A revolutionary tweet

At a North Dakota Farmers Union convention in the 1970s, a group of women submitted a resolution for support of the Equal Rights Amendment to the members. A heated, emotional discussion ended in the defeat of the resolution. Arguments against the proposed amendment to the US Constitution included the demise of the traditional American family, putting housewives at a disadvantage, opening up the possibility of drafting women into the military and loss of special workplace protections for women.

The next year, we submitted the same resolution, but instead of referring to the “Equal Rights Amendment” we used the text of the actual amendment:

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

The resolution passed with no discussion and no dissenting votes.

Many opponents of “Obamacare” when asked if they approve of the provisions of the “Affordable Care Act” answer favorably in spite of the fact that they are the same thing. In the ongoing healthcare debate, socialized medicine and a single payer option is often demonized by senior citizens who fight any suggestion that Medicare be cut back.

Our discussion of issues is often governed by our emotions and the sound bites fed to us by one side or another. The emotional responses to the “Equal Rights Amendment” and “Obamacare” were different than the responses to the actual words and provisions.

On the Fourth of July, National Public Radio (NPR) followed its 29 year tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence aloud on Morning Edition. In addition to the reading, the staff published the entire Declaration in a series of posts to the NPR Twitter account. The response to these tweets was disturbing.

If NPR had just posted “Three cheers for the Declaration of Independence” no one would have objected. The response would have been an emotional and patriotic affirmation of all that is American. Instead, many did not recognize the words of one of our most valued documents and thought it was NPR advocating a revolution against our present government. Some thought the references to King George III were references to President Trump. Others accused NPR of tweeting liberal propaganda and having a “Hollywood elitist” agenda.

It is easy to understand how someone might have picked up in the middle of the lengthy series of tweets and missed the more familiar lines of the Declaration. It is obvious that many of those who accused NPR of posting from a “liberal bias” slept through American history class and did not recognize any part of the document. What is more disturbing is that so many people didn’t bother to do any critical thinking before responding. Why would NPR suggest that the government be overthrown? Part of their funding comes from that very government. What is the context of the tweets? Who is writing them? Is the language contemporary English?

A current trend in education strongly emphasizes the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The goal is to enable students to find good jobs in the modern world.  That is a commendable goal, but is an excessive STEM focus shortchanging other disciplines that can teach students how to think for themselves, to be creative and to make good decisions?  In many schools, funds are being cut for history, language, culture, philosophy, ethics, writing, art and music.  To be good workers and good citizens, we need more than just the technical skills for our jobs.  We need to be able to think critically, to make informed value judgments in our everyday work and in political questions.

How can we be good citizens if we don’t even recognize the words of the Declaration of Independence or the US Constitution? Are we more likely to support politicians who say the right things, but then, once elected, enact legislation that ignores their campaign promises and harms the common good? Do we know how to check the accuracy of statements made by those we agree with as well as those we disagree with?

The Declaration of Independence is a revolutionary document. Maybe reading it in tweetable segments helps us realize what a courageous and radical thing we celebrate on the Fourth of July…unless of course you mistakenly think it is “liberal propaganda” because it comes from NPR.

© 2017 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains