What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Now that the holidays are over there is an aftermath of deadly quiet in social circles” and, “In celebration of the wedding day of George and Martha Washington, the Rainier Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is giving an elaborate card party at the Scottish Rite Temple.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

There was an ad in the January 17, 1920 Town Crier for Violet Tatum Hats. “Already-are hats appearing in the shiny straws and bright flowers- suggesting early Spring.” Hats were a big thing in the 1920s. And Spring is a big thing at Town Hall.

True, Spring 2020 doesn’t begin in the Northern Hemisphere until Thursday, March 19 but Town Hall’s got an early spring with a plethora of events. For instance:

January 17: Mozart Birthday Toast. Raise your glass to celebreate Mozart’s birthday with an evening of intimate masterpieces by one of the most beloved composers of all time. The concert will be performed by Byron Schenkman and friends.

January 31: Lyric World. How can poetry expand our understanding of civic life? Poet and former Town Hall Artist-In-Residence Shin Yu Pai invites us to the first of her Lyric World discussions, exploring the role of poetry as it stokes our curiosity and gives voice and attention to the human experience.. 

February 8: Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye. As part of Westerlies Fest 2020, spoken word poets Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye join the Seattle-bred, New York-based brass quartet The Westerlies.

February 9: Ensemble Caprice. Early Music Seattle presents a rendition of Vivaldi’s Montezuma.It is a semi-staged opera production reconstructed and reimagined by Ensemble Caprice Musical Director Matthias Maute.

February 22: Showtunes Theatre Company’s 20th Anniversary Gala. It will be a night filled with laughter, music, memories, and surprises.

February 23: North Corner Chamber Orchestra. “Through the Glass,” the third concert cycle in NOCCO’s 2019-20 season, shines a light on important though often forgotten elements of our musical fabric: women composers and young performers.

February 29: Miguel Zenon Quartet. Earshot Jazz brings one of the most groundbreaking and influential saxophonists of his generation. 

March 1: Haram with special guest Marc Ribot. Our Global Rhythms series continues with Haram, a Vancouver-based group led by Juno Award-winning oud virtuoso Gordon Grdina. Also on stage will be legendary guitarist Marc Ribot.

Come on out to Town Hall before Spring. Wearing shiny straws and bright flowers is entirely optional! We’re looking to seeing you.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “The Garden Club Convention, with meetings, luncheons, and dinners goes up to Friday, then guests leave for a Mount Rainier trip” and, “Miss Jasmine Eddy is motoring home from Harvard.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

The July 7, 1930 edition of the Town Crier had an ad highlighting the University Book Store. They were telling folks buying gifts for new brides and grooms that “there is nothing that so pleases as the wedding present of the thoughtful – a gift of books.” Indeed, “These remain in the library when other gifts have disappeared, a constant reminder of the giver, and a constant source of pleasure to the married couple.”

Another constant source of pleasure in Seattle since January 10, 1900? The University Book Store. They first opened for business that day in a cloakroom next to the University president’s office in Denny Hall. Today, it is one of the great college stores in the country. Although it is one of more than 5,000 college stores in the United States, it is third in total sales volume and leads all college stores in the sale of books and supplies.

Happy birthday, University Book Store! We, at Town Hall, congratulate the bookstore for their gift of books throughout the years to the community at large and thank them for their lasting and fruitful partnership with us.

To learn more about the bookstore’s history, go here. To learn more about their coming events, go here. To learn more about Town Hall’s coming events, go here.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “A number of friends motored up to Seattle to partake in a dinner dance hosted by Mrs. Edward Agnew,” and, “Mrs. Darrah Corbett celebrated Christmas day with a tree.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

The Seattle Symphony placed an ad in the December 27, 1919 edition of the Town Crier. They were excited about their coming January 20 performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, his “Eroica” symphony. Tickets were priced at 50 cents to two dollars.

Speaking of Beethoven, 2020 is the 250 anniversary of his birth. On January 12 Town Hall will host Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Winter Festival Preview. Taking place in the Forum, Beethoven scholar Geoffrey Block, musicologist and author of Experiencing Beethoven: A Listener’s Companion, will present a brief overview of the composition of Beethoven’s string quartets, which traversed the breadth of his compositional life.

The event is only $5 (free for anyone under the age of 22). That’s music to your ears, isn’t it?

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Mrs. Frederick Bentley will have a Christmas Day dinner at her home for 14 guests,” and, “Mrs. A.W. Hawley entertained on Wednesday afternoon with an interesting ‘Hour of Magic’.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

Town Crier writers lamented loose talking in the December 20 edition. “Never has there been a time when straight thinking was needed than right now. Loose talking needs a padlock.” It continues, “Every hour we hear and read radical opinions expressed, by those who by tradition and training should be leaders in our community, which if acted upon would inevitably lead to crime and blood-shed.” Town Crier writers feared the worst. “The man with a low-grade mentality broods over fancied wrongs and it takes only a little to put him into the criminal class and that is furnished more often than we think by the loose talking of those who should know better.”

There seems to never have been a time than now when straight thinking is what we need. Lies and half-truths run rampant. Few know that more than Samuel Woolley. Woolley, a writer and researcher with a focus on emerging media technologies will be on Town Hall’s stage on January 9 to discuss his new book, The Reality Game: How the Next Wave of Technology Will Break the Truth. He cautions that technology may soon play an even deeper role in the rise of disinformation—with human-like automated voice systems, machine learning, “deepfake” AI-edited videos and images, interactive memes, virtual reality, and more. Can we survive the onslaught? Tickets are on sale now ($5 and free for anyone 22 and under). 

The 1919 Town Crier story continued, “A thoughtful man said the other day, ‘I’ve had wide experience and know many people of all classes but I’ve never known a good man or a good woman; I’ve never known a bad man or a bad woman. There never was one of either kind – everyone is a blend of both.’ It takes straight thinking to get to that point.” It concludes, “The majority allows others to think for them. It is far easier. Today the issues facing everyone of us require cool and careful thinking and no loose talking.”

There’s plenty of straight thinking at Town Hall. There’s plenty of cool and careful thinking and no loose talking. Join us for an event sometime soon. Our online calendar can be found here.

Some Information about Misinformation: A Conversation with Samuel Woolley

 

Information literacy is an essential ingredient in a healthy democracy. Samuel Woolley will arrive on Town Hall’s stage on January 9 to discuss his new book The Reality Game. It shows how the breakneck rate of technological change is making information literacy nearly impossible. Woolley argues for a new culture of invention, one built around accountability, and especially transparency.

He recently sat down with Town Hall’s Jonathan Shipley to discuss bots, bias, and Facebook.

JS: What initially got you interested in misinformation?

SW: I first got interested in digital misinformation during the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street—offline protests that made serious use of social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to organize and communicate. I noticed, during these protests and participants’ use of digital tools, that the internet wasn’t only getting used for democratic ideals or to aid the people fighting back against authoritarian regimes. In fact, it looked like the regimes and their supporters were also using these same social media platforms in attempts to artificially amplify their own talking points. They were building armies of fake accounts—known as sock puppets and, when automated, political bots—to massively spin things in their favor. A small group of researchers, including my collaborator Philip Howard and I, quickly discovered that these coordinated “computational propaganda” (as we began calling them) campaigns were also being used to attack and defame opposition leaders. Bot armies were simultaneously co-opting the hashtags the activists were using to coordinate and filling them with misinfo, spam and noise—making it so the platforms became less viable tools for communication. After running early analyses on these circumstances, we began to widen our net to focus on whether similar tactics were being used around the globe. The punchline is well known to most people now, but suffice it to say that we found similar tactics being used during almost all online conversations surrounding the elections and other important events we examined—from Australia to Venezuela.

JS: What can we do, John and Jane Q. Public, do to combat it? How can we tell fact from fiction these days?

SW: I think that the public should have hope for several reasons, and also that there are several things we can do to combat misinfo, disinfo, and computational propaganda. First, it’s important to note that the very fact that we are having serious public discussions about the problems associated with misinfo and “fake news” (though I prefer not to use this particular term) is a win for truth. Those who work to spread fiction, for political purposes or otherwise, have a much harder time spreading junk news and other informational garbage when people are savvy to the problem—as some have said, “sunlight is the best disinfectant” when it comes to such issues. When my teammates and I first started studying and reporting on these problems in 2013, it was very difficult to get anyone, let alone tech firms, to pay attention. Now, stories about misinformation are everywhere you look. 

Social media firms are also responding, some more effectively than others. 

There are also tools people can use to track social media bot accounts and false narratives. BotOmeter allows people to plug in Twitter accounts handles and, using numerous parameters, learn if a suspicious account is actually automated. BotCheck.me, from RoBhat Labs in Berkeley, has similar uses. The team at RoBhat also have tools like NewsBotAI, which assesses bias in news articles, Surfsafe.me, which assesses author credibility, and FactCheck.me, which works for cluster automated behaviour and improve response times to misinfo attacks. On top of this, teams at the Center for Media Engagement at UT Austin, FirstDraft, Data and Society, the SMaPP Lab at NYU, the Digital Intelligence Lab at IFTF,  the German Marshall Fund, the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council and others are constantly releasing top notch research and deploying exciting new tools to combat misinformation and bolster solid reporting.

JS: Are our social media channels too far gone? Twitter, I know, recently banned political ads. Will that prove at all effective? Why/why not?

SW: The largest social media companies,Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, etc., face the serious challenge of catching up to a problem that has existed on their platforms for a decade. For the longest time, they were doing little more than deleting the automated accounts they chanced upon. They did not, by their own admission, do nearly enough about the issue of political manipulation on their platforms. They set their sights on growing as fast as possible without thoughts to the informational repercussions that came with this massive scaling. It’s hard for me to see this unfettered growth, alongside the disregard for how they were damaging democratic communication, for anything other than greed and negligence. Finally, though, the executives at the companies are beginning to take responsibility and they are deploying serious resources towards fighting back against misinformation and other forms of manipulation online. 

Really, though, it is the researchers and engineers at these companies who I have the most faith in. They are the ones with the serious know-how, and they’ve shown they want to do something. It was these employees that spoke back against Zuckerberg’s recent move to allow to allow politicians to spread disinformation in Facebook ads in the name of “free speech.” It was them who fought back against (and eventually sunk) predatory payday loan ads and Google’s Project Maven AI drone project with the pentagon. Recent moves by Twitter to ban all political ads, or by Facebook’s near opposite move to allow some forms of political disinformation in ads, feel a little too cut and dry for my taste. These companies are being heavy-handed, likely for the sake of optics and marketing, rather than taking a nuanced approach to the problems. I mean, what exactly constitutes a “political” ad? And how can they allow the most influential among us to spread totally fake narratives? It seems like the companies are trying, and even trying hard, but that they’ve still got a lot of work to do. This makes me wonder, what new social media platforms will arise? How will new channels be built, from day one, in efforts to prevent the flow of misinfo?

JS: Facebook—friend or foe?

SW: Facebook, as I’ve mentioned, has a lot of problems and shoulders a serious share of the blame for the current fractured state of the global information ecosystem. Zuckerberg, Sandberg, and other executives at Facebook have become well known among the tech crowd, from external researchers like me to current and former Facebook employees, for tightly controlling their firm. They would do well to make the process of fixing the problems they’ve helped to create by allowing more democratic input from their own employees and outside experts. They should listen, and listen well, to their research team—which is full of capable, well-trained, social and computer scientists. 

Google also shares a huge share of the blame, but has gotten much less attention, mostly by remaining mum and towing the bogus line that they are “just a search company.” As if the world’s largest search firm hasn’t had a hand in allowing the information we see and consume on their engine to be manipulated and disinformative at several junctures throughout its brief history. They also own YouTube, which researchers like Alice Marwick and Becca Lewis have shown to be rife with white-supremacist, racist, and other seriously problematic content. Google needs to step up in a very big way. Twitter, because of its smaller size, is more a bit player in this drama—though they get a lot of attention because journalists and policy wonks hang out on the platform. In recent months, Twitter has arguably been doing more than its larger rivals to fight back with its political ads ban and other moves. What we chiefly need, though, is more collaboration between the firms. Right now they aren’t taking these issues on as a team. They are still trying to hide their cards from the companies they see as their opponents in the market when really they should be focusing on their opponents in the fight for the truth.

JS: Fake news stories. Twitter bots. Deepfake videos. What’s next on the misinformation front?

SW: I think the next frontiers for misinformation lie in innovations in Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and extended reality media. I’m also concerned about the realization of individualized political ad targeting and things like politically motivated geofencing. To date, the vast majority of social media bots we’ve seen have been clunky and brutish, usually just massively amplifying likes or re-posts on behalf of one political idea or person or in opposition to another. 

They’re the cheapest tool that has gotten the job done for those hoping to manipulate public opinion. With social media firms stepping up their responses to misinformation, and with innovations and price drops in AI tools, it’s likely we will begin seeing more convincingly human AI accounts. Whether these accounts will actually be able to convince people, rather than polarize and disgust them in the way their clunky-automated brethren have, remains to be seen. But we should be planning for AI to be deployed for manipulative information operations. Also worth thinking about: will AR and VR tools be used to spread propaganda? If so, how? I list examples in my new book of some ways this is already happening in places like China and beyond. We’ve got to get ahead of such uses of our emergent technology before they grow out of hand.

JS: Is technology moving at too fast a rate for us to keep up with it in regards to misinformation? 

SW: Yes and no. Yes, technology is growing too fast and we could really benefit from a “slow” technology movement like that discussed by Janell Burley Hoffman and others. We need a new direction in tech that focuses on thoughtful, ethically-made tools that are built with human rights in mind rather than growth and profit. But no, too, because I’m a firm believer that politics, scandal, and points of concern move like a pendulum. History shows us we tend to swing from one extreme to another, politically, culturally, economically, socially. We are lucky when we exist in times of relative balance. The way technology has allowed disinformation to scale through automation, and the way that features like anonymity prohibit our ability to catch the “bad-guys”—these things are scary but they aren’t insurmountable. Technology is not a runaway train, we aren’t dealing with HAL or Skynet here, we still have control and there are still many, many, things we can do. We can, for instance, built tools with the best features of humanity in mind. We can design for benevolence, equity and fairness. 

JS: What do you suggest the government (local/state/federal) do to stem this tide?

SW: Generate sensible policy! I say “sensible” because many of the attempts I’ve seen, from Europe to Brazil to the US, lack technological viability and tend towards heavy-handedness. We need governments and policy-makers to consult very closely with public interest technologists and social scientists who study technology so that they create laws and regulations that actually combat rather than complicate the problems at hand. I’m proud of politicians and political entities like Mark Warner and the City of Seattle that have worked to actually combat misinformation online. My other caution is, though, that we need systematic regulation to this problem. Fragmented laws—for instance amalgamations of divergent regulation at the local, state and federal levels—could hurt us in getting things done a lot more than they could help.


Learn more when Samuel Woolley talks misinformation on 1/9. Tickets are on sale now.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Youngsters, taking advantage of the cold snap, have hunted up the old ice skates of various vintages and are indulging themselves in the rare sport of skating,” and, “A party of ten married couples dined ‘Dutch’ last Wednesday evening.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

There was happiness and rejoicing in the December 13 edition of the Town Crier in regards to a Saturday concert. “There is going to be a wonderful treat given to the children of Seattle,” the Town Crier proclaimed. The Seattle Symphony, with the help of one Louise Van Ogle, would be doing a children’s concert. “The concert, which will be given in Meany Hall, will open with the ‘March of the Toys’ after Mrs. Van Ogle tells a story about the toys that will take part in the parade.” It continues, “Of course there will be a good many of them because they come from the workshop of the Wizard of Oz and everybody knows what a wonderful toymaker he was.” The concert concluded with some fancy Claude Debussy numbers.

Readers, you’ll be happy to know that there will be a wonderful treat given to the children of Seattle on January 18. Town Hall will be doing a children’s concert. As part of Town Hall’s Saturday Family Concert series, Senegalese percussionist Thione Diop will perform in Town Hall’s Forum. Diope’s powerfully expressive Djembe drumming evokes the heart of the instrument as a traditional cultural icon from West African used to call the people together. It’ll be a concert filled with music, dance, and culture. Tickets are free for youth and only $5 for adults. They’re on sale now!

Join us for a wonderful concert the whole family can enjoy.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Mrs. Frederic Struve gave a few friends on Friday the pleasure of meeting the Countess D’Ursel” and, “Mrs. Henry S. Tremper entertained sixteen small guests at luncheon on Saturday.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

The cover of the December 6, 1919 Town Crier features the children’s book department at the old Frederick & Nelson department store. The place, it was noted, was “a center of lively interest for children of all ages who are claiming this Book Land as their own especial property and enjoying it to the full.”

The Town Crier was full of good words about good books. A story about Book Land inside the issue stated, “It is a place that gleams with color…There are children everywhere: chairs are full, and there are rows of youngsters sitting contentedly on the floor lost to the world in books.”

Book Land is a good place to be. There have been a variety of studies on the benefits of children reading: brain health and empathy for a start. Behavior and attention for another. Simply growing up in a house with books has benefits.

Some people who know and love places like Book Land—Pamela Paul and Maria Russo. They’ll be chatting with Maria Semple on January 13, 2020 about their new book, How to Raise a Reader. Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review. Russo is the children’s book editor of the same publication. Semple is the author of the acclaimed novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette. The talk will explore new and lively approaches to cultivating a love of reading in younger generations.

Tickets for the event ($5 and free for anyone under the age of 22) are on sale now.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Reverend Bliss entertained with a Thanksgiving dinner ” and, “They are noisy, and they are gassy, and they’re dirty, the ubiquitous tin Ford.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

The November 29, 1919 Town Crier looked towards Christmastime with Thanskgiving in the rear view. “Looking backward for a moment, we see that the usual features of Thanksgiving day were very much in evidence: the turkey, roosting higher than ever, was nevertheless removed gently but with determination from his perch, and translated by fire and skill into a crispy brown mound of toothsome tenderness, entirely surrounded by Thanksgiving trimmings.” The story continued, “Perhaps the mince pie lacked something of its former delicious flavor, and again, perhaps it didn’t.”

Regardless of if your pie was delicious or not yesterday, take note, the holiday season is upon us and Town Hall has a great many holiday happenings in the coming weeks.

November 30: The Byrd Ensemble and Seattle Baroque Orchestra will play Bach’s “Wachet auf” and “Magnificat.”

December 8: Northwest Girlchoir will present their concert “Generation to Generation,” playing holiday favorites and unheralded gems.

December 10: KIRO Radio’s “Goodbye, Christmas!” KIRO Radio and Seattle Radio Theatre will present an original holiday radio play.

December 14: Seattle Girls Choir will present their holiday concert, “A Gift of Song.”

December 14: Magical Strings will showcase a “Celtic Yuletide.”

December 15: A special Short Stories Live event – “A Rogue’s Family Christmas.”

December 21: Early Music Seattle will present “Festive Cantatas: Christmas in Gabrieli’s Venice.”

December 28: Earshot Jazz will present their 31st annivesary concert of Duke Ellington’s sacred music.

That’s a lot to digest, we know. That said, there’s more going on at Town Hall than just these shows. Check out our calendar for a full listing and happy holidays!

The American Xenophobia Paradox: A Conversation with Erika Lee

The United States is known as a nation of immigrants—but it is also a nation of xenophobia. Erika Lee,director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota, takes the stage at Town Hall on December 10 with an unblinking look at the irrational fear, hatred, and hostility toward immigrants which have been defining features of our nation from the colonial era to the Trump era. Tickets are only $5 (free for anyone under the age of 22) and are available now.

Town Hall’s Jonathan Shipley sat down with Lee to briefly discuss political power, racism, and Benjamin Franklin.

JS: What initially got you interested in the topic of xenophobia? 

EL: I have always been fascinated with America’s history of immigration, one that has been marked by both a tradition of welcoming immigrants and a long record of xenophobia – an irrational fear and hatred of immigrants. But the 2016 presidential election and Donald Trump’s explicitly xenophobic campaign still took me by surprise. Then he was elected. My students, many of whom were first generation immigrants and refugees, asked me, “How did this happen?” I didn’t have the answers. I knew that I owed it to my students—and to all Americans—to try and figure this out.

JS: For the layperson, what IS xenophobia?

EL: Coming from the Greek words xenos, which translates into “stranger,” and phobos, which means either “fear” or “flight,” xenophobia  literally means fear and hatred of foreigners. But I think that it is important to think about xenophobia beyond this literal translation. It is an ideology: a set of beliefs and ideas based on the premise that foreigners are threats to the nation and its people. It promotes an irrational fear and hatred of immigrants and demonizes foreigners (and, crucially, people considered to be “foreign” or outsiders). And it is a form of racism; it defines certain groups as racial and religious others who are inherently inferior or dangerous—or both—and demonizes them as a group based on these presumptions. When we think about xenophobia in these ways, it becomes clear that it is not only about immigration; it is about who has the power to define what it means to be American, who gets to enjoy the privileges of American citizenship, and who does not.

JS: As a nation of immigrants, why the paradox? Why do we fear the very thing we are supposedly proud of?

EL: This is one of the biggest puzzles that I try to figure out. The U.S. is indeed a “nation of immigrants;” a nation built by immigration. And while we have allowed generations of immigrants to come to the United States, that welcome has not always been uniform across groups; nor has it translated into full equality. There have always some groups that we have been wary of; to the point of demonizing them and labeling them threats to the United States and to the American people. Whom we have welcomed or banned has often been defined by race. European immigrants—while not uniformly embraced into the United States—have certainly faced less systemic xenophobia and discrimination than non-Europeans. When we understand xenophobia as a form of racism, this paradox, I think, is easier to understand.

JS: How does xenophobia work? Why does it endure? Who does it benefit?

EL: Xenophobia is often understood as something that rises and falls depending on what is going on in the United States. When our economy is good, when we are at peace, when we are unified as a country, we are more welcoming. When we are suffering through an economic downturn, are at war, or fractured as a society, we are not welcoming. 

History shows that while economic and other concerns certainly help to make xenophobia thrive, it is not just an inevitable consequence of national anxieties. It is actively promoted by special interests in the pursuit of political power. It has also endured because it has been an indelible part of American racism, white supremacy, and nationalism, and because it has been supported by American capitalism and democracy. And it has succeeded through repetition. Targeting and discriminating against one group of immigrants makes it easier (and normal) to do it against others. Even as Americans have realized that the threats allegedly posed by immigrants were, in hindsight, unjustified, they have allowed xenophobia to become an American tradition.

JS: You note how Benjamin Franklin ridiculed Germans for being “strange.” Did the Founding Fathers have the thought that they could very well be “strange” to the native populations being immigrants themselves? 

EL: In fact, it worked in the opposite way. America’s white settlers did not think of themselves as “foreigners” or “immigrants” in the same way that we use the terms today. They believed they were destined to possess and rule over the lands that became American colonies and the United States. They identified Native Americans and African Americans as America’s first “others;” those who were threats to the colonies and then the United States because they were unfit to American citizenship and racially inferior. 

JS: Chinese exclusions, Japanese internment camps, the Muslim ban – we have a long history of negative treatment towards immigrants. How/why do we target certain populations at certain times? What are the ingredients to cause this hysteria?

EL: Xenophobia thrives best in certain contexts, such as periods of rapid economic and demographic change, war, and cultural conflict. This, in part, helps to explain why and how we have targeted Chinese, Japanese, and Muslim immigrants. The anti-Chinese movement spread during the economic recession during the 1870s; the incarceration of Japanese Americans and the targeting of Muslims in America happened during World War Two and after 9/11. 

But xenophobia is also about racism and political power. Chinese, Japanese, and Muslims have all been portrayed as inherently more foreign, and thus, more dangerous than other immigrant groups. As such they have been targeted for racially discriminatory policies like African Americans and Native Americans. And the campaigns against them—especially the anti-Chinese and anti-Muslim ones—have been actively promoted by politicians as part of larger political agendas and as a way to mobilize voters. 

JS: Are we making progress as a society to eradicate it?   

EL: I’m sorry to say that at the end of writing this book, I am much less hopeful that I was at the start. The Trump era has revealed just how powerful and effective xenophobia remains in the United States. 

JS: What can a citizen do to help in this regard? 

EL: I believe that the first step is to understand how our anti-immigrant attitudes and laws have been steeped in racism then and now. In the past, we used explicitly racist language. Today, code words like “law and order” and “national security” obscure policies that are still racist in their intent and execution. 

Another concrete action that we can all take is to remain informed about immigration issues and how immigration works so that we can be prepared to recognize “fake news,” mistruths, and distorted facts.

We also need to be resolved to the idea that solving xenophobia will not happen overnight. This is a much bigger and deeper problem than just electing a new president. It is deeply rooted in our worldview, our politics, and our laws. 

Lastly, we can all get involved. There has been a tremendous backlash to Trump era immigration policies. If you agree that this administration’s approach to immigration is hurting, rather than helping our country, then let your voice (and your vote) be heard. 

Hear Lee speak more about xenophobia at Town Hall on December 10. Learn more here.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Last Wednesday evening was a dance given by the Broadway Orthopedic Guild at the Army and Navy Club” and, “The big card party is planned for November 24 for the Lighthouse of the Blind.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

The November 22, 1919 Town Crier mentioned Thanksgiving. “With straining eyes we look across a disturbed and chaotic world and exclaim: ‘For what are we to give thanks?’ One year ago our hopes were high and our hearts were warm within us as we looked forward with confidence to the future. A twelvemonth of turmoil and confusion, of misunderstandings and suspicions, has depressed the spirit.”

The story continues with some amount of hope. “Mighty problems are facing the world. They demand solution and only through the sanest thought and action will the impasse be removed. Here is where the faith of mankind in the ultimate outcome is put to the test. The present difficulties were inevitable but isn’t it far better to be alive to their meaning than to have our senses dulled to the situation? Our work lies close at hand.” 

Town Hall is close to offering up a plethora of events dealing with some of the mighty problems facing the world. These include:

WTO Anniversary Events (11/30 and 12/7). 20 years ago Seattle protests shut down the World Trade Organization’s conference. On 11/30 the Community Alliance for Global Justice and UFCW 21 present the day-long “Another World is Possible! WTO+20 and the Justice Movements of Today.” On 12/7 the Washington Fair Trade Coalition offers a day of workshops and an evening program featuring Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz.

Eli Saslow (12/5). Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eli Saslow joins us to discuss his new book, Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist.

Civic Saturday (12/7). A gathering of friends and strangers to dive into readings of civic texts, share thoughts and ideas, and reflect on the meaning of our nation’s creed—of liberty, equality, and self-government that truly unites us.

César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández (12/9). Almost 400,000 people annually spend time locked up pending the result of a civil or criminal immigration proceeding. Leading scholar César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández takes a hard look at the immigration prison system’s origin and operation.

Erika Lee (12/10). Author Erika Lee takes the stage at Town Hall with an unblinking look at the irrational fear, hatred, and hostility toward immigrants which have been defining features of our nation from the colonial era to the Trump era. 

Find some solutions to the world’s problems at Town Hall this Thanksgiving season. Have your voice be heard. You can check our full calendar here.

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