Our Voices Matter and Not Just on Reality TV
Another season of “The Voice” has come to an end, with a finish that surprised many loyal viewers when Sundance Head beat out Billy Gilman in a classic story of the underdog winning out over the favorite with far more experience. Since September, over 11 million people have tuned in every week to see which of the amateur singers would take home the $100,000 prize and a recording contract. In a television industry that has generated more than 750 “unscripted” shows at cable channel’s FX’s last count, “The Voice” has held its place at the top since it first premiered.
What is it about The Voice that has captured the loyalty of so many? Perhaps it’s the twist at the start when the judges, their backs to the performers, must base their initial choice on each singer’s voice alone, rather than their appearance. Maybe it’s because viewers get to vote for their favorite singer — a neat trick that gives the audience a voice in selecting “The Voice” and blurs the lines between real life and entertainment.
In any case, the timing of this season can’t be ignored, airing throughout the final and most heated lap of the amazing race towards the election. One week after the start of The Voice millions of Americans tuned in to the first presidential debate; one week after the show’s finale the electoral college will have the last say on naming our next president — most likely the one who many would prefer to have seen voted off the island long ago.
And as we watch Mr. Trump prepare to take his place as the 45th President, many of us are asking: Whose voices will be heard? Whose opinions will matter? Who will represent me?
If there is one issue this election season has illuminated it is that millions of people do not feel heard, do not feel their opinion counts or their struggle is acknowledged. Some voices expressed in the vote — demoralized workers and women and other members of groups freely disparaged by the candidate himself — chose Donald Trump out of hope for an entirely new approach to political leadership. Other voices seem to have found permission to openly express bigotry that is not new but that many would prefer had remained hidden to polite white society, as it has never been hidden to the targets of bias and hatred.
So, whose voices are going to be heard under the new administration? Mr. Trump’s website declares that by winning the election he “showed America the silent majority is no longer silent… we created a government that is once again of, by and for the people… I will always be your voice.” Seriously?
Even if one can look past the obvious spin of claiming a majority vote that he did not win, a cursory glance at his shark tank of Cabinet picks shows a homogeneous voice that reflects his own regressive (and repressive) agenda. His actions before and since the election have revealed a man lacking even a minimal ability to listen to voices that differ from his own, including the intelligence professionals tasked with protecting his life and the safety of the country he claims to love.
How does the American public hold this rogue president accountable to his promise to “be our voice”?
Without a doubt, the Senate needs to speak up, loudly and consistently, starting with a painstaking review of every single potential appointee. But political action can no longer be left in the hands of the politicians. If that line worked for the candidate Trump, then surely it can work for the rest of us who should not sit back now and watch him undo the last 20 years of civil rights and environmental progress — not when we still have so far to go.
This is not a time to sit back and passively watch as if you’re viewing the slow train wreck of a celebrity family falling apart on national TV. It’s a time to get out and use your voice in any way you can. Start to notice what goes on around you, and become willing to speak up when you see injustice. Talk to people who are different than you, and reach across that difference to better understand it. Get active in your neighborhood, your town, city or state. Write letters, make phone calls, move out of your comfort zone, run for office.
After all, in spite of the drama that the president-elect loves to incite, this administration is not a reality show. It’s just reality. Use your voice to alter it.
Our Declaration of Independence identifies the rights of the American people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It goes on to say that “whenever and form of government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government.”
If we take those words seriously, we must be willing to stand up to a president who challenges the very ideals of democracy on which this country was founded, and if necessary point to him and say in no uncertain terms, “You’re fired.”
Michelle Pitot, EdD, is the Chief of Staff at the YWCA of Southern Arizona and an adjunct professor in the School of Government and Public Policy at the University of Arizona. She is a Tucson Public Voices fellow with The OpEd Project.