Breaking the Issue Attention Cycle: Bringing in the Coalition

Breaking the Issue Attention Cycle: Bringing in the Coalition

by Dr. Mark Mussman
Mayerson Summer program students Photo: Mark Mussman

By the time you finish this article, you will be thinking about something else. In a week from now, you probably won’t be thinking about Pulse Night Club, a baby-eating alligator, or gun reform efforts. You will be thinking about some other tragedy, or trying to fill your life with frivolous entertainment news – is Taylor Swift really single again? This is called the “issue attention cycle” and it plays out through national and local media. How do we stay focused on bringing justice to our community?

One thing is for certain, being a part of the Homeless Coalition helps keep you abreast of the issues that are facing our community today. From the attack on Medicaid Ohio (grossly named Healthy Ohio), to the push for unregulated and unproven charter schools inside Cincinnati Public Schools, to MARC ID progress, to #KeepOurCourts, the Homeless Coalition works to keep our member organizations informed on the issues that matter most to our entire community.

There are several ways to keep up on the issues – join our listserv, follow us on Facebook (both the Homeless Coalition and Streetvibes), come to our monthly membership meeting, join Affordable Housing Advocates (who also meet monthly), or get involved with our many community-focused groups such as Peaslee Neighborhood Center, St. Francis Seraph, or Tender Mercies. Follow City Council meetings online by downloading the weekly agenda or watching in person or on CityCable.

Homeless Coalition table at Juneteenth Photo: Mark Mussman
Homeless Coalition table at Juneteenth Photo: Mark Mussman

Reading Streetvibes is obviously another way to keep up on current issues and events. You can read the entire Enquirer in 10 minutes, CityBeat in 15, but Streetvibes may take you an hour to read. This is because some of the best writers cover the most important issues – whether they are in style or not. You may hear things in this paper that make you uncomfortable, but this is the only way you will learn new things.

Let me predict what will happen this week in the news. Another white male police officer will be exonerated or acquitted for killing an unarmed person of color. Another person who is transgender will be killed and the killer will be let off using “gay panic” as a defense. Another kid will be mauled by a wild animal kept in captivity. Mayor John Cranley will use the rebellion in 2001 as justification to reward his developer fan base. And you will continue to struggle to pay your ever-increasing bills and make sacrifices so you can buy dinner and your medications.

With all this going on, how could you possibly focus on issues that affect our community? How can you start to grasp the legacy of racism in our city? Cincinnati’s substandard schools, housing, medical facilities, and work conditions have been exclusively reserved for African-Americans, Appalachians, and migrants. More than 10 years of life expectancy separates black and white residents in Cincinnati. Living in Cincinnati is literally a death-sentence for so many – and this doesn’t even begin to include the disproportionate violence that is enacted upon people of color in the city.

For people of color the most pressing issues affect every moment of their lives. In addition, the micro-aggressions that pervade our city range from seemingly pleasant (“Oh, you speak so eloquently”) to more egregious (“You’re pretty hot for a black girl”) to outright vapid (“That guy is so ghetto”). I find it interesting how surprised people of color are when I treat them like human beings. Many times people are taken aback that I am making eye contact, listening to someone’s story, and responding with compassion. This is so rare in our community – across all races.

While it’s important to make sure you’re not stepping on anything, you’d think people’s eyes are glued to the ground, hoping to find a $100 bill laying in the gutter. Nobody makes eye contact, nobody says “hello” on the street. This is the type of issue I would like to see confronted because we can’t have a compassionate city if we don’t see each other.

So let’s do our best to pay attention to how we can be compassionate and enact system change. We often forget the simple things that we learned when we were kids – how to listen, how to share, how to recognize right from wrong. If we are caught up in just amassing more power and wealth, we are cutting ourselves off from those who need us most. If you want to walk around Over-the-Rhine with me to get a different perspective, or hear the story of someone who has experienced homelessness, or learn what it’s like distributing Streetvibes, or have us table your event, please contact me or sign up on our website for an Education Event. We must keep our community’s struggles in the issue attention cycle.