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Reflections on my time at the Times

August 19, 2010

November of 2008 was a desperate time for me. Politics was more exciting than ever, and I was only 17. I had to sit at home watching election coverage while my family and friends got to head to the polls to participate in one of the most exciting elections in our nation’s history.

Now I’m 18 — going on 19 — and I spent my summer interning at the LA Times. During my time there, I came face to face with the realities of the political world, and some of the things I saw and heard sent me reeling. During my time at the paper, I was presented with of news of all kinds — unfiltered — and throughout my internship, I became more and more disillusioned about politics. I started the summer innocent and naïve – quite different from my friends my age. They’re essentially cynics who had already given up on believing in Washington and the value of democracy. And as I was given assignments throughout the

The Times building

summer, I became more and more susceptible to my friends’ cynicism. It became clear to me that many of the things I was told by people in charge simply weren’t true. But in spite of what I’ve seen and experienced, I know that if I was presented with the same opportunity I missed out on in 2008, I wouldn’t think twice about hurrying down to the polls to cast my vote.

The disillusionment process set in slowly and without warning. I’d call political campaigns to ask for information and simply receive the response, “We don’t know.” Then I’d relay these details to my editor, who would simply say, “Call again, but be firm. That information is there, it just takes some coaxing.”

One instance in particular stands out in my mind as the incident that reality truly slapped me in the face: I was given an assignment to write about the ballot measures that will be voted on in the  Nov. 2010 election. The deadline for the measures to be sent to the printers to appear in the Voter Information Guide was a Monday, and so, on Tuesday, I wrote that the measures were sent. I gave the piece to my editor and was a little startled when my editor called me in to his office. He asked me, “Do you know if the ballot measures were sent?” I replied confidently, “Yes, the deadline was yesterday.” Then he smiled and said, “Did you call the Secretary of State’s office to confirm?” I was visibly confused, and my editor saw the dramatic change in my facial expression and addressed my confusion. “Just because there was a deadline doesn’t mean it was met,” he said. “You can’t just expect the rules to be followed. This is politics, after all.”

What did that mean? In a perfect world, politics should be synonymous with rule-following. After all, that’s what politicians are elected to do. When Congressmen in D.C. are sworn in, they take an oath of office that mandates, among other things, that they “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and the Constitution is essentially a set of rules that must be followed to ensure that our government runs properly.

But after coming to terms with the reality of today’s politics, I started to question everything I had taken for granted about the political process. I was no longer sure whether there was any point in voting, watching or reading about the news, protesting at rallies or having faith in politics and politicians. I began to feel like it was all useless;  if I couldn’t depend on politicians to follow the rules, what was the point of having rules in the first place? I came close to the conclusion that our entire government was a waste of time.

But then I stopped myself. I felt a lot of emotions at that moment – many of them negative – but the one emotion I refused to entertain was hopelessness. While it is true that our elected officials can be dishonest and that, sometimes, the good guys lose the political battles, the worst thing to do is give up on the system altogether, because then, the good guys lose the political war. We can feel disappointed, angry or exasperated, but the moment we stop caring is the moment the system will truly fail us.

Even though hope doesn’t always seem like the best or most practical option, it’s the only option we have. If we give up, who will put politicians on trial when they’re dishonest? If we stop caring, the political corruption we were shocked to see in Bell will no longer be shocking — it will be normal. Elections are based on the assumption that we care about who we put in office. If we no longer care, we won’t need elections anymore. We won’t vote. And while our heads are hung in resignation, we won’t be watching when a slime-ball crawls his or her way into our government. Then we’ll really be in trouble.

Now, in spite of everything I’ve seen and experienced during my time in the newsroom, I’m more inclined than ever to make signs and attend political rallies. I realize that the most important part of my morning is when I read the news and update myself on what our lawmakers are up to in Washington, or Sacramento, or our local city council meetings. I finally understand that the most American thing I could possibly do is make sure that I vote when election season rolls around. I know that this November, I’ll be up bright and early to get to the polls and cast my vote. We were given the right to choose the people we want to run our government for a reason. Sometimes we’ll make the wrong choice, and sometimes there won’t be any good choices available, but it’s in those situations that we need to make sure we do the best we can with the choices we’re given.

Even though sometimes we feel we can’t make a difference, I know I’d rather be hopeful in a flawed system than hopeless in a system broken beyond repair.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Elizabeth permalink
    August 19, 2010 11:15 am

    Don’t you mean you’ll be up bright and early to mail in your absentee ballot?

  2. Gus hastalis permalink
    August 19, 2010 12:54 pm

    Actually u didn’t sit at home during the election. If u recall u cast score for Obama. It was mine….

  3. August 19, 2010 3:41 pm

    Yes!

  4. Barbie permalink
    August 20, 2010 9:10 pm

    What a lot you learned…congrats! I learned that as a ‘cub’ reporter at the old LA Her-Rx 40 years ago…the birth of skepticism and cynicism and the dawning of real knowledge and insight…go get ’em, kid…

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