loves numbers, but lacks sufficient charm, grace and wit to become an accountant." .

His main point was that the forces that created the Sunbelt South economy between the 1940s and 1980s had been largely spent.  The decline of light industry in the 90s and the new millennium shoved many once prosperous places in NC into forlorn, if, not hopeless basket cases “beset by every imaginable social pathology”

Kareem Crayton was next, a law professor whose research focuses on voter ID laws and voting rights. If one makes this a racially divided election, he said, the Democrats will always lose. The decreased availability of early voting will have a negative impact, he said, especially in the South, which used this tool effectively to get the vote out.

Jacqueline Hall, founder of the Southern Oral History Project, reminded us that the civil rights movement was about economic issues, not just legal segregation. And while many of the overt segregation issues were resolved, the economic discrepancies remained. "The distinction between the good civil rights that succeeded and the bad war on poverty that failed is often misunderstood."

Deliberate propaganda, she said, has stirred up and renewed feelings of resentment and stereotypes, redefining concepts such as affirmative action as "a wedge issue created to bring white workers into the Republican Party by creating the belief that it was a zero sum game."

This made me sit up. I had heard some professors describe Caucasian students as being part of the new minority that deserved greater financial aid. Was that a real or wedge issue?

Gene Nichol, a civil rights, constitutional and poverty law attorney, sure did know his numbers.

"Today we have more poor people and more politicians untroubled by it," he said. Over 15 percent of us live in poverty, some 47 million, and the highest raw numbers in our nation's history. Thirty percent of Latinos live in poverty. Over 25 percent of our kids. Forty percent of our children of color.

"We have more poor people in the South and less commitment to doing something about it," he concluded.

Being one of the newly unemployed, I started to wonder which figure I might soon be a part of.
Jesse White, former co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, wrapped up the session by pointing out what he called the fallacy of globalization. "Over the last 30 years, globalization has ripped the covers off the bed of Southern society.

"By investing well in post secondary education but poorly in K-12, we've created a bifurcated society in which jobs have disappeared, leaving the bottom third of our population high and dry," he said.

These were all subjects and ideas that are being discussed at the convention, just not in front of the cameras. But the numbers were not just numbers. They reflected an equally diminishing lack of humanity deliberately being ignored by our politicians and the populace.

I put on my headphones as I left the seminar, hoping my impromptu taping of Gerald Albright might lift my spirits. But, for the first time in my life, I felt my hopes for the future... also diminishing.

(Skye Dent is a TV and film writer, educator, journalist and a member of the Fayetteville Observer's Community Advisory Board.)

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