As I sit at my desk and look over my right shoulder, I can see a postcard a reader sent in after I wrote a column about the lack of representation in Hollywood, headlined “Where are all the Latinos in movies?” The postcard (in all caps, but I’ll spare you) reads: “Luis, quit bitchin’ and do some good. No one likes a complainer!”
Although it’s signed “Mom,” I’m pretty sure it wasn’t written by my mother. Mostly because she’s given up trying to change me.
That anonymous reader may be happy to know that he or she won’t have to worry about me complaining in the pages of the Arizona Daily Star, as this is my last column before moving on to Houston. Although something tells me that those taking the time to share their thoughts show a kindred spirit in bitchin’.
In a way, and at its most basic, opinion writing must start with a complaint. A dissatisfaction that leads to a question. Such as, why are minorities disproportionately targeted by law enforcement? Why does the richest nation in the world let someone die because they can’t afford medication? Why do we punish immigrants and turn a blind eye to those that benefit from their exploitation?
My goal as an opinion writer, whether writing a piece representing the Editorial Board or a column stating my own views, is to ask those questions and try to provide some answers. To point toward a better way to do things or to shine a light when dark intent turns into harmful policy. To be a voice that is ready to speak up at the sight of malfeasance, cruelty and lies.
I want to thank the Star for letting me try to be that voice and a special thank you to you, dear reader, who may not always agree but is always willing to listen.
It has been a privilege to get to work in the Opinion section, but more importantly it has been a true pleasure to interact with readers through the Letters to the Editor, emails and in person. As I’ve said before, the importance of these pages is not only that we get to speak, but that we get to hear what others are saying.
This is more important than ever, as many of our representatives are in a headlong rush to embody our worst instincts, our desire to see what we think is right imposed upon those who disagree. My thoughts that the president and his enablers are a danger to America only seem to grow from day to day, but I listen to what freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said at the South by Southwest festival in Austin recently, and I worry.
“Moderate is not a stance. It’s just an attitude towards life of, like, ‘meh’,” she said. “We’ve become so cynical, that we view ‘meh,’ or ‘eh’ — we view cynicism as an intellectually superior attitude, and we view ambition as youthful naïveté when we think about the greatest things we have ever accomplished as a society have been ambitious acts of visions.”
I agree with ambitious acts of vision and that incrementalism’s “baby steps” seem inadequate to tackle the problems that confront our nation, but the desire to compromise does not come from apathy or cynicism. I consider myself a moderate, and I have a stance on the issues — I just don’t believe “my way or the highway” is a valid philosophy for governance in a democracy.
That only works when you see the “other side” as worthy of nothing but contempt, when your opponent is a white supremacist, a radical climate-change denier, a violent Antifa activist, a protester shouting “baby killer.” While those people are out there, they are a minority. Most of us are willing to listen and understand where someone with an opposing view is coming from.
That doesn’t mean we betray our principles or abandon our disagreement, it means we give someone else the same benefit of the doubt that we almost always extend to ourselves. In listening, we may discover that while we won’t get everything we want, we can put ourselves on the path to get there.
All of this as a long way of saying that it is up to us to change things. If you’re a regular reader of these pages, you are interested in other opinions; if you’re a contributor, whether through a letter or an op-ed, you want others to know your thoughts. We have to push back against the spiral of tribalism by reminding ourselves and others, every day, that there are ways to work together. That someone we disagree with may have a point, that to get anything done we must respect the person across the table.
For Trump voters, this means giving up on the president and supporting someone with conservative principles who doesn’t demean and demonize opponents. For Democrats, this means backing someone who aims high but can be pragmatic.
So, to my anonymous “Mom,” and you, dear reader, I have to say that while I may not be here, I won’t stop complaining — or listening. None of us should.