Ugh! He's in my office again, with his holier-than-thou arrogance, his buffed-up hair and skin so alabaster he can't have ever seen the sun! What does he want this time? He's complaining about something. I do that thing where I look the speaker in the eyes and nod like I'm engaged, but my mind is elsewhere (note to self: middle daughter has caught on and extracted quite a bit of money from me last time).
Then he sees a copy of the latest Jackson Free Press on the front of my desk and, picking it up between his thumb and forefinger like it is on fire he says, "You still write for this rag?"
"Yes" I reply. "Why?" He wants to know. "Isn't it run by a bunch of bleeding-heart liberal women?" "Well, there's Todd the publisher" I reply weakly, while thinking to myself that there really aren't a lot of Y-chromosomes on the JFP staff.
He drones on, but I'm lost in thought. Why do I write for the JFP? Why do I put in the time and effort and the humiliation of having an editor four decades my junior correct my grammar? Is it the money? Ha! Although it is nice to get paid for what I write, in reality I'm losing money, compared to what I make at my day job. Is it the fame and notoriety of having my name in a newspaper on a weekly basis? My son is the only person who regularly checks up on my articles. My wife claims she forgets each week when the JFP is issued (she used to proofread my scientific articles when we were young, but now she just picks them up if she is having trouble sleeping). No, that is definitely not it.
Am I building a resume for a future career in journalism? No, I don't see that happening. I'm really not a big fan of journalists of either the written or the TV kind. In my few experiences with journalists at work, I found them shallow and self-serving, not as much interested in the truth as they were in a compelling story. Quotes were taken out of context and misused to serve some other purpose. Besides, I'm a lot closer to 60 than to 50 and don't need another career.
No, that is not it.
What is it then? There is a vague and undefined thought wiggling around in the back of my mind that has been there for a while, but I push it down. I don't want to go there. My mind wanders as the visitor continues to drone on, and I catch a few words, just enough to let me know that my mind can leave again. It is true that the politics of the JFP are sometimes hard to swallow, a little quixotic––sometimes downright infuriating!
There's that thought again; can it be true? I write for the JFP to serve truth and freedom? Wow, that sounds like I'm pretty full of myself! I served in the military and have a 30-plus-year career with the federal government. I'm a patriot.
But I'm a concerned patriot now. The U.S. government kills people in other countries that it deems to be a threat to our safety. They do this without a trial, without the force of law and in some cases they kill the person's family if they happen to be in the way. This bothers me. I have two nephews who are police officers and admire and respect what they do, but I'm concerned about the increase in police powers and the abuse that we saw with the Occupy Wall Street protesters around the country. And race relations are a terrible concern of mine.
There is a statistic out there somewhere that says one in four black men are part of the criminal-justice system at some point in their lives. How can that be? The disparity in education and income between blacks and whites is unconscionable. As a nation, we should be ashamed of our failure.
And the debate over immigration is nauseating. We are a nation of immigrants! So we got here first, and now we're not going to let anyone else in? There must be a way for a nation that needs people willing to do the type of work immigrants do to let them do it safely and in peace. There is a mantra being passed around: "Be a patriot, hire an illegal immigrant, it is good for you, it is good for them, it is good for the U.S., and it is good for the country that they come from." My first act of civil disobedience?
What does this have to do with the JFP, truth, and freedom? Well, like it or not, the JFP offers a platform for diverse thought, opinion and discussion, and gives voice to the disenfranchised, the powerless and the outcasts. And I'm afraid that without that exposure to some of these issues by newspapers like the JFP, we would become complacent and happy in our little worlds and think that all we need do is send more missionaries to Africa.
Humans tend to get complacent about life if allowed, and the JFP is like Jiminy Cricket, a nagging conscience. Or to put it another way: like a stick prodding and poking, letting us know that all is not right, that there is injustice right here in Jackson, Miss., and that people are suffering and in need. When we help those who need it, when the rights of those less fortunate are enforced and protected, we all reap the benefits.
My role? Well, certainly not the investigative journalism I just mentioned. My role is to provide filler and humor and the occasional feel good story, and I'm just fine with that. Because with every article I write, I am freeing a real journalist with the guts and grit to pursue the type of story that will make a small difference and take a small step toward a more just and livable world.
Freelance writer Richard Coupe, avid fan of the beautiful game, is a husband, brother, father of four and still wondering what he wants to be when he grows up.