As a political talk-radio host, I am constantly dealing with people who don’t agree with me.
Some callers spout nonsense conspiracy theories. Others copy tried-and-true applause lines from their political heroes. Still others simply yell and shout their personal prejudices, uninterested in facts or reasonable discourse. Even those who agree with me often have skewed reasoning.
What’s a responsible broadcaster to do?
I learned a long time ago that I will probably never change the mind of the person on the other end of the line. I’ve also learned that trying to over-shout someone just leads to noise and no light.
I also have the luxury of being able to hit the “dump” button.
Alas, there is no “dump” button in real life. In this ever-polarized political environment, national and local, I know people who refuse to attend family dinners because of, for example, the brother-in-law who sputters the worst politically incorrect characterizations in front of young children. I know people who won’t go to their card-game group because one member likes to stir the pot. I know people who are frustrated about how to respond when they overhear ridiculous points of view pontificated in the next booth at the restaurant or the waiting room at the doctor’s office.
My friend Eileen Stern is not someone you would expect to ever throw in the towel on her outspoken support for causes and activism. So I was astonished to read a Facebook post by her recently: “Just like the alcoholic, the drug addict, the food addict, I have been binging on politics and I have literally overdosed. I am feeding on toxicity and it is taking me beyond where I want to go.”
Stern, a long-time desert resident, was born and raised in Chicago. She and her husband, Marv, were originally snowbirds here, but they have now lived in the Palm Springs area as permanent residents for more than 18 years.
“I’m very blessed to be in a financial situation where we’re able to be comfortable—but I didn’t grow up that way,” she says. “I lived in public housing and went to public schools.”
Stern became a buyer and marketing executive at Sears, a male-dominated environment where, she says, “I had to prove myself—but at least I had the chance.” That experience got Stern involved in support for affirmative action. Her subsequent involvement in other causes included opposing the Vietnam War, working on the Robert Kennedy presidential campaign, supporting passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and participating in the March on Washington.
“I’m no activist, but I’ve been active my whole adult life,” she says, without appreciating the irony. “I got energized by the candidacy of President Obama, after a long hiatus of not really being too involved, and went to Nevada to work on his campaign with a couple of friends.”
In the Coachella Valley, Stern’s involvement has included participation with the Democratic Women of the Desert, the Hike for Hope and the Jewish Film Festival.
A few years ago, she became involved with Planned Parenthood. Stern and her husband agreed to host an event at their home featuring Sandra Fluke, the young woman who spoke out passionately about women having access to contraception—and was subsequently vilified by Rush Limbaugh, who publicly referred to Fluke as “a slut.”
The following year, Stern hosted another Planned Parenthood event, “and I realized the organization had no fundraising arm here in the valley.” October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Planned Parenthood affiliates in the Coachella Valley perform more than 1,800 breast cancer screenings each year.
“The group’s opponents have done a very good job of painting Planned Parenthood as a ‘one trick pony,’ focusing solely on abortion, when 97 percent of their activities are not abortion-related,” says Stern. “You don’t get to make up your own facts.”
That led her to help organize the Reel Women’s Movie Marathon,a local film festival designed to highlight Planned Parenthood’s focus on breast-health programs, featuring diverse films about women—from the “barefoot grandmamas” of India, illiterate women being trained as solar engineers, to stories of forced marriages and women fighting gender discrimination both abroad and in the U.S. The first festival was held last year; at this year’s second event, attendance doubled.
With this background, what led Stern to her post on Facebook?
“We can all become as entrenched as anyone on the other side of an issue,” she says. “I recently attended a political event for a local candidate and got into an argument with someone with whom I didn’t agree at all about a key issue. I’m not normally a confrontational person, but every time she tried to talk, I cut her off, and it kept escalating. I embarrassed her, and I embarrassed myself. I knew afterward that the way I handled it was over the top. It was so not me.”
That incident led to Stern’s post on Facebook.
“I post a lot,” she says, “so it seemed the most appropriate way to handle my feelings afterward.”
Eileen Stern is not someone you would expect to stop standing up for what she believes in. And the truth is, she hasn’t. Her Facebook post led to so many responses—mostly supportive and encouraging her not to step back—that she was astonished.
“I always try to be respectful,” she says. “I try to post facts and not make it personal. I don’t want to offend anyone.”
Stern’s heartfelt post is both cautionary and encouraging. “I am finding myself at odds with others, many of whom I never was at odds with before,” she posted. “I cannot allow myseIf to binge on it, lest it make me intolerant. I will try not to engage others in debate on what we do not agree with. I will fight for what I believe in, but in my heart I am a peacemaker … I am going to weigh and measure my political input just as we all strive to weigh and measure our lives.”
We need more people like Eileen Stern, who care passionately about issues and are willing to take an active role in the community, who constantly self-monitor to stay positive, listen to others’ points of view, stand up for what they believe and make a difference. Lucky for us, in spite of her Facebook post, Eileen Stern hasn’t given up.
On the radio, I’ve developed the philosophy that if I can at least convince others that there is a civil way to respond to those spouting off, and respect differences of opinion—to disagree without being disagreeable—then I’ve done my job.
Of course, for me, there’s always the “dump” button.
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday at CVIndependent.com.