Impressions: Ybor City coming slowly to life on a Sunday afternoon. There are shiny beads all over the place, which –along with the tattoo parlors, bars and tourists mingling with locals– give the area a pleasantly seedy Bourbon Street vibe.
Live music in the bar & grill where I’m eating: Not a bad rendition of “Hotel California.” There is, as Belizeans might say, a rain breeze. Like it might pour or might not.
Low humidity and anything can happen. There is no comparable sensation in the Midwest.
Amtrak train cruises by a street away, startling a clan of chickens–yes, chickens.
Belize is a democracy. Elections happen with regularity and voters have strong feelings about both leading major political parties.
A friend of mine recently observed Belizean politics in action and found himself dismayed by one particular aspect: paying for votes.
The practice, by which a person connected to a candidate offers money to secure a vote, is tolerated. In some cases, a would-be voter asks for the money before the handler can even get his or her campaign spiel off the ground.
For voters in a poor country, a proffered “blue note” (hundred-dollar bill) can mean food, a paid bill or school fees. My theory is that people take the money and vote for whomever they feel like on Election Day.
In the United States, the money flows the other way: Millions of dollars donated to campaigns. (This happens in Belize, in smaller amounts).
There are the modest donations that individual voters send, in the hope their contributions will help pay for TV ads, bumper stickers, or campaign volunteers’ coffee.
Then, there are there big checks written to candidates, PACs and causes. The donors are banking on the fact that winners will not be able to forget all those zeros when the time comes for favors and special consideration.
You’d think that knowing money plays such a huge role in the democratic process would turn us off–and many people are, in fact, turned off.
And, yet. And, yet. The ability to vote in an election has an addictive quality; we are hooked on the idea that each of us can make a difference.
Explaining TED and TEDx to the uninitiated can be a challenge. If you say, “It’s about great, important ideas,” the whole thing sounds more highbrow that it really is. To say, “It’s inspiring,” makes it sound vaguely religious. “Talks by cool people about cool things?” Well, you get the idea.
August 29, 2015 was the night of TEDxKC’s “Reimagine” event. TEDxKC is the largest TEDx event in the United States, and among the largest in the world. While smaller TEDx endeavors may focus on local speakers and entertainers, the Kansas City version brings in names from around the country and even the world. One local “Challenge” speaker, chosen through a video submission process, joined the lineup.
As a TEDxKC volunteer, I helped hand out T-shirts and swag bags before the show and earned a free ticket to the simulcast. Both it and the the live show (both at Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts) were sold out.
Terri Trespicio: She used to work for Martha Stewart. Now she’s a branding strategist with her own podcast, Solopreneur. Favorite quote from TEDxKC: “You don’t follow your passion. Your passion follows you.” Her message was about how waiting around for passion to strike can mean a host of missed opportunities.
Martin Pistorius: He rolled onto the stage in wheelchair, with a laptop balanced on his knees. The freelance web developer (originally from South Africa, living in London) spent more than a decade trapped in a world only he knew existed–unable to communicate, but able to see, hear and understand everything around him. It took an aromatherapist to alert family and medical experts that Pistorius was ready for the world. His book is Ghost Boy. Favorite quote from TEDxKC: “We are told actions speak louder than words, but I wonder: do they?” In the end, it was his words that made the difference.
Scott Hamilton. Yes, that Scott Hamilton! The Olympic figure skater, a cancer survivor, is now a leading proponent of a cancer treatment I’d never heard of. It promises to beat cancer without the toll chemo and traditional radiation can take. Favorite quote for TEDxKC: “There’s a new kid in town and it’s called proton therapy.” I learned that proton therapy is offered in only about a dozen places around the country, it is currently very expensive, and that major insurance companies won’t cover it–even through Medicaid and Medicare do and it’s FDA-approved. There is center planned for Kansas City, Hamilton said at TEDxKC.
Chaz Ebert. She is the woman who married Roger Ebert, the film critic. Now she runs a foundation that aims to bring empathy to the filmmaking. Sounds like a tall order! Still, if anyone can do it, Ebert can. Favorite quote from TEDxKC: “When we empathize with others, it turns out to be in our best interest as well.”
On Sunday, Aug. 9, voters from around the Stann Creek District converged on the village of Independence to cast their ballots at a United Democratic Party (UDP) convention. It was a three-way race to represent the Stann Creek West electoral division as standard bearer in the next General Election (date as yet to be determined).
We boarded a boat for Independence on the lagoon side of Placencia at 10 a.m. on Sunday. It was one of several flying a United Democratic Party flag bearing the name, “Walter.” Of the dozen or so people on board, about half wore red t-shirts emblazoned with UDP slogans or pro-Walter wording in white lettering.
All three candidates used boats and buses to bring their supporters to the polls. Upon arrival at Independence Primary School, voters navigated a genial gauntlet of die-hard boosters at the school yard gate who encouraged undecideds to pick their candidates. I had the feeling there were not very many undecideds.
In addition to bringing people to the polls, each candidate provided supporters with a full rice-and-beans meal at midday.
There are two electoral divisions in the Stann Creek District: The principal town of Dangriga and the rest of the district, known as Stann Creek West. MORE
The three candidates:
Walter Garbutt, retired teacher
Nathan Young, UDP constituency chairperson
Ivan Williams, Labour Commissioner of Belize
According to Belizebreakingnews.com, UDP party chairman “Alberto August described Sunday’s turnout as the biggest convention held by the United Democratic Party (UDP) in the division of Stann Creek West.” Walter Garbutt won with about 50 percent of the 3,100 votes cast.
I am not registered to vote in Belize (although, as a citizen and homeowner, I think I could be), so I attended the convention as an observer.
Independence Primary School’s ground floor classrooms each served as polling places, based on alphabetical order. One room was reserved for the party Secretariat: UDP Secretary General Pearl Stuart and a team of party workers collected the paper ballots here, ensured their validity and stowed them away in a series of plastic bags. There were UDP staffers on hand to answer questions from voters about the process, but not about the candidates.
My aunt remembers a time when verifying voter eligibility was based on facial recognition: If a poll worker recognized you as living in the precinct where you said you lived, you could vote. Now, voters must be properly registered ahead of time and bring their photo IDs to the polls. Workers then check their list of registered voters to ensure you are eligible.
In Belize, where ballots are counted by hand, each voter dips an index finger into red ink to show he or she has already cast a ballot. Afterward, many people lingered in the school yard chatting with friends, meeting the candidates themselves or simply taking in the scene.
Hon. Anthony “Boots” Martinez, Minister of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation, mingled among the voters–shaking hands and thanking people for turning out.
Also on hand, the man whose departure from the party precipitated the convention: Melvin Hulse, former division standard bearer, came out to cast his ballot. In June, Hulse stepped down after a scandal involving tape recordings–recordings on which he reportedly slammed his party leader, Prime Minister Dean Barrow. Despite being in disgrace with party leadership, Hulse seems to remain popular with many voters, who greeted him with familiarity and affection. No doubt, Hulse voted for Nathan Young, whom he endorsed upon resigning from the party and his government post.
Overall, the atmosphere was peaceful and even festive. The stream of voters throughout the morning was steady and orderly. Still, the atmosphere, however easy-going, carried with it an urgency: This is important; we can vote, and we will vote.
Non-journalists are often surprised to learn that working in journalism is not all excitement, fun and a deep sense of fulfillment. Working in television and digital news as I do, I find myself explaining that one of the biggest issues facing leaders is morale–and it’s one that often gets short shrift in the fast-paced, intense daily flow of work.
As many corporations have learned, a workforce of frustrated, frightened and angry employees is bad for productivity. There’s a reason new companies place a high premium on workplace amenities, generous benefits and opportunities for training and growth.
So why are so many journalists bummed out?
1. We are constantly finding out disturbing information about human nature.
2. That ever-present, sneaking feeling that you just missed a very important story/scoop.
3. Highly competitive. Journalists are constantly sizing themselves up against the news operation “across the street” as well as against their own co-workers. This is a losing game, but we can’t resist playing it.
4. Change. New technology, new platforms, new economic realities. It’s all scary.
5. With great responsibility and public presence come outsized egos. And, the flip-side is deep insecurity.
6. One minute you’re winning, the next you are down in the cellar.
A recent study looked at how constantly monitoring performance via metrics affects newsroom morale. No surprise, it found that simply checking how individual digital stories performed–or looking at daily television ratings–can be either be a huge downer or a massive upper–and both outcomes offer distortion that can feed into insecurity and frustration. MOREStudy: Metrics have ‘powerful influence’ on journalists’ morale
7. Work-life balance. Say what?
8. Money. Unless you are a network anchor who writes a best-seller and marries money, you are unlikely to be rich. You will work very hard for long hours.
9. Love and hate from the public. When we give voice to the voiceless, expose the baddies and hold the powerful accountable we are heroes. When mess up, everyone knows and won’t let us forget it.
10. Bosses who just don’t get it.
Believe it or not, journalists are not always the best leaders! We tend to be impatient, cynical, skeptical and highly motivated by individual achievement. The qualities that make a reporter, producer or other newsie great at news gathering can make us terrible as managers. Recommended:What Great Bosses Know (podcasts)
As a newsroom leader myself, I find one of the toughest challenges is distinguishing between individual and organizational angst: There are people who have personal or professional problems unique to them, no matter where they happen to be working. Then are also low morale themes that permeate and fester. Tackling morale problems effectively requires leaders to correctly diagnose before taking action.
So why to we do it?
Remember that excitement, fun and a deep sense of fulfillment I mentioned earlier? It does exist! Also, we love being in the know and on the front lines of life.
There is no formula for all of this. But, we know listening and hearing are vital. We know that walking the talk speaks volumes. Suggestions welcome!
Is it another sign of maturity, or just a rather twisted and voyeuristic streak? Lately, it’s hard for me to sit through a fictional television program; it has to be about depravity, murder, secrets and/or lies to really hold me (True Detective, Season One). Similarly, I used to love to read fiction; now, magazines like Harper’s and the New Yorker hold my attention, as can biographies–especially revolving around themes of race.
Thanks to the podcast “Death, Sex & Money,” I have a great resource for discovering documentaries I might not know about otherwise. There is a link to a Google spreadsheet on the show’s website, and it’s being populated by fans of the the podcast.
The list reminded me I’d not yet seen “Grey Gardens,” which omission I rectified this weekend. Other docs I’ve watched this summer (pre-list) include “There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane,” and “The 9/11 Faker.” Also, “The Vivian Maier Mystery,” “Savage Memory,” and “Love & Terror On The Howling Plains of Nowhere.”
Get the picture? Sensing a theme?
Documentaries allow me to feel things I don’t normally tap into on a regular basis. They remind me that life is large, that time is short, and that there are really more important things than x, y or z.
Human beings are so improbable. How do we ever get anything done? How do we find and then lose ourselves and each other?
More documentary recommendations always welcome! (Remember my favorite themes, please).
You’ve seen this: Concert footage in which fans are crying. I never understood it. Sure, the music is great and the band members are (sometimes) good looking, but weeping at a concert?
Last night I wept at the Tears for Fears concert in Kansas City. On and off, from the first strains of “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” through the encore “Woman in Chains” and “Shout.”
There was something in those familiar, loved songs–rendered even better and new again live–that hit me in the heart. Hearing Roland Orzabal (best voice in pop music) got right in amongst me. Also, the band seemed to see the fans as a mass audience of old friends, with warm smiles and genuine enjoyment of the crowd.
The years–with all the good and bad they have held–rolled over me again and again.
And there’s another, very important thing. For a variety of reasons, I have never settled down in a geographic place. A sense of only partially belonging here or there is something I am now used to, and most of the time I don’t even think about it.
Last night, I think I was moved, in part, because I remembered that I belong to a generation and I (finally) understood something about what that means. In a hall full of singing, dancing and cheering strangers (average age around 42, I’d guess), I felt connected. Music carries us through time. So, I suppose I will always have a “place.”