TEDxHamiltonCollege welcomed Erik Wemple ’86, a media critic with The Washington Post, and Yael Bromberg, chief counsel of voting rights at the Andrew Goodman Foundation, on Feb. 15 to explore issues of political polarization, voter disenfranchisement, and the role of the media in the United States. The program, titled “20/20: Political Divisions,” proved especially relevant in the context of the seminal election coming up in November.

Wemple opened the talk by discussing a recent example of backlash from individuals on the political left to an article in The New York Times that appeared to portray a member of the Trump administration in a sympathetic and glamorous light. This kind of backlash, Wemple said, is anticipated by the Times, but generally from the other end of the political spectrum.

However now, the Times is facing criticism from those on the left for not pushing hard enough against conservative narratives. Part of this, argues Wemple, is a result of the breakdown of the model of both-sides journalism in the face of the frequent lies perpetuated by the Trump administration. Additionally, media outlets are now held accountable to audiences in new ways, because of comment sections, social media, and their dependence on subscriptions.

Following Wemple’s segment, the event coordinators screened an earlier TED talk by journalist Eve Pearlman on her work initiating and leading conversations among people who disagree politically. Her talk had a positive angle, arguing that meaningful dialogue is still possible in spite of media portrayals to the opposite.

Bromberg then presented her portion of the event discussing how young people have often been integral to the story of America, listing famous leaders who were involved from a young age, including Alexander Hamilton. She also discussed the civil rights movement of the 1960s, demonstrating how young people proved themselves critical leaders and catalysts. Bromberg then tied this youth role to the 26th Amendment and the importance of defending young people’s right to vote.

Bromberg outlined several burdens currently in the way of the youth vote and argued that if people are trying to take away a right, it means you should fight all the harder for it. Democracy needs to be reflective of its citizenry, including young people who often hold governments to moral account.

To close, there was a second screening of a TED talk from human rights activist Hajer Sharief, who discussed the importance of involving yourself in decision-making and politics, and how encouraging political involvement can start at home.

The event was a timely moment, demonstrating the importance of sharing ideas and understanding our current political issues as the 2020 election season picks up.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TED Talks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. 

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