KENOSHA ⏤ I remember my first day covering any government meeting in any community.
In October 2012, I walked into the Kimball County Courthouse in Kimball, Neb., a 23-year-old recent college grad wearing a black fedora and whatever the hell business casual is supposed to be.
I sat down, and City Clerk Cathleen Sibal, a lovely person, interacted with me first before anyone else.
The first thing any of the government officials there ever told me was Cathleen looking at me, telling me to remove my hat, then warmly smiling at me after I did. We would grow to have a really wonderful professional relationship in the two years I was there.
Her late husband (Pat), who had maintained and kept up the courthouse for a long time, died in January this year. He was also a lovely and kind person.
From that Kimball County Board of Commissioners meeting until the last Kenosha City Council meeting I attended last month, I’ve sat and listened to government proceedings weekly.
And it’s not just the government proceedings, but also how the people of the community react to them.
Community members do not show up to say nice things
To put it delicately, no one shows up to a night meeting of a government board because they’re happy.
I have heard some of the funniest, ironic, saddest and outright enraging comments come out of the mouths of decent people when put in a government setting.
And due to my profession, it has been my job to only report and not react to it all.
There are people I would legitimately trust my life to still that I would rather never hear speak a single government-related or political thought in their mind ever again to me as long as I live.
Because the truth is, government proceedings just simply don’t bring out our best.
Consequently, I’ve had to sit there and witness a lot of different communities’ worst.
And I’m just not willing to do that anymore, for a variety of reasons.
If I had a time machine …
When I first started The Uptown Observer, I believed that if people only just witnessed and started actively participating in their local government that things would start to change.
I thought people would be able to gain understanding and conversations would, therefore, turn more civil.
Presently, I’d like nothing more than to commission a time machine to go back and punch myself in the face at the moment I thought that and believed it.
Because it was too idealistic for the society we currently have.
To explain, let me simply ask you a question: When’s the last time you were able to have a civil conversation with a random stranger anywhere?
Not a trick question. I asked myself the same thing. Didn’t like the answer.
Is government coverage helping the community?
But why didn’t I like the answer?
Rather, what was the root cause of my mind forming that answer in response to the question.
And it clicked: People aren’t ready to listen; they’re ready to circle the wagons.
Therefore, showing people more isn’t enlightening. It’s adding fuel to an already burning dumpster fire.
You see, I started noticing that, when I covered one meeting with one group protesting, suddenly I’d see the counter protesters the next week.
And they recognized me.
So I had to ask myself a hard question: Is what I’m doing helping or hurting the community right now? Am I simply adding to the spectacle getting in the way of our progress?
If I’m completely honest, I believe that, in this period of time in our society, me covering government meetings is only adding to division, because right now, that’s what some of the people watching want.
And I can’t be an accomplice or complicit in that. I refuse to add to my community’s damage in any way that I can control.
A new perspective
Therefore, yes, after nine years, I am done covering government meetings of any kind.
Because if I think it through, the government/municipality has never been the heart of a community or the source of its greatest and most beautiful stories.
No, it is and has always been that community’s people.
The Observer grew out of the people of the Kenosha community, out of their emotions and reactions to perhaps the city’s darkest moment.
And while right now I don’t have a lot of faith in Kenosha as a municipality, I have immeasurable faith in Kenosha as a community and as a people.
Because I’ve watched people step up in ways their leaders refused to. Because I’ve watched people choke back pain and hate to get stuff done that needed to get done.
Because I’ve watched a community have to take care of itself, and it has.
And that’s incredible to me. That is an incredible group of people.
A new start
So, I want to spend more time among those people.
From now on, the Observer will focus on the more personal aspects of the community: its music, its artists, its organizations and its heroes.
Because this city has so much more to offer the world beyond what the world has been shown of us through TV clips on the news and photos and stories of a tragedy that no one outside of our city fully understands.
And I want the world to finally see us right.
You can help
I’m also not exactly looking to do this completely alone. And there are various ways you can help me on my mission.
For starters, donations. You can financially support the Observer’s work (big or small donations both appreciated) at https://theuptownobserver.com/sponsor/.
Secondly, you can help me by writing something for me.
If you are a community leader, professional, artist, business owner, community organizer ⏤ really anybody, my (virtual) door is always open to you.
Feel free to submit columns, photos, creative works or even ideas of a collaboration or story to me at email@example.com.
The best way I can accurately tell your story is simply to give you a platform in which to do so yourself. And I’m more than happy to oblige.
Thank you for all of your support, for reading and for consistently making me feel like the luckiest journalist to ever exist in this city.
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