PASS THE MIC: Politics & Grassroots News

Can community media impact election outcomes? How? A lively roundtable with WHYY’s N.I.C.E. partners.

POC (Revive Radio/Revive Local Paper) I think a lot of us agree one of the most frustrating things about this last election is the low turnout, which is a historic problem for these May elections. People just don’t feel a need to vote in them.

With my followers, there’s a lot of conversation around corruption. All the lead-up to this election, I was feeling it push away a lot of Millennial voters. They’re like, what’s the point? From their perspective, there’s too much corruption in Philly politics to expect a change.

So everyone stays home, and then these low turnouts hinder the politicians who really need the votes in order to get into these offices to try to make a difference.

Kyndal Chase (HeartCityTV)  Even when decent candidates win, we have to wonder what will being a part of this system do to them.

Rashaun Williams (WHYY Community Curator) Grassroots news, I think, has a great opportunity to reach audiences in ways that speak directly to each community’s needs and concerns. Break down politics, policies and local legislature into what it means for them, specifically. And show how it’s all connected to voting.

I was at an event yesterday – not to sound judgmental but I’m sure like three people there were registered to vote. And I know all of them cares deeply about their community, because they’re artists. They spill their hearts out every day about what’s going on in their community.

These are highly engaged people, but if you were to ask them to vote, their brains just wouldn’t go there. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have the capacity to understand the importance of voting – it’s just that no one’s ever explained voting in a way that’s felt relevant to them.

Kyndal  I really wrestle with how to inform our listeners on these really big, systemic issues without influencing their opinions. While I have very strong views personally, when I’m on the air, I truly feel a duty to present the truth as clearly as I can, without bias. And I’m also very careful to not misrepresent myself as “the voice” of any community.

Where do we all find our balance? Is that even culturally competent, to try to do that?

Rashaun   Politics and voting is such a difficult world for most folks to navigate. So much history, so much dirty dealing. Feels like there’s no point even trying to catch up. The way I see it, pervasive political corruption has traumatized voters – a lot of us feel stuck, and hopeless, and unable to imagine a better way. This is understandable, and I think we need to be patient with these people.

POC  Millennials are becoming older voters at this point – we’ve been through years of elections, we understand how drama, corruption, lies and politics go hand-in-hand. If we want to inspire people to come to the polls, we’re gonna need more than the old “Your vote, your voice!” campaigns.

This kind of reminds me of gun violence conversations, right? How many events did the city have? I lost count. But at every one, there’s tables with people all “Yo, put down the guns and go find a job.” But then at the end of the day, where does everybody go? We pack up all our resources, then we go back to our nice homes, and we expect them to be able to survive.

I think if we check up on them afterwards, we’d see this method doesn’t do much to help people struggling with poverty and addiction. I think we’d see this sort of treatment breeds distrust and resentment. Same thing happens with politicians.

They’re out in the communities between January and April and then come May it’s all “Vote Vote Vote” and then June they’re gone. No more resource fairs, no more representatives coming to the hood to ask people what they think, what they need.

Kyndal  But where does our role as a community member stop, and our role as a journalist begin?

My job as I see it is to find the people and the organizations who are out there doing the work. And then to amplify them, to share their stories and hopefully help spread their message, and maybe connect them to others who have funding or volunteers or whatever’s needed. My value is in positioning their stories, and getting them to the right ears.

I don’t actually do the work itself, though.

POC   For me, that’s the best part about being grassroots. We may not be down there doing the work, but we are down there, right? We are familiar faces in our communities, and that’s real trust. People in the Mom and Pop stores aren’t going to talk to NBC or even WHYY, but they’ll talk to us because they recognize us as neighbors first. We can be straight with each other. When we ask questions, they know it’s because we’re concerned and not just being nosy or looking for drama.

Kyndal  I see my role in HeartCityTV as an extension of what I did as a social worker and a community developer. I believe everyone has the ability to decide what’s best for them, if they are given sufficient information to fully understand the options and possible outcomes. I understand what both of you are saying. I just think we all have our own different approaches.

Conrad Benner  (Streets Dept art blog)  I’ve worked on voter outreach stuff since 2015, and pretty much all the data confirms that people don’t vote because they don’t feel they know enough about it. So we each have a great opportunity to get important information to more people, in ways they can relate to.

Up until recently, no one ever knew what a DA was or what the City Comptroller did. We needed these dynamic candidates to run, for Philadelphians to take notice, and form opinions, and start to realize the great potential for change we have, at the polls.

There’s a lot of tension now between the Establishment and a younger, more progressive democratic movement sweeping the city. Hopefully, this’ll help people feel more hopeful, more inspired to participate. “Fetterman versus Dr. Oz” race might be just the thing to animate voters in November!

I’m going to use my position as someone with a platform to continue to inform people about why these elections are important, and how they can get involved. Because Republicans are voting; the people with money are voting; the people with privilege are voting.

Yaroub Al-Obaidi  (Friends, Peace and Sanctuary Journal) I’m still not yet able to vote, but let me share with you my opinion: your vote is important. Democrat, Republican — whoever you elect, their power is your power.

Kyndal   And there’s a lot of power in just having a platform, even at the grassroots level. That’s why I feel such a responsibility to not tell people what to do.

Conrad   I think it’s different for everyone. I don’t claim to be non-biased, my whole effort started as a street art blog, so it makes sense I’d have an opinion on public space, and how it’s funded and why it’s important and all the issues around its use, purpose and enjoyment. And all that comes down to politics, right?

For me, the important thing is just communicating clearly who you are, so that no one feels fooled by the information you’re sharing. I don’t hide my motivations or pretend to be anything I’m not. If you follow me, you know where I stand on things and there’s still value in what I do even if we don’t agree 100%.

Eric Marsh, Sr (N.I.C.E. coordinator) I just want to add that even the most so-called objective journalists can amplify their personal beliefs simply by who they choose to interview, and what themes they present on their platform. You could also highlight the voices of people who are doing or saying the things that you would.

One of the challenges that we’ve seen over the past several years, is the phenomenon of Fox News, right? Fox News when it first started was not anywhere near as far right as it is now. But then it was bought by a particular owner who had very conservative leanings, and as a result the newsroom was pushed in that direction.

And now we’re facing fake news and biased coverage that isn’t even trying to consider all sides. We see these disclaimers, “The opinions of this particular person do not necessarily reflect…” Right? There’s a reason that language exists, because there’s this assumption in our society that information should be separate from personal opinion. But that’s just not the case.

To get back to what Rashaun was saying, we really need to start paying attention to who’s representing us locally. I’ve had conversations with other Black men in the city, and asked them who they thought could impact their life more: the president or the Court of Common Pleas? With all the traffic violations we get stuck with, the chances we’ll be before a judge for some reason are very high. But yet we don’t come out to vote for them.

Conrad  Omg, 10,000%! But most news coverage focuses only on the presidential election every four years. And local news has been systematically eliminated. And I think there’s a relation between the two things…

When our all news is national, that’s where our attention goes. But you’re right, the majority of our lives are affected by local leaders. I think this work we’re all doing is so important, reaching people at the micro level.

POC   I think that that’s why a lot of media correspondents are staying on as freelancers or contractors, because they want to be able to have their own conversation. Instead of taking what CNN feels like paying you for a 15-minute segment, you can do a two-hour rant on that same topic on your own platform and reach more people.

People like having their own voice, especially with everyone talking about Freedom of Speech. I think that’s really going to flip the journalism world on its head. As reporters get more and more independent, everything will need to adjust. Audiences will need to adapt.

Eric   WHYY folks like Sandy Clark and Chris Norris have spent a lot of time considering this idea from a journalistic perspective. The fact that everybody has a platform nowadays doesn’t mean everyone’s opinion should be amplified.

I think what differentiates the N.I.C.E. partners from any other platform – and what makes you attractive as content creators – is the authenticity. The trustworthiness. Fact checking and reliable sources. I think that’s at the heart of whatever you’re doing, regardless of what side of the aisle you might fall on.

YOUR TURN:  What do you think? Does grassroots news require objectivity to serve a role in today’s news & information landscape? Who benefits when local content creators promote informed opinions and inspire more civic participation in their audiences?

Before you answer, click some of these links and/or check out the videos for relevant info to better illuminate the topics discussed in this post.

N.I.C.E. to Know You: What topics would you like the partners of WHYY’s News & Information Community Exchange to discuss next? Please reach out at

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REVIVE Local's byline reflects content created collaboratively via Local writers/editors with Revive reporting/interviewing.

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