By Stephanie Siek
The Communication Workers of America Women’s, Civil and Human Rights Conference was a chance for the union membership to learn about issues such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, gender disparities in elected offices, the Black Lives Matter movement, prison reform, and voter suppression.
Many of the guest speakers and workshop sessions offered strategies for challenging policies and laws that harm the rights of workers, women, people of color and LGBTQ individuals.
But as a journalist who is heavily discouraged, if not actually prohibited, from taking actions like joining a protest march or running for office, I wondered how I could put the things I learned there to use?
This was a question that I would grapple with throughout the four days I attended.
We all have personal experiences that can give us an edge in reporting certain issues – some of us are expert-level jazz fans who can tell you exactly how a recently deceased saxophonist changed the genre; some of us are black men who know firsthand what it’s like to be harassed by police without cause and some of us are survivors of sexual assault who know why a rape survivor would wait years before going public about the attack.
And those of us who have seen how AP repeatedly tries to roll back protections that our union has fought for can see how a seemingly benign policy change or proposed legislation can weaken organized labor and its members.
The chance to be a voice for the voiceless is why a lot of us got into journalism. It’s good to periodically reexamine and renew that commitment. Part of our role as journalists is to bring the questions and interests of those directly impacted by a policy or an event into the discussion, particularly those who might be marginalized.
That includes workers whose opportunities could change or disappear if the TPP passes; former inmates who have paid their debt to society and stayed out of trouble but are barred from voting under laws that ban felons from the ballot box or mothers forced out of the workplace because a budget cut drastically reduced their childcare subsidy.
We must examine, question and sometimes directly challenge the narratives put forward by those in power.