We’re tightening our focus at Politicolor. With a redesign well underway, we’re asking ourselves what it would look like to tell the stories that show our politics as a channel for learning more about the ideas that motivate us.
When we talk openly about the ideas that create friction and give motion to the work we take on together, we make it possible to see ourselves as a part of something larger and to solve problems together. Three themes of awe, discovery and connectedness will guide the stories we catch, dig deep into and promote as alternatives to the nitpicking truthiness of partisan wonks, the exhausting he-said/she-said campaign horserace analysis and the flag-waving feel-good stories that fail to redeem these disappointing shadows of political life.
As we assemble our team of contributors and learn how to work well together, we are each taking a turn at answering one of my favorite questions:
What was your first political act? When do you remember first becoming aware of a role for yourself in a community beyond your family, your neighborhood, etc.? When did you first attempt to take some action to connect to that shared political community?
The broken pieces of childhood stories shared on Facebook in answer to this question have been priceless. Our younger selves celebrated patriotic cats with parades, decorated bikes with campaign bumper stickers and made up songs about the candidate who was “our man” and that other guy who “belongs in a garbage can.” A fun device for sharing a few smiles, this question also offers leverage on what it looked like when politics and political life first came into view.
NPR recently posted their work using a similar question. In a story about the difference between older Millennials and younger Millennials, they asked young people about their earliest political memory. It appears that these differences add up to one group being less likely to vote for democrats in next year’s elections. NPR turned to these first memories to explain the differences in these partisan dispositions. What changes when you ask about someone’s first political memory rather than their first political act? Watching the politics swirling around us suffices and taking part in it is optional.
Of the half dozen responses posted on the web, most focused on the President at the time. Praying for President Bush, watching him console the nation after 9/11 and sharing in the excitement of Obama’s campaign victory all make the list. Learning about politics via The Daily Show and the Colbert Report made it too. One young man, however, shared how he had come to realize the policies enacted could affect his family. The economic crisis had provoked new regulations in an industry that responded by cutting 90% of their work force, including the young man’s uncle. The young woman who was excited about Obama’s campaign talked about how she later realized that this support was “politically illiterate.” Few people on her campus knew anything about the new President’s policy positions but had supported him because he looked like them. These last two stories imply a direct line between these new understandings and what these young people decided to do as a result.
When we share memories, it is sometimes enough to ground our story in what we have witnessed. We miss the second act. When we imagine the follow-up question, “so, what did you do about it?”, we promote the idea of the individual citizen as a political actor. The story can now be animated with the details of what one person sought to challenge or endeavored to contribute.
These are the stories of political actors rather than political observers, people willing to start something or to see a project through to the end. These are the stories of the individuals who recognize the difficulties in a shared political life, who still see potential in the proposition and who find ways to make change for the better possible. These are the stories we want to celebrate, share and investigate through our work on Politioclor.
We hope you’ll afford us the next few months to put wings on the new approach to the space. And, in the meantime, join us in sharing your first political act through our sketchbook on Medium.