The People Have a Right to Know

I’m happy and terrified to announce that last semester’s research project has been selected for presentation at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s midwinter conference.

That’s a lot of edu-speak to say that I wrote some stuff people liked, and now I’m flying to Oklahoma City to talk about it.

Last semester’s primary project was a research paper titled “The People Have a Right to Know: Journalism and Ethics in Film.” In part it was a test run for my thesis, which will expand greatly from the initial sample to examine several tropes that affect journalists’ representation in the movies. It focused primarily on ten films featuring journalists from the last five years, but also extended into several films from previous eras that highlight some of the most common depictions of journalists.

My research poster. Not sure how I’m getting that on the plane.

I analyzed the films through the lens of the SPJ Code of Ethics. If you know me at all, you know that I am passionate about the Code. We denizens of the SPJ Ethics Committee spend a great deal of time year-round advocating ethical behavior, promoting awareness and use of the Code and assisting journalists with ethical dilemmas. My primary soapbox for all these years has been that journalism ethics is not some dry academic theoretical discussion, but a living necessity that should be part of every newsroom’s daily discussion and the only part of your J-school education guaranteed to be relevant throughout your entire career.

Many papers and research projects have focused on the representation of the news media in film, but I am not aware of any others that have used the SPJ Code of Ethics to analyze the fictional journalists’ behavior. Apparently this caught the eye of the committee at AEJMC, and I have been invited to present my research to them.

Thus the terror. I have only presented once before at an academic conference: in 2016, I spoke at the Walter Cronkite Conference on Media Ethics and Integrity about the 2014 project to rewrite the Code for the 21st century. All my other speaking engagements have been much less formal: trade conferences, universities, pop-culture conventions, book groups.

However, since my ultimate goal is to continue teaching, this is an enormous opportunity, and quite an honor.

Oklahoma, here I come…

Patreon changes!

Any new venture is a work in progress, and you have to double or quadruple that when you’re managing a creative endeavor.

The Patreon has become a major part of my work, and like others who have launched one, I’ve found it creatively stimulating. I find I am actively seeking out subjects about which to write, photos and travelogues to create, specifically because I think it will interest the Patrons.

That’s to say nothing about the importance of that income for my family. As you all know, we are a party of three, all in college, and surviving on one paycheck plus whatever I can scrape together.

With that in mind, I decided to rework the structure of the Patreon rewards. I wanted to give more content at the lower price points, because they’ve stuck with me and they should get more for their dollars. I have also created a firm deadline structure for the Patreon, so the posts will be timed more regularly and it won’t necessarily fall by the wayside when my classwork gets insane.

The revised rewards for the Patreon will be as follows:

• $1 per month: Thank you! Your name will be listed on my website as one of my wonderful Patrons; no contribution is too small. You will receive access to exclusive weekly blog posts, which may be on any number of subjects ranging from writing to journalism to grad school.

• $3 per month: You will receive access to at least one photo post from my various photo shoots, along with stories or travelogues about the shoot, location and history, in addition to previous rewards.

• $5 per month: You will receive one short story or nonfiction essay per month, in addition to previous rewards.

• $10 per month: I will critique up to 1,500 words of your fiction or nonfiction per quarter, in addition to previous rewards.

• $25 per month: You’re famous! With your permission, I will put your name in a pool for “Tuckerization” – as in, I will name a character after you in an upcoming work! Plus all previous rewards, of course.

• $50 per month: You will receive an annual ebook of my essays and short stories, as well as a thank-you listing in the author’s note of my published novels, and all previous rewards.

• $100 per month: You’re my best friend. You’ll get a print chapbook once a year on the month of my birthday (or a paperback, depending on what’s been published most recently), a critique of up to 4,000 words of your fiction or nonfiction once a quarter, and all previous rewards.

At each level, existing Patrons should be receiving more content than they had before. And if you have not chosen to join the Patreon so far, I hope you will consider it.

This is going to be a tough semester – I’m taking three graduate-level courses as well as teaching one, and that’s a lot of work. The good news is that more of that work will feed into my interests, and thus may start showing up here and on the Patreon. I am taking a class in cultural studies in media, and another in creative nonfiction. It’s safe to say this is going to bleed over into this work!

As I said back in July, I sing for my supper. The support of my Patrons helps me to feed my family, and they deserve to get what they pay for. Thank you for your support – none of what I do is possible without you.

A poetical experiment

They already warned me it won’t work. I hope they’re wrong.

I’ve always wanted to play with Magnetic Poetry, those funky word-magnets that have remained popular long past the deaths of similar fads. I’m a words person by trade, and the idea of jumbling up random words to form beauty appeals to me.

Problem: My fridge is taken. It’s been our family tradition since before we were a family to buy a magnet whenever we go somewhere or do something fun, and thus the vast majority of the fridge surface is covered with magnets ranging from St. Louis to Jamaica to Disney World to San Francisco to Baltimore to … you get the picture. And there’s really no other surface in the house with enough metal to do Magnetic Poetry.

Surprise. My office door at the university is METAL.

I received two packs of Magnetic Poetry for Christmas: “Photography” and “Nasty Woman.” (Both from my darling husband, who knows me much too well.) I had won a “Coffee” pack a year or two ago, still in the box as I hunted for metal surfaces.

So the menfolk and I trooped over to the campus this week, and now my office door has WORDS. (Along with my shiny new kettle and French press, because COFFEE.) On both sides of the door!

First guest poet. 

They already warned me. Someone’s tried to do this before, and the students put awful stuff all over the door and they made the professor take it down. I did remove the word “pussy” from the “Nasty Woman” kit, if only because some will consider it offensive and others will use it as an excuse to put up nastiness. We have enough of that on the internet, don’t we?

A little negative, but I couldn’t help it… geddit? NEGATIVE? ….sigh.

My hallway is in the lower basement, adjacent to the radio station and the music department with a few IT techs. They seem like friendly, nice kids, and tend to wave and say hi as they pass my open door. (At first, it was a series of double-takes, since no one knew that there was actually an office in there. “I thought this was storage,” said one building service worker.)

I’m interested to see what poetical arrangements might appear on my door. I have mixtures on both sides, and if I can scrounge together a few more bucks, I might add the “College” and “Book Lover” kits, which will probably succeed in covering both sides of the door completely.

I still need to leave my drop box… 

I’m sure someone might put something nasty on it, and I’ll break that up as I need to. Someone might even steal my words. Jim was unhappy with that idea. He bought them as a gift, after all.

But this is a school with a tradition of friendly self-expression. The Rock stands in the center of the quad, and has been painted over time and time again as someone has something they want to declare. (An actual rock, not Duane Johnson, though he’s welcome to drop by anytime.) Fraternity symbols are popular, along with organizations and causes and the occasional sad RIP. And yes, they’ve had a moment or two of unpleasantness on the Rock, which is quickly painted over and excoriated by the campus community.

What will the passers-by leave on my door? What funky phrases might I find in a moment of meditation? Beauty or meanness? Juvenile humor or moments of clarity?

We shall see.

This one is from the Boy. Did I mention I’m really proud of him?

The Beast vs. Brad Admire

Brad Admire is dead. I never met him.

Brad was 17 years old when he was injured playing high school sports. He had surgery on his shoulder, and the doctors gave him opiate-based pain pills during his recovery.

You probably know where this story is going.

Four years later, I interviewed Brad’s father, Dave Admire. I was doing a project on the heroin epidemic, and finding out more and more that it was inextricably tied to the massive use of opiate-based pain pills. There’s a lot of debate and more than a little shouting on this issue, and this is not the place for that debate. I’m here to tell you about Brad, and his father.

Within weeks of his surgery, Brad was hooked on Vicodin. When the prescriptions went away, he turned to heroin, buying tabs on the street for $10 a pill. Admire told me that the majority of addicts he worked with started that way: pain pills for dental surgery or a broken bone. “Not too many just decided to try heroin,” he said.

Three months later, Brad told his father he had a problem. Dave had him in treatment the very next day.

It didn’t take. By the time I met Dave, his son had been through five or six rounds of treatment, a six-month incarceration and at least three overdoses that he knew of. In one of those cases, Dave told me, Brad’s “friends” had stolen his wallet and dumped him in an emergency room.

In Illinois, an addict is lucky to get 30 days inpatient treatment, which apparently isn’t enough for a beast with as many tentacles as heroin.

I didn’t interview Brad. At the time that I met him, Dave had shipped Brad to Florida where he could get a 60-day program, followed by two months outpatient in a sober living house. “Today he’s good, but you never know what tomorrow will bring,” he said.

The doctors say one of the worst things for an addict is get distracted from their recovery with a lot of pressure about “How’s it going? When do you think you’ll be out?” In other words, everything a reporter might ask. It wasn’t my first round with this issue; in other stories, I’ve been faced with the dilemma of whether to interview someone who might be seriously damaged by it. In the case of a legislator who entered Betty Ford for addiction, I had to argue down an editor who was absolutely sure I could get him on the phone from rehab.

Maybe I could. Maybe not – Betty Ford is pretty tough on their rules. But the ethical precept of “minimize harm” as established in the Code of Ethics means that I don’t hurt people to get a story.

Dave Admire, 2016

So I interviewed Dave instead, who was brutally honest about the pain his family had gone through. Addicts leave a wake of pain in their path, not the least of it around themselves.

Dave told me one day he had to refuse Brad entry to the house. “It was snowing and he was beating on the door, and I had to tell him no,” Dave said. “I had to force him to the rock bottom.” As a parent, I could not possibly imagine doing that, but they say it’s necessary. Addicts need a reason to get clean, and they destroy every relationship around them before they reach that rock bottom, or so the experts say. How many parents and siblings have had to make that choice, to “love them from a distance,” as Dave put it?

Dave made it his mission to help other families navigate the morass of treatment options, with and without insurance. Somehow word spread and people knew he was the guy to call. He told me he had kids on eight-week waiting lists, kids who were slipped a tab at a party, and suddenly there’s a beastly hunger awake and raving through their blood. That’s perhaps hyperbole, and perhaps not, as the endless hearings and workshops and think tanks I’ve observed over the years talk about neurons and receptors and susceptibility to dependence in the human brain, stewing in its mix of chemicals.

It was Dave who came to mind a year later when my son sustained a minor injury on a camping trip. He came home from the ER with a bottle of narcotics. The doctors gave opioids to a sixteen-year-old kid with a minor muscle strain without even trying aspirin first. I couldn’t get those pills away from him fast enough, afraid of the beast. We were lucky.

Dave and Brad were featured in a documentary called “The Heroin Project,” co-produced by my now-colleague Cory Byers and then-grad student Ashley Seering. Dave was working with law enforcement to find ways to help addicts get into treatment instead of prison. He appeared on a panel with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin – which is how he came to my attention – and talked with raw honesty about the impact the epidemic is having on families.

Dave (left) with Sen. Durbin

There were a lot of politicians and officials on that panel, but then there was Dave, speaking with quiet dignity; and a local principal, Kari Karidis, who spoke about the day she got the worst possible call: her son had died of a heroin overdose.

One of the hardest things a journalist must learn, and which I try to teach my students, is the compartmentalization of emotions and opinions. Reporters cannot help but form opinions because we have working brain cells, and if we ever stop feeling our emotions entirely, we have lost our connection to humanity and need to quit the job. But we must take those emotions and opinions and set them apart from the work. There’s a story to be written, and no one will take it seriously if you’ve slipped from reporter to advocate.

But when I read yesterday that Brad Admire died of an overdose on Sunday, my heart simply broke for the father I interviewed years ago, and the family ripped apart over what seemed like innocuous pills. I never did have enough callouses to keep me from feeling the job, and maybe that made me less than the reporter I could have been.

When I wrote the story of the Admire family, Madison County, Illinois had reached a then-staggering 77 opioid overdoses in a single year. In 2009, the total was seven.

Days before Brad Admire overdosed, Madison County’s coroner Steve Nonn announced that with more than month remaining in 2018, 92 people have died of an opiate overdose. It’s a grim new record. While there have always been overdoses, take a look at the chart at the other end of this link and you’ll see why opioids stand out. More than 72,000 dead last year, and now that fentanyl is being mixed into other drugs, there seems to be no end in sight.

There’s no moral to the story, no uplifting ending. As a journalist, it isn’t my place to suggest policy or issue a call to action. It probably isn’t my place to grieve for the Admire family, to think of the stalwart father who sat across from me in a library one afternoon and shared his family’s most painful, raw tragedies with me and our readers.

But as keepers of the record, it’s beholden upon us to tell the whole story. And the whole story is that this time, the beast won.

Flashback: Happy Birthday, Uncle Walter

Note: This post was originally published on Nov. 6, 2016.

This weekend I had the privilege of speaking at the Walter Cronkite Conference on Media Ethics and Integrity. I was pretty nervous, as I’d never done an academic conference before – SPJ conventions, guest speaker at local universities, and of course, cons. No one at the Cronkite Conference was dressed as Pennywise the Clown, however.

Somehow I missed that the conference was scheduled to coincide with Cronkite’s 100th birthday, which was celebrated at the Walter Cronkite Memorial on Friday along with the unveiling of Phase IV of the memorial.

We were treated to an amazing three-act play developed by the memorial staff titled “And That’s the Way It Is: Cronkite’s Journey.” This show has been taken on the road and performed all the way to D.C. If it is ever in your area, you owe it to yourself to catch it. Actor Jim Korinke does a spot-on Walter Cronkite, and the gentlemen playing Harry Truman and Martin Luther King Jr. are pretty amazing themselves.

Act One focuses on Truman and Cronkite’s lives in parallel from 1945 onward. It is a little gentler on Truman than history has been, but more true than some of the biopics have been. Act Two focuses on King and Cronkite through the civil rights movement, including the ethical and practical issues faced by the CBS news team as they tried to cover the movement with dispassion. I did not know, for example, that simply covering the movement was seen as “championing the blacks” and that southern affiliates threatened to cut their affiliation with CBS – which would have bankrupted the network.

Unfortunately I missed most of Act III. Damn news. I was reporting on a story back home by remote, and got some information during the intermission. I was still updating the story from my laptop when Act III began, and once I was done, the doors were locked and I couldn’t get in until someone came along who had a key. Rats. Jim (who was verklempt throughout the performance) reports that it was a representative of Cronkite’s question-and-answer on Larry King Live on the one-year anniversary of 9/11. I would have liked to have seen that.

I only caught some of the presentations at the conference, but those I caught were fascinating. Check out the Twitter account @edonaldmedia if you want more specifics. I met a journalist named Deandre Williamson of the Bahamas, who won the award for having traveled the farthest (unless it’s farther to Chile? Maybe.). Williamson discussed the evolution of the media in the Bahamas, which does not have freedom of speech, and its recent adoption of the SPJ Code of Ethics a few months ago. It faces an uphill battle there, and I enjoyed discussing those issues with Deandre.

Pic taken by my long-suffering husband, who agreed to come to a journalism ethics conference on our anniversary.

My presentation was on the 2014 revision of the code, and it must have gone off well, since no one fell asleep, walked out, or threw rotten tomatoes. Big thanks go to ethics chairman Andrew Seaman for giving me his terrific PowerPoint, which I then adapted to my speech. The last time I used PowerPoint, I was in college. That was a while ago. Thanks to the Kansas City Press Club, which invited me to speak.

And thanks as well to former chairman Kevin Smith, who shared some of his thoughts and recollections with me as I prepared for the presentation. Kevin herded the cats through our entire process, and survived.

I’ve often said that my participation in the ethics commission and the small part I played in rewriting the code are among my proudest accomplishments, and thus it was no small thing to be asked to talk about it – here at the conference, at local universities, at SPJ conventions, at high schools, on a milk crate at a street corner. Kevin called it “spreading the Gospel”; I’ve sometimes called it “evangelizing ethics.” As I said in the speech, there are far too many people who don’t even realize the code exists, and that’s because we do a lousy job of transparency in our work. We must stop expecting that the average reader knows how a newsroom functions, how news corporations work on the inside, about the difference between news and opinion, and the presence and enforcement of ethics codes.

Sometimes I’ve felt like the lone voice crying in the wilderness. This weekend I was among My People, and it felt wonderful. It was good to know I am not the only one who is disheartened and depressed by the vitriol we face as we try to do our jobs.

I learned a lot from my fellow journalists this weekend, and about Uncle Walt, whom I thought I already knew well. Cronkite retired before I was old enough to really comprehend the news, but when I was young and would hear my newsman father refer to “Uncle Walter,” I thought at first we really had an uncle named Walter.

Dad was a big fan of Cronkite, and after you visit the memorial, you will be as well. From World War II to the Kennedy Assassination to the civil rights movement to the moon landing to facing down Spiro Agnew, the story of Cronkite is really the history of us for the last sixty years, and it’s worth your time.

If you do, you get to wear The Glasses.

And that’s the way it is.

Authentic social media marketing without losing your mind

I had the pleasure of visiting with the Midwest Editorial Freelancers Association this week, to hear expert Solange Deschatres of SCORCH talk about social media branding.

SCORCH is right here in St. Louis, but it has a very high-level profile among social media management. Clients include Microsoft, LinkedIn, GE, Annuitas and more. Since my social media strategy has basically been “yell at people on Facebook, retweet on my two Twitter accounts, forget that I have an Instagram, and check into LinkedIn once a month or so,” I clearly need some help.

Deschatres says the main thing is “really putting yourself out there and being authentic, being true to you.” That may sound simple, but it’s not. A lot of people, including weirdo creatives like me, will chase trends and try to do the New Thing because they think it will catapult them to immediate success. But it comes off as stiff, trying to hard, the message hidden under layers of shellac, Deschatres said.

Videos are intensely popular on social media, Deschatres said, so even if your video is just a few minutes of you talking into the camera, go on and post that video. I can personally affirm this from the last few years at the newspaper; even if my news video was thirty seconds of the police chief repeating the basic facts that are already in the story, people would click it.

It’s counter-intuitive to me, since I’m very words-focused; I am the person who scrolls past the news video in favor of text even on broadcast news sites; who can’t stand audiobooks and gets annoyed when people read the text at me. Oh, just give it here and let me read already.

But video is the thing. Wait, didn’t we just tell you not to chase trends? Yes, but instead of chasing the trend, try to find a piece of the trend that fits what you do and run with that, Deschatres said.

Another huge key is consistency. Post often, and post regularly. “You are not going to become an overnight internet sensation,” Deschatres said. “People build their audiences over years and years… It’s the consistency that matters.”

We talked for a good bit about the different kinds of social media and their focus. Writers are on LinkedIn and Twitter; Instagram trends young while Facebook trends middle-aged and older; and of course Google Plus is dead.

That’s demographics, though; think about what you’re marketing before deciding which medium to use. My photography, for example, should probably go up on Instagram rather than Facebook, where it’ll get traded around like a meme. (Naturally, much of my work is going first on the Patreon, but hey, a woman’s gotta make a living until she wins the Powerball.)

And please, give up the whole “I don’t ‘get’ Twitter” or whatever excuse you’re using for not stepping out of your comfort zone. A creative who is actively trying to sell and make money at art needs to be present online to be present at all, and that means spending time in social media that you may not prefer. Curate your feed, protect yourself, but don’t be silent. None of us can afford silence.

Some Facebook groups are still useful despite the ever-changing and annoying algorithm – that might be just my own opinion, but Facebook’s algorithm has generally made marketing on the behemoth site a nightmare and a half. But niche groups can provide connections and keep you aware of opportunities, Deschatres said.

Did you know that LinkedIn has a Facebook-like feed where you can post content and follow or unfollow other feeds? Did you know LinkedIn has its own news service posting original content? Many of us (myself included) tend to think of LinkedIn as a place to post your resume and job-hunt. But Deschatres says the content has shifted to become a little more personal, not just buttoned-up business press releases.

In part, she says, that’s because the nature of business has shifted. “People can smell BS a mile away,” she said. “Business decisions are also emotional decisions… they’re making it about choice.”

So while you can’t be everything to everyone – and if you try you’ll muddle your message to the nth degree – you can target your appeal to the right audience. Even big companies like Microsoft are looking for small, local companies like SCORCH, seeking nimble and creative workers they can work with from anywhere, she said.

While you’re figuring out where to be and how often to be there, also consider your content. How-to’s and a look inside your creative process are wildly popular, rather than sharing the content itself, Deschatres said. “There’s lots of content out there, but there’s only one you,” she said. “It’s not so much about promoting the work, it’s about promoting you and your expertise, what you bring to the table.”

A few key points:

Think about your reposts. Remember that a retweet may or may not be considered endorsement, but it can reflect that way no matter how many disclaimers you put on your profile that no one read.

• Beware of politics. No one says you can’t say what you think (unless you’re doing news, in which case you should already know the inherent ethical problems with wading into politics while reporting.) But keep in mind that clients and customers will be reading it, and it can cost you dearly. That also goes for authors fighting with reviewers; really, guys, nobody wins that fight. Have a drink and move on.

• There’s no such thing as posting too often. This flies in the face of what I’d heard before, but that was in the early days of stone knives-and-bearskins internet, and now Deschatres said you have to speak often to be heard. “The biggest detriment to your brand is not posting too much, it’s posting too little,” she said.

You can manage this in part by scheduling your posts. Set aside some time to come up with posts and schedule them at the times when people are most often online. Tweetdeck is free and fairly simple to use for managing multiple Twitter accounts (I have five, because I’m insane). I was using HootSuite to manage Facebook, but when I tried to go to the paid version they made me mad with billing problems and borked-up service. You can look into Later or buffer, which have free or low-cost options; if you’re a company willing to spend some money, Sprout Social seems to be very popular, but it’s $99 a month, so that’s pretty much out of the reach of most freelancers, I would think.

While social media can therefore become your part-time job – and don’t we all have awesome things we’d rather be doing? – you can manage it with an editorial calendar. I did this myself when I decided to go freelance. It’s separate from my usual “where do I need to be and when is that doctor’s appointment” family calendar, which is color-coded and coordinated with husband and son for our collective sanity.

My editorial calendar, however, has set deadlines for my freelance projects and research projects, as well as recurring deadlines for blog posts, newsletters and social media. Of course, sticking to those deadlines is always the challenge, which is why I know there will be two more essays written this weekend, along with two freelance news articles, a newsletter, and more literature review for the grad-school research. This is while I’m selling and signing at the Dupo Art Fair and running a charity book sale at Leclaire Parkfest, so keep your life in mind when you set up this calendar. Let it fit into your life, not the other way around.

But don’t ignore it. Whether we like it or not, social media is the future, and while it will change and evolve over the years as it has since it was bulletin boards and AOL chatrooms, it is where people are finding their business partners, clients and contractors. If you’re living the freelance life, you need to be out there.

“Think in advance about what you’re going to do, but as long as you get something out there… Social media presence is by definition about being present,” Deschatres said.

To that end, if you want to find me on social media, here are my various locales:

Facebook: Personal and journalism

Facebook: Author page

Twitter: Personal and author

Twitter: Journalism and grad school

Twitter: SPJ

LinkedIn

Instagram (But please don’t check this yet. I need to get my teenage son to help me figure out how to use it…)

And, of course… THE PATREON.

Baltimore: Here fishy fishy… and a salute to Edgar

The journalism part of my trip to Baltimore will be rightfully chronicled at stlspj.org, as I was there on behalf of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists.

But I never go anywhere without my camera in hand, and I shot in the Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium, and Westminster Cemetery, the resting place of Edgar Allan Poe.

The Aquarium was my first real attempt at shooting living things, as I’ve rarely done portrait photography and never tried shooting wild animals. I have so much to learn about photography – every time I think I’ve really got this thing down, a shark turns the corner and reminds me that I have no idea what I’m doing.

It’s frustrating as hell, but it is also exciting: new things to learn, new skills to master, and I get to see pretty things while I’m doing it.

 

Or, y’know, scary things.

Do you want more? The full photo arrays and travelogue will be on the Patreon, so subscribe here if you’d like to see the cognac on Poe’s grave, swim with the sharks and find Nemo. More and more of my writing and photography is going directly to the Patreon, so I do hope you’ll sign up.

In the meantime…. Bruce says hello.

EKD_4765

On the road again…

On Wednesday, I leave for a five-day stint in Baltimore for the Excellence in Journalism conference. I’ll be acting as president and delegate for the St. Louis Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, as well as communing with my fellow Ethics Committee members.

I also will be returning to some old stomping grounds. I lived in Baltimore for a few years as a teenager, and have a great fondness for Charm City.

I’ll be tweeting about my experience on a personal level at @edonald, and about journalism and the conference at @edonaldmedia. Feel free to follow along there, and look for travelogues and musings here and at the Patreon.

Of course, when I return, I’ll have just enough time to do laundry and repack before heading out to Louisville, Ky. for Imaginarium. Whee! The Fall Deathmarch begins…

The Madness of the King

Cross-posted to Patreon.

His name is Father David Boase, and he’s about to lose everything because of a simple mistake.

Father Boase is from England, but 14 years ago he received a call to serve as priest to an Episcopal church in Alton, Illinois. He moved here and found that he loved the United States. Whether we deserve that love remains to be seen.

He served his church faithfully and well for ten years, bought a home and paid his taxes. He retired, but continued to serve the church as an interim priest for other parishes, including mine. He is an amateur actor as well, and delighted audiences and congregations alike with his wry wit.

Do you know how hard it is to get a roomful of Episcopalians to laugh during services?

Father Boase made one mistake. Thirteen years ago, he was renewing his license at the DMV and the clerk asked him if he wanted to register to vote. This is after he had presented his British passport to the clerk, by the way.

Of course he should have said no. After all, only citizens can vote, right?

Wrong.

In Missouri, non-citizens in the process of becoming citizens are allowed to vote under certain circumstances. That’s also the case in Alabama, and ten cities in Maryland, and many other places. Bills to allow non-citizens to vote in certain circumstances have been introduced in many other states, including Massachusetts, Maine, Texas and more.

In New York, bills were submitted over and over, and non-citizens who had children in public schools were permitted to vote on school board elections until 2002, when school boards were no longer elected. San Francisco currently allows non-citizens to vote in certain elections. Not for nothing, but in multiple European Union countries, non-citizens can vote in local elections as well.

After all, resident immigrants may own property here, send their kids to public schools, own and operate businesses subject to taxation. “No taxation without representation” was a slogan once upon a time, wasn’t it?

Non-citizen voting is widespread throughout the world, but of course, we in the U.S. are so conditioned to think of immigrants as “other” that the very concept caused the Kansas City Star’s comment section to explode with the most horrific bigotry and vile insinuations – the worst of the internet in one spot. I’m not providing a link.

And as this piece from the L.A. Times points out, non-citizens voted from the beginning of our republic until the anti-immigrant fervor in the early 1900s caused its elimination from most states’ laws. Of course, Mr. Arellano is arguing from the standpoint of bigotry.

No one can make a case on Father Boase’s part for bigotry: he is an educated white male. And he made a mistake. So did the DMV clerk, and he refuses to point fingers and name names, because it was a long time ago and he doesn’t want to get anyone in trouble.

Because he did vote. Once. Then a parishioner told him he probably wasn’t allowed to do that, and he never voted again.

Instead, he made his second mistake: He applied for citizenship. He loves this country, loves his community and has a home with friends here. He’s part of a community and has entirely made it better.

So we’re kicking him out.

The immigration officials processing his citizenship application found out about the vote and referred him for deportation. He will not be fighting it, he says – on the advice of his attorney, who I presume knows what he or she is talking about. If Father Boase leaves voluntarily, he can reapply to return within a few years. If he fights it on the basis of sanity and common sense, he could be deported and unable to return for 10 years.

So much for due process. Even asking for common sense carries a 10-year penalty.

It will cause him devastating loss, not only personally but financially. Priests aren’t wealthy, and he is retired, living on a small pension. The legal bills will be difficult, and he will have to sell almost everything he owns to move back to England with no support system and no job – not even a place to live. Friends have created a GoFundMe to help with his expenses, while others are writing to Senator Duckworth and begging the world for a moment of common sense..

I have traditionally stayed away from political writing since becoming a journalist, because one cannot maintain neutrality when wading into the fray. I can’t criticize a policy one day and then write objectively about it the next. (Or, rather, I can, but no one would take it seriously.)

I’m not a full-time reporter anymore. I’m still working freelance, and that limits what I can say or do – to an extent.

But on this story, I am not objective, as Father Boase is a friend. I will not be covering it for any news organization. Thus, I can say that the emperor has no clothes, and dare anyone to tell me otherwise.

Father Boase does not deserve to be deported. He poses no danger to our society. He made a mistake that others have made, and face consequences just as ludicrous: a woman in Texas is serving five years in prison because she voted, not realizing that her prior fraud conviction made it illegal for her to vote. She is literally serving more time for voting than she did for inflating tax returns as a tax preparer nine years ago.

As immigration lawyer Marleen Suarez said, Father Boase is an educated, English-speaking man. Imagine how hard this is for an immigrant who isn’t fluent in the language yet, and doesn’t understand the labyrinthine requirements placed on him – but faces terrible penalties for the slightest mistake and may be returning to a dangerous, life-threatening situation.

It’s madness. We have a hard enough time getting our natural-born citizens to get off their couches and vote, with turnout of barely 61 percent in the last and most contentious election, and yet we will tell the immigrant residents who live here, pay taxes and are subject to our laws that they have no voice in making them.

Except, of course, when you’re told you can vote, and do, and then we say, “Oops, never mind.”

If we are to rethink immigration in the United States, let us rethink it in terms of common sense and not some backward reactionary ‘Merica nonsense that aims to exclude all “others” by knee-jerk response. America is still a good place – at least, it can be. We should be honored and proud that so many people want to come be a part of it, and are willing to undergo the endless nonsense we place in their way. Being born here is a happy accident of fate. Moving here is a choice, and one we should celebrate, not deny.

Let it begin with allowing a good man and faithful priest to remain here, in the land he loves, and become a citizen as well. Put an end to the madness of the king.