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District 30 politicians: you cannot represent what you will not acknowledge.

It was mid-morning and the camper smelled slightly of sheep manure and rain.

It was the morning of Mother’s Day, and I was on an adventure with two of my sisters. The Shepherd’s Harvest Festival was something new for all of us and we were having a good time, though the drive through the Twin Cities with my sister’s monstrously huge camper-trailer rig beget much prayer.

One sister was already at the barn, checking on her sheep. My phone beeped, and I checked the message. A friend had shared something found on Facebook, a place I spend very little time on, and for good reason.

rob port on facebook

I’ve never been called a fan girl, so that was new.

There it was, a moment to decide what to do when Someone On The Internet Disagrees With You.

But Rob and I kind of knew each other, having started our blogs about the same time, the first in North Dakota. We were even interviewed back in the day by Patrick Springer (I think) from the Fargo Forum. Over the years, we’ve emailed about various topics. He let me write about the film “Jesus Camp” from a different perspective, and I gave him permission to use some of the aerial photos I took during the Dakota Access Pipeline protest. During the pandemic, I’d blogged about an article he’d written in praise of mandates that had surprised me because I didn’t see that as a position Port would take as a sort-of libertarian.

Maybe this is a mistake, I thought, so I sent him an email. I was aware Rob’s politics had shifted from what they used to be, but that happens sometimes as you get older. We can just have a discussion.

email to rob port

I kept getting ready for the day assuming this would be put off for later, but surprisingly had a reply back from Port within just a few minutes regarding this issue with District 30 politicians and my understanding of the situation as someone who lived in and attended a District 30 meeting..

rob port email response

I’ve chosen a path? It’s not something he can respect? This all seemed very dramatic. I guess that would explain his Facebook post.

I don’t watch Fox News. I’ve never even seen a full Tucker Carlson episode, only clips. I’ve made it clear in my writing that I’ve become exasperated with the weird conspiracy theory that gets found in the patriot movement, and even mentioned it in my book on the pandemic. I left Gab, a conservative social network with way too much conspiracy, Q-anon, and anti-Semitism. I’ve guest-written blog posts elsewhere warning people to be cautious when they heard phrases like “red pilled” and “awakening.”

This is a response from a person who knows nothing about the individual they’re laying judgment on, and even worse, refusing the opportunity to find out if or why they might be wrong about their assumptions.

Typical, for Facebook comments.

Not good, for a columnist who writes for the Fargo Forum.

Writers ought to have a sense of curiosity, particularly when an opportunity to discuss differences was proffered so readily.

People who say they’re promoting truth are often just delivering the lies people want to hear. — Rob Port

Port will be happy to know that’s scriptural (2 Timothy 4:2-4).

It also goes both ways.

As I stood in the camper, I had some choices to make. Assumptions are our only tool (and our natural tendency) if we don’t actually talk to people. We have to get out and be with people who aren’t like us. Port didn’t seem interested in doing that, so I’m not sure what kind of political analysis he can provide other than an incestuous analysis that is self-fed and self-limiting.

I’m not sure you can write about politics and have great political analysis if you don’t want to talk to people.

People are at the heart of politics.

Politics is little more than people organizing to determine who gets the power over other people. There’s a reason why, in the Lord’s prayer, we pray for God’s Kingdom to come, not his democracy. Over the last decades, we’ve seen plenty of what happens when the people in power cut themselves off from the people they want to control (or want to write about via analysis).

One of the reasons I was so drawn to Salena Zito’s reporting during the presidential race of 2016 (even though I wasn’t a Trump supporter at the time) was her method of gathering news. It was novel, in this day and age, and almost sacrilegious for today’s media: she went out and talked to people.

Not the “right” people in positions of power.

Not just city people.

Not just people who live in locations along an interstate, or where the media buses pulled in with everyone else for a campaign stop.

Not just people who had wealth and could contribute down the road.

She knew, in 2016, that Trump was going to win even though everyone else was saying otherwise. She knew because she drove the backroads and small highways the rest of the media weren’t covering. She talked to people in cafes and bars and county fairs. She saw the political signs they had in their yards. She listened to them tell her what was important to them, what mattered, and why.

This was my beef with Nathe and now, apparently, Port: a distaste for talking to people. By talking, I mean doing so not begrudgingly, but with open ears and no sneer in your voice or in your pen. You cannot represent what you won’t acknowledge, and if you won’t acknowledge people, particularly those willing to have a conversation with you, it is impossible for you to do a good job serving them. After the conversation, you might come to a compromise, you might remain in disagreement, you might change your mind, but at least there is understanding.

It took me a long time to learn this; as a blogger and freelance writer, it’s easy to think you can do the work justice if you have an internet connection and a computer screen. It’s easy to think you can write about life no matter how removed from it you’ve made yourself.

You cannot.

You must talk to people, go to the events people are at, and listen to what they’re talking about and how they respond. You must talk to people outside of your circle.

Years ago, as a reporter for the Cavalier County Republican, I found that talking to people was difficult but necessary. Naturally introverted and generally awkward, talking to strangers was agony. But it had to be done; there was no other way to get the news. There’s no AP feed or press release on the local farmer’s prize-winning bull, the woman who took the tornado photo that made it on a postage stamp, or the new business that opened up in town. And on some days, a short interview turned into hours because when some folks get to talking, they really get to talking (and sometimes made you aware of another story to cover).

In a sense someone still has to do that, though it seems it’s easier to compile stories from online articles someone else has done the legwork for, rely on press releases, or talk to “officials" who are public information officers who use careful language to avoid hot water or hints of scandal. Analysis is even easier, as the job can be feasibly done (though not with excellence) by compiling and responding to the information others have gathered.

Rob Port is very different than he used to be, I thought, scrolling through the email archives I had of past conversations over the years, including some that were elevated direct-tech-help when he used a software platform from a company I used to work for.

The camper was getting warmer and it was time to go.

I had my sweatshirt and boots on. I turned my phone off and tucked it into my pocket. Port knew nothing about me, and chose to dismiss what I had written based on incorrect assumptions about the writer and the kinds of ideas such a writer might have.

Julie, learn from that, I thought, remembering the times I hadn’t at least tried to get a comment from someone I blogged about, including Port after his pro-mandate article during the pandemic. Always try to get a discussion going with someone if you can.

I thought about the incident for a while that morning, an intrusion of ugly Facebook and politics into the otherwise very good weekend.

Well, that’s not quite right.

I didn’t think about it for a while at all.

I thought about it from the camper to the barn where I told my sisters and then forgot about it. There were handheld fried apple pies to eat, amazing booths selling fiber and soap, art and fiber enthusiasts with crazy colored hair and wild outfits, yarn to spin on a drop spindle, and a daily peek at little baby Sal, the lamb a few stalls over.

Over the years, I’ve been angry long enough about someone or something online.

Port chooses his own path.

It’s not mine.

I’m still willing to talk, though.


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