As a follow up to the hosting of WCTV’s IN Focus public affairs program that I did in July of this year, where I focused on topics of systemic racism and concern about police violence against people of color, Eric Marsh and I sat down to debrief how those conversations went.
We ended up having a wide-ranging conversation about a lot of things, including:
- where and how people in our community get their information
- how I came to Richmond to go to Earlham College and ended up staying
- our identity as a “college town”
- what we can learn from this pandemic about our work-from-home infrastructure
- how Richmond could be more appealing to remote workers
- the importance of distinguishing between journalistic reporting and opinion
- white privilege and Black Lives Matter
- the changing landscape of community media
- the importance of voting in the upcoming election
The resulting hour of back and forth with Eric means a lot to me. We touched on many of the projects and personal experiences that have defined my time living and working in this area so far, and topics that I think are important for our community to be wrestling with. I’m so grateful and honored to have had the opportunity. I hope you enjoy it.
You can watch the video below, on WCTV’s YouTube channel, on Facebook or as the episode is replayed on WGTV Channel 11. The audio of the show is also available via the Richmond Matters podcast feed, which you can find in your favorite podcast listening app.
The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions.
Eric Marsh: Hi, and welcome to this edition of IN Focus on Whitewater Community Television’s WGTV Channel 11. I’m Eric Marsh, Executive Director of Whitewater Community Television, and thank you very much for joining me for this conversation of IN Focus.
Before we get there, couple of things to remind you about. The most important one is that there is still time for you to register to vote, and we urge you to do that. There are races locally, coroner, as well as clerk. There’s also six congressional district race going on and obviously, the governor’s race will go, and there is, of course, I don’t know, reelecting some guy who lives in the big White House some place. So be registered. That’s what we say. Please do it.
If you don’t know whether you’re registered, you can go to indianavoters.com and check your status. If you aren’t registered, want to get registered, you can go to indianavoters.com and get registered. If you want to find out where your polling places are, you can go to indianavoters.com and do that. So, from the comfort of your living room couch, using your tablet, your phone, whatever, go to indianavoters.com, check your status, register to vote, find out where you can vote, all of that. We do ask you to do that. It is incredibly important for all of us to get that done.
Also want to thank our sponsors for this week’s program, Reid Health, First Bank Richmond, and Morrisson-Reeves Library. We appreciate greatly their support.
Very happy to have with me Chris Hardie, who, a little bit earlier this summer, gave me some relief by sitting in as a guest host, but Chris also has a number of things that he has been doing. We’ve been hearing his voice on his podcast, also he’s been helping out with Hometown Media. I talked to Brenda McLane a few months ago. She was talking about Chris helping out with their website and making that work. So, wanted to have Chris in kind of to debrief as it were and figure out what he’s doing. So, Chris, thanks for spending some time with us. Greatly appreciate it.
Chris Hardie: Thanks so much for having me, Eric. It’s great to be talking with you.
Eric: For those who don’t know you and don’t know your background, you’re not native to Richmond, are you? You found this through your college experience, is that correct?
Chris: That’s right. I grew up in Cincinnati and hadn’t really heard of Richmond until I showed up to go to Earlham College in 1995. And honestly, had no intention of staying in Richmond after that college experience, but in the four years that I was an Earlham student and on campus and in the community, I really planted some roots here and started to call it home. And now, when people ask me where I’m from, I say Richmond. So, it’s the longest place I’ve ever lived and it’s the place I think of as home. But you’re right, I am a transplant, for all practical purposes. Yeah.
Eric: Talk about, because Earlham College is a place that has brought a number of people to town, maybe more than some of us truly realize, and it’s not quite Bloomington, and that impact the people that go to Bloomington supposedly are just going to school and never leave. But Earlham has brought some people to town for the experience of going to college and a number of them has stayed. What are some of the attractions, some of the things that attracted you to make this home? And as we think about some of those people who maybe can work remotely, as you have done a lot, what are some of the things that maybe some of our leaders need to be thinking about to make this a place where people can live, work remotely, that type of thing?
Chris: Yeah. I mean, for me, the size of Earlham and the size of Richmond were very appealing. I toured some colleges and universities where I knew that I would be a very small fish in a very big pond, with thousands and thousands of people just at the school alone. And so when I came to Earlham and they knew my name and they were interested in getting to know me and I found that my incoming class was small enough to really get to know people and be known, that was really wonderful. And the same thing sort of translated into Richmond. When I started… honestly, I was in the campus bubble for the first couple of years, but when I started spending time out in Richmond and seeing the people here, the businesses here, small business community, how you could walk down the street and know a lot of people and have conversations and catch up but you could also meet new people, it was just this great size where small enough that you could feel like you were making a difference, but big enough that you could have new experiences on a regular basis.
And I think that has continued to be appealing for me and why my wife and I call it home. And I think, someone pointed out a number of years ago, in many ways, Richmond is a college town, right? We have Earlham, we have IU East, we have Purdue, we have the seminaries, and when you put all of the staff and students for all those institutions together, I mean, there’s a big part of our local sort of day-to-day life that centers around higher education. And that’s something I think we can embrace and be proud of and celebrate and build on as a community. So, that’s something that I’ve always been excited about.
You’re right. And I mean, in this kind of pandemic time, we’re hearing stories of people fleeing these traditional hubs of knowledge workers and tech workers, you hear about kind of San Francisco and maybe New York City as people are like, “Well, if I can work from home, why am I going to pay so much money for an apartment or a house?” And you’re right, that’s something that places like Richmond need to think about and seize on when you think about the implications of some of those larger salaries, tech salaries, knowledge worker salaries and what they could mean for disposable income, what they mean for the local tax base. That’s something we should be thinking about.
And it’s clear, we’re never going to be able to compete with some of those bigger cities when it comes to just the features of the services or restaurants, or that kind of thing, but what we can offer I think is a real focus on quality of life, the amount of green space we have, the small town feel, the affordability, availability of housing, that kind of thing.
So when tech workers now are looking at where to live, they’re not saying, okay, I need to be in San Francisco. They’re saying where can I go that I can have great quality of life, that’s affordable, maybe raise a family, maybe start my own small business? So for me, that’s things like green space, it’s making sure we’re a walkable, bikeable community, making sure we’re a diverse community, a progressive community. Yeah, just really inclusive and welcoming and affordable for people who might be interested in making that kind of change.
Eric: We’re not going to go down a long political path here, but in that list of things, one of the things you said was a progressive community. When you make that statement, some people immediately go political. I don’t necessarily. So I’m going to ask, when you say progressive, talk about what that means to you.
Chris: Yeah. It is a term that has a lot of political connotations, and I don’t mean it to… or I don’t use it in that sense. I use it I guess to mean a community that is thinking about the future, that’s making decisions that will create a life and an environment where people from all different backgrounds, people from all different experiences can thrive, where small businesses can thrive and large businesses can thrive, and it’s kind of forward-looking. And I guess the opposite of progressive might be regressive. So if you were a regressive community, you would be trying to keep everything the same. You would be trying to go back to the way things were at some point in time. And I think we’ve shown that communities that kind of hold on to the past and don’t think about the future often don’t thrive.
So if anything, I use it in that context to mean a place that’s thinking about the future, planning for the future, building for the future, and trying to include as many people as possible in that process along the way. So, yeah.
Eric: Talk a little about Earlham College, the impact that it had on you. And as an alum who continues to remain here, the impact that it has on this community as people may not completely know and understand.
Chris: Yeah, yeah. For anyone that doesn’t know, Earlham as an institution has a background that’s tied to the Quaker tradition. And one of the things, I didn’t know about this coming to Earlham, I wasn’t raised Quaker, one of the things I came to really appreciate about it is that a lot of decision-making there was done by the process of consensus. So instead of saying there’s one person at the top who makes all the decisions and everyone else just kind of has to live with it, instead you can say, what’s a decision-making process that allows everyone who’s going to be affected by a decision to be a part of the conversation.
And if you think about the underlying assumption there, that everyone’s voice matters, everyone has an opinion or a perspective that should be considered. Maybe it’s going to turn out that their opinion or perspective isn’t a helpful one, but there’s still a place for that to be a part of the conversation. And then we take all that into the mix and move forward. That really changed a lot of things for me at a fundamental level about the way I work, about the way that my relationships work, about friendships, about small business leadership, about community engagement. Because if you start to think that everyone has an opinion or a voice or a perspective that’s worth considering, that really changes how you do leadership, how you do community building.
And so from the time that I was a student and then on to running a business in town, running for office, when I did that, being involved in a local not-for-profit community, those roots and that consensus approach to decision-making and conversations really has informed a lot of that and changed my life for the better, and I think has changed a lot of people’s lives for the better and when they’re able to bring that out into the world.
Eric: You just talked about some of the things that you’ve done here and particularly, in starting a business. One of the things that is always a concern for people in a community not just this size, but in all size communities, are we a friendly community for entrepreneurs, with people who want to start a business? You’ve had a chance to do that from the ground up, talk about what you see in this community in that aspect. Are we business friendly?
Chris: Well, it depends on what kind of business you are, right? If you can make something, produce something that you can show, a product you can sell, something that is a retail product people are a lot more easily able to see the value in that and support that as a small business, when my co-founder and I, Mark, were starting our business, we were in the knowledge space and the technology space, 1997, websites were kind of a new thing. And so when we’d be around town, telling people we’re building a website development company, they didn’t know what to do with that. And we were also very young. I was 19 at the time. And so two young guys saying they’re starting a business using the internet didn’t get lot of traction around town at first because people just didn’t know what to make of it.
I think, obviously, we’ve come a long way. Since then, people are a lot more familiar with what’s possible, online businesses, tech businesses, knowledge businesses, but in terms of the infrastructure when we think about economic development, resources and talent, when we think about resources that are out there to support the startup business world, I think we’re still probably pretty geared toward people that make things and sell things and have retail storefronts as opposed to some of those knowledge workers. So I think that’s an area for growth.
I did find… we found along the way that there were lots of things we had to figure out on our own, just legal wrangling when it comes to starting a business, finances, leadership structure, benefits, things like that. And so in each step along the way, we kind of had to go out and figure that out and understand it. And I think when a place like the Uptown Innovation Center was created, part of the hope there was that you would have kind of a hub for resources for startup businesses to have all the answers to those questions in one place. I’m not sure that ever really materialized in the way that we hoped it would, and again, there’s still an area for growth there, that if someone today coming out of IU East or Earlham or just from the community and said, hey, I have an idea for a business and I want to get it going, I think right now, they’d still have a pretty tough uphill battle to figure out where to go and who to work with.
There are people out there, there are great resources out there, but they’d still have a lot to figure out on their own. So I think we can do more there to help folks get launched when they have an idea, get up and running.
Eric: You’re watching IN Focus on Whitewater Community Television’s WGTV Channel 11. We’re having a chance to speak with Chris Hardie, transplant, entrepreneur, student, a lot of different hats that you’ve worn in your time here. Before we kind of walk away from the tech part of this, one of the things that the pandemic really I think has done is shown us that the conversation around connectivity and our broadband speeds and needing better broadband all the way around really has been a lot of talk, I mean, when people started trying to work from home, and not just here in Richmond, Wayne County, or East Central, Indiana, but you’ve seen it even nationally, as people in California, news anchors in Indianapolis have tried to do what we’re doing from home, pixelation, you get dropout, even in the large communities, that’s happening.
As somebody who is in the tech world, talk about where you think we need to go, what kind of conversation we need to be having with our legislators, or the business community, or whatever, because we may get back to something that we remember as normal, but I think there will be more people working from home, obviously, more people streaming, more broadband being used. How do we make that stronger, more robust, and move us to the 21st century? Because we’re obviously not there yet.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, it’s funny if you think even just 10 years ago, I think having a high speed internet connection at home was kind of seen as a luxury item. I mean, it was nice to have, but by no means could we have imagined then what we’re experiencing now that having a connection at home and a quiet space to work could make all the difference in your quality of life for your work, if you’re someone who is in an industry or working for a job where that possibility exists. I think it’s really brought to light the digital divide. Not everyone has reliable access to the internet. Not everyone has devices at home that are their own to use. Sometimes, multiple kids, a family sharing one computer, one device, and that’s something that’s now just very real in terms of its impact on someone’s ability to have a great education when something like a pandemic hits.
I think people are still figuring out the difference between the kind of frantic working from home during a pandemic mode and then the actual remote work that is planned out, that is thoughtfully done where you feel supported and collaborative with your employer, your colleagues in that environment. I mean, a lot of people are still working in the kind of reacting to a crisis mode, and so I think we have some work to do there to help organizations figure out how to do that well and what leadership and accountability and transparency and performance reviews and all those things look like in a distributed environment. Yeah. And, I mean, a distraction-free home office is a rarity. I don’t think we should take that for granted, shouldn’t assume everyone has one.
So, as you said, I mean, internet connectivity is more important than ever. Having more choices and speed options I think is important. I think we’ll come to see internet access as more of a utility than a extra or a luxury item. And I think we need to make sure that the companies that are providing those services realize the role that they’re playing now. And I think for the most part, things have been smooth when it comes to local connectivity, but you think about it, if one of those providers had, had a major outage or if hadn’t been ready in terms of infrastructure, that in itself could put a place like Richmond way behind other cities, other communities. So I think there’s still room there for better tools, communication tools, collaboration tools.
I’ve talked some about the value of having a coworking space where people who are knowledge workers or work from home primarily could go to have a temporary desk or a temporary office space to kind of get out of their home office environment, and I think that’s still something that would be a benefit in Richmond. The Innovation Center has offered a version of that at times, but in terms of a sort of real coworking space, I think that’s something we could still pursue. Yeah, and I think there’s more incentives we could be offering to companies in the area that want to transition their workforce to a distributed setup, resources we could be offering, incentives we could be offering to help them do that so that if the choice is to have to scale back business or go out of business or to make that transition, I think we could be doing a lot to help our local businesses work on that.
So there’s a ton there to do and to think about. But yeah, certainly getting everyone access and devices at home is a good first step so that we have that kind of even landscape for everybody.
Eric: I know you’re not a lawyer or a tax advisor, but one of the things you talked about was incentives for businesses to do things, are we at a point, in your mind, and again, as someone who has worked remotely, where we need to re-look at our tax code? Because we’re having individuals have to leave an office, create a space in their home, and you talked about it, a quiet workspace in their home that maybe wasn’t originally there. Do we need to have our legislators re-look at our tax code so that not all of that benefit goes to business? And this is not an anti-business statement, but understand that there people who are assuming some of that responsibility on their own and maybe not needing to do that. The same way things have been done in state code for teachers, because we know that teachers have had to put out their own money for things that they need.
Chris: Right, right. Yeah. And, I mean, it’s one of those things, my best understanding is that at the IRS level or the national level, you can say, I use this part of my house for my work, but there’s a lot of hoops you have to jump through to kind of prove and show that you are using that space exclusively for business purposes and it’s not a mixed use of sometimes, you’re watching Netflix and sometimes, you’re doing work. And I think for a lot of people, that’s just not a level of detail that they’re able to document or prove or they don’t want to take the time to go into that. So I think there are things that could be done there to make that an easier distinction, an easier box to check on your annual federal filing.
I know a lot of businesses now are relying on people’s home internet connections and their personal cellphones to stay in touch, but a lot of businesses don’t have a way to pay for that as a benefit, an employment benefit to all of a sudden take on cable and phone bills for all of their employees. So there’s probably something there that could either make that a tax benefit or a tax credit of some kind, or either support the business for the individual. There’s just lots of little things like that, that over time, really add up because that can be hundreds of dollars a month, depending on your home setup. So when we’re coming to rely on those things, we should look at them as more essential services that could be baked in more to the tax code as possible credits or reductions. Yeah.
Eric: You’re watching IN Focus on WGTV Channel 11. We’re spending some time with Chris Hardie, who has been doing some work for a number of months with Hometown Media, which kind of falls into some other things that you’ve been doing. You’ve had your own podcast, you’ve had your own space, Richmond Matters, 47374, talk a little bit about, first, what kind of got you into the idea of needing to share information with people on your own? And you’ve done it to the point where you believe people should be connected so you even kind of created this space where you were pulling news reports and information from various people so that they could even get that information in one place.
Chris: Yeah. I can talk a lot about the different projects I’ve tackled. I guess I’ve always been fascinated with where people get their information and how people get their information, just what the tools are that people use, what systems are out there, what channels they follow. That’s kind of been my professional life, I mean, as a software engineer, as a web developer, someone who’s worked on marketing, consulting, just thinking about what tools and sites and online presence are going to help everyone do what they’re trying to do in the world, whether that’s in a professional setting or a personal setting.
I think in the last decade, I mean, I’ve come, and I think a lot of us, have come to see access to information as much more critical at the level of civic engagement and the health of democracy, the health of communities where the habits and patterns of information consumption can really determine how well a given neighborhood or a community or a city is going to thrive. I certainly saw it while I was running for office, I ran for city council back in 2011. I saw while building a business and trying to grow that business, market that business in the community. I saw it while I’ve been a part of local not-for-profit organizations that are trying to get the word out about their programs, their activities, their need for fundraising, the kind of day-to-day decisions about where do people get their info, where do they find out about community events, it really matters and it can make or break a certain concept or a certain vision for community building.
So I guess I’ve always tried to figure out where I can make a difference in that and bring my skills to bear for the benefit of the communities I care about, whether it’s locally here in Richmond or otherwise. And that’s kind of led me to experimenting I guess with different tools over the years. I mean, I’ve always been a blogger. I’ve always been commenting, writing, observing online and sharing what I see in the world and in the community. You mentioned the 47374.info. I mean, some of that came out of some Facebook curmudgeon in me where I didn’t like the feeling I had after spending time on Facebook of having to wade through cat photos, political opinions, really serious, personal updates and trying to understand what’s happening in the world in that sort of chaos. And so I deactivated my Facebook account a long time ago and…
Chris: Hey, you should try it. But still wanting to be engaged and involved with what’s happening in the community. So I built 47374.info to pull together the publicly available information out there, whether it’s from local newspapers, press releases, publicly available Facebook pages, news sites, blogs, and kind of put it all in one place. And so I can go there throughout the day and see what’s being published about the community. There’s also a daily email you can sign up for. It’s not a commercial venture. I don’t make any money on it. I want to be clear about that because it’s built on top of the work that other people are doing to write about and report on what’s happening in the community.
But it’s been a helpful resource. There’s about 120 people who get that daily email and read about what’s going in the community through that channel. So I feel good that I created something that was useful for people who want to stay involved without waiting through what’s on Facebook sometimes.
Yeah, I have a blog, RichmondMatters.com. I’ve tried various other projects in the community, some of them are… I think one time I was like, okay, I’m going to create a live chat for Richmond, Indiana where people can go online and chat with each other, and it was kind of pre-Facebook days. It didn’t really take off. There was I think the Primex Plastics fire was the one time where all of a sudden, 200 people were on it and were sharing information about what streets were closed and what the fire department was doing. And then after that, it just kind of quiet again. So, different experiments. I’m happy to have things succeed or fail, and it’s good information to learn about, again, where people get their news and what’s happening.
Eric: You’ve decided to kind of wade in and provide some assistance with Hometown Media. What was your interest there in helping build that?
Chris: Yeah. So, I’m working… I should say I’m volunteering as a consulting digital editor for Hometown Media Group. And I saw them, when I became aware of them and I saw the ways in which they were continuing to try to provide local news, local journalism that was grounded in the community where the editorial decisions were being made locally, and as we’ve seen other larger publications struggle with coverage or with budget cuts, local news and local journalism I think just remains really essential. And so I reached out to them and said how can I help? And at first, they were like, “Who is this guy and what does he want from us?” But I think once they realized that I was genuinely offering to help build on what they had already done, we had some really great conversations.
And so over the last six months or so, I’ve been able to help them update their online presence, think about their digital strategy, think about their subscription model, think about how they engage with their readers, and yeah, just really focus on modernizing their online strategy and tools. For me, I think one thing we may or may not have mentioned yet is I’m also a graduate student at Ball State studying journalism, and so it’s been a really neat opportunity to put some of what I’ve been learning there and apply it to a real world situation, and it’s been great to see how some of the… where the ideals of journalism meet the realities of small town print newspaper.
But it’s been great. I’ve been able to bring just sort of a mix of my small business and local and online publishing and media experience to bear, and we’ve been able to do some neat things together. And they, as an organization, they’re growing, they’re looking for new ways to serve the community and make sure that, again, people who want to get the word out about important things happening here can do that and people who want to read about it can do that. So, it’s been really rewarding to be a part of that.
Eric: Talked about being a journalism student, we had to mention, I was too, so, good lead, yeah. As a person who is now studying journalism and as a person who has put your opinion out there and knowing that those two things are not the same, how do you find yourself in that space? Because in my mind, that’s a space that has really kind of been muddied over the last decade or more, where we think people are journalists but they’re really not, they’re just opinion people. And there’s a different ethic when it comes to being an opinion person and being a journalist.
Chris: Yeah. And I think we can never do too much community education about that distinction. With the writing I’ve done, the blogging I’ve done, I mean, I’ve always been careful. I’ve never tried to represent myself as a journalist or as someone who is providing a objective coverage of a topic. I’ve always shown that what I’m offering is my opinion or my observations. And I think because people still get those things confused, we just have to say, we have to make those distinctions really carefully… there’s a national organization called The Trust Project that is trying to help people, when they go read something online and they go read an article that’s trying to show some of the signals or the indicators that help you make those distinctions.
So, is this something that has multiple sources or is it just one person’s opinion? Is this something that’s been fact-checked? Is this something where the reporter or the publication involved is receiving sponsorship dollars from an entity that’s being reported on? Things like that, that might be conflicts of interest. So, asking people to care about those details and pay attention to them when they’re reading something online, I think in the past, it’s been kind of taken as a given, but I don’t think we can anymore. And when something is shared on Facebook and becomes viral and becomes a widely read piece about politics or healthcare, or whatever it is, I hope that people are taking the time to say, okay, is what I’m reading propaganda? Is it an opinion piece, or is it something that’s been reported in a journalistic context?
If we can’t make that distinction, we’re in real trouble because the kind of foundations of figuring out what’s true, what’s based on science, what’s based on fact is something we’re struggling with as a country. And I try to be really careful about that in everything I do, but I think it’s off and also up to the reader and up to anyone out there who’s sharing something or publicizing something that we have to try to help make those distinctions. And I think there’s more work to be done, even just in Richmond, about educating people along those lines because there are times where we’ve had people who are seen as journalistic sources of information who then cross over into the opinion area or have conflicts of interest, and that’s not always been disclosed, and I think that can be really confusing. So we just have to be really careful about it.
Eric: And I know exactly what you’re talking about. We’ve had conversations, I’ve had conversations with other community members who have suggested that Whitewater Community Television should have a newscast in the evenings. And my pushback has been we’re not a journalistic organization. I’ve kind of taken on the role of being the question person, but I don’t have a degree in journalism. I did not study journalism, so I don’t consider myself to be a journalist, and no one on my staff is. So we try to be very careful with how those things are presented. So it is important that I think people look at where that information is coming from and what it really is.
Chris: Yeah. And, I mean, because I started as a blogger, I mean, I don’t want to devalue, if there’s someone out there who’s able to show up at a city council meeting and say, “Here’s what I saw. Here’s what happened. Here’s what was said,” and they put that on their blog, I mean, I don’t think that just because they don’t have a degree in journalism or have been a part of a journalistic organization, I don’t think that means that doesn’t have value. We just have to be careful to draw those lines and say, okay, this is someone who is showing up as a blogger, as a writer, and offering their perspective. That’s still very different from a news report about what unfolded.
So I think our community could use more of all of it. I think WCTV plays a great role in that as a public media organization and creating a space for people to have a voice and to share their perspectives, share their observations, and even offer valuable information about what’s happening in the community. Still not the same thing as a newscast, but that’s a valuable service in itself too. So, I’m thankful for that. I’m glad that you all do what you do in the ways that you do it.
Eric: Thank you. We enjoy what we do. You’re watching IN Focus on Whitewater Community Television’s WGTV Channel 11. We’re spending some time with Chris Hardie. Thanks to our sponsors for this program, Morrisson-Reeves Library, First Bank Richmond, and Reid Health.
I kind of asked you to step into the space over a period of time and have even suggested that you could step into the space a little bit more often, but talk a little bit about the conversations that you had surrounding particularly racial justice, social justice over that three-week period. You talked to a professor, you talked to the police chief, you talked to Bill Engle, a parent Richmond kind of council member, and a journalist with a palladium item who had covered government, talk about how those conversations went for you. Did you learn anything new? Did it change your mind about anything that you were feeling?
Chris: Yeah. I mean, they were meaningful conversations, they were hard conversations, and I was glad to have them but I was tired by them. And to say that as privileged white male who got to swoop in, do those conversations and then I could turn off Zoom and move on with my day, it gave me new appreciation for people who are working on the challenges of systemic racism all day, every day, people who are subject to them, people who are affected by it. And it’s everywhere in the landscape of our country, in our community, and to bring it sort of intentionally onto a TV show and have a conversation about it, it was hard and it felt like, literally, the very least I could do to help keep the conversation going forward. So, yeah, I mean, thank you again for that opportunity.
I mean, I think what I learned is that we have so much work to do and so many conversations to have as a community, even calling back to earlier in this conversation, taking a word like progressive and you can hear how someone sees it through the lens of politics or someone sees it to mean something. And so even just saying the word like racism or systemic racism or white privilege, or any of those phrases, they can mean so many different things to different people and they can pull up, they can trigger very strong associations. And if we’re going to make progress on these topics, we have to be able to confront those things ourselves. We have to be able to say what is it that this calls up for me, what are my biases, what are the things that I thought I knew were true that I didn’t actually know or that I need to learn more about. And I hope that those conversations contributed to that.
I think through all of those interviews and conversations and through my other interviews on my podcast, I mean, I continue to see that Richmond and Wayne County is largely a community full of kind and forward-thinking and generous people. As I said before, we kind of live at a scale where we can care about other people in our community, we can see them, we can hear them, we can listen to them, and we can adapt and adjust our opinions to what we learn. And just that feeling of we can shape and choose what kind of community we want to be, I feel that sense of optimism that even with something as hard and as challenging and as ingrained as racism, we can still work on it, we can still make progress on it if we want to.
And some of the people I talk to and others out there, I mean, I’ve learned that people who are getting things done here are people who are looking at where there’s a need, where there’s maybe an area of pain, where there’s an opportunity, and they’re pursuing it with passion and creativity. Whether that’s in the classroom or in municipal government or starting a march, starting a protest, whatever it is, they’re not focused on being right or being popular, they’re focused on figuring out what’s happening in the world and doing what they do at a level of quality and kind of intentionality that really matters.
So that meant a lot to see that in action, to see that in those conversations. But yeah, I mean, we have a lot of challenges. We haven’t figured out racism, we haven’t figured out what’s a sustainable economy for our area that lifts everyone up, we haven’t figured out addiction or poverty or abuse or misogyny. I mean, there’s all sorts of challenges facing us. And I think the things that I still see getting in our way, fragmented efforts, when people are working on similar goals but are doing it off kind of on their own. We’re not a big enough community that we can afford to do that, so we need people to work together more and not duplicate each other’s efforts.
Historically, I think we’ve been kind of study happy. It’s easy to commission a study about something and wait a couple months and get a report and then say that progress has been made, and I just don’t think we can afford to do that in most areas. I think we wrestle with avoiding conflict. I mean, I think just as humans, it’s not always easy to go toward something that’s hard where it might feel like we’re being attacked or having our personal views criticized and we have to figure out ways around that. So, I think we get hung up on some of those things and we get hung up on people who are always saying negative things on Facebook or otherwise. But I saw on those conversations and in other conversations that there’s progress to be made, there’s opportunities, there are people who care and who are working on it. We just have to keep working on it and not slow down. So.
Eric: Couple of questions to kind of follow up. You used the term pretty early, white privilege. For some people, that term is nails on a chalkboard, and they hear it and it’s an immediate turn off. I asked you earlier to talk about the context of the word progressive when you used it. Talk about your definition of white privilege. When you say that, when you acknowledge in your mind that you’re a person of white privilege, what is it that you see?
Chris: Yeah. Well, and it came up some in my conversation with Betsy Schlabach, so I would tell people to watch that too because there was a helpful deep dive there. But for me, it’s the idea that throughout my life, because of my whiteness and because of my background and everything that goes with that, there have been opportunities afforded to me, doors opened for me that I didn’t even realize, sometimes, were being opened or offered because of the color of my skin and just how I look in the world. And that those same opportunities, those same doors are not offered or opened for people who have different color skin, people of color and any form, and that, that is something built in to kind of the long history of our culture in our country.
And the reason it’s important to talk about it is because if, as a white person, I say, “Well, I’m not racist and so I don’t understand why I have to care too much about this whole Black Lives Matter movement or whatever it is. Yeah, I’m white, but I’m not racist,” I think that misses the point that there are things about our very existence and upbringing and history that are a part of all of the systems of racism that are out there and that we either knowingly or unknowingly have been a part of. It’s not something, I mean, I’m trying to summarize it here, but it’s not something that’s I think easily summarized. And there are lots of books and videos and resources and workshops out there that can kind of help dive into it.
But talking about white privilege doesn’t mean that white people are inherently bad or inherently can’t be a part of the solution to racism. It just means that we have to look harder at the role we play and the role we’ve played in the past in perpetuating some of the systems that make racism possible.
Eric: As you’ve done some research and talked to different people, I’m going to ask you to do one more of those. When you hear the term Black Lives Matter, what does that say to you in your space?
Chris: Yeah. I think to me, it says that in the world we live in, in this moment and time, we have not been a society that has held Black lives to matter as much as white lives. And that, that has resulted in violence, in incarceration, in oppression, in all sorts of problems for Black people and people of color. And that as a society, it’s long past time for us to confront that. And by saying Black Lives Matter, we can say, whereas in the past, we have not pursued that level of equality and justice for everyone, by saying it now, we’re saying it’s time. It’s past time to pursue that.
People often make the analogy that if you were in a neighborhood and a house was burning and you were trying to get everybody out to yell, well, everyone’s lives on the street matter, not just the people in this house. You might look at them funny because the house that’s on fire is the one that you need to care about in that moment and that you need to do something about. And so I think Black Lives Matter is saying, hey, this thing’s on fire and we need to put our attention here and we need to do something about it. Yes, all lives matter is true as well, and they can both be true, but it’s a statement that makes a difference in this moment in time.
Eric: You’re watching IN Focus on Whitewater Community Television’s WGTV Channel 11. We’re spending some time with Chris Hardie, entrepreneur, person who is involved with and has been involved with a number of not-for-profit organizations, providing volunteer work, providing some advice, and who is, like me, a transplant to this community, had a chance to see it on a different level. We’ve got about 10 minutes left to go in the show. I also want to thank our sponsors for this program, First Bank Richmond, Reid Health, and Morrisson-Reeves Library. We appreciate their support.
I said at the end when I invited you to do this, I don’t do this very often to people, I kind of value my places as the question person and never having to provide an opinion, but because you were kind enough to step in and ask questions of people, I said I would give you a chance, if there were a couple of questions that you wanted to throw my way that I might ask, and no, none of my other guests will get this opportunity. So, I’m curious whether there is anything that you came up with, and if there is, it better be a real soft ball.
Chris: Let’s see, favorite ice cream flavor. No. Well, we’ve talked a little bit about where people get their information, and I think public media, like WCTV, has historically played a really essential role in people learning about and connecting to their communities. So, I mean… and especially, I should say, maybe the less mainstream parts, the parts that aren’t always covered in the news, more fringe parts of a community, have been able to be represented. So now that we’re in this age of Facebook and other social media where everything is shared all the time, do you see the role of public media and community television shifting in that context?
Eric: I don’t know that it is, in my mind, now there are others who have been around community media a lot longer than me, I think what we are able to do is provide a place for people to share their thoughts. And I don’t know that in that way, it’s changing. I think it is maybe becoming more noticed by people and they are thinking about how they get their voice out a little bit more. And so they are finding spaces like ours that still exist, and I say that because there have been, through the years, attempts, on a local and statewide level, to kind of silence community media to a certain extent, to cut down on the ability of people to have a place for their opinion to be widespread, they want to make that in a small a space as possible. But community media allows that to continue to open.
In Connersville, just south of us, where they have one channel, not three, CTV3, who we share programming back and forth with, they’ve got a program that started in the wake of some of the civil unrest at this point in time called A Black Man in a Small Community. So it is programs like that where people in communities are able to share their voices, and I think when that unrest, when that conversation continues to come up, I think people look for an outlet. So I think community media, places like WCTV, CTV3, and others around the state are maybe being noticed a bit more in their communities.
What is changing is that we’re having to think more consciously about putting the information that we collect in more places. When I started almost 11 years ago as executive director of Whitewater Community Television, we didn’t have a YouTube page, we didn’t have a Facebook page, we weren’t sharing on WGTV online with a place where you can go and see full government meetings. We didn’t have all of those social media spaces, but it has made us think about using those places to put that community information out a little bit more so it is more acceptable and easier to access for folks.
Chris: Yeah. Do I have time for a follow-up?
Chris: Do you see people as willing to change their minds any more as the result of a conversation or an interview or a program that WCTV has been a part of? Or are we collectively still pretty tribal and just kind of set in our ways, even when we’re theoretically having a conversation about something?
Eric: I think, generally speaking, generally speaking, we’re still tribal in a lot of ways. There’s still a lot of people who say, “I can’t vote for a Democrat. I can’t vote for a Republican,” without really finding out what that person feels and believes. I think as a people, we still vote against our interests a lot because we want to vote for someone who looks like us or has a certain initial behind their name, again, whether their values completely reflect us or not. But I will say that in my time, in doing particularly this program, and even the Ask the Doctors program that we’ve been doing with Dr. Huth and Dr. Jetmore during this time of the pandemic, there have been people who have said, “I learn something. I heard a question and I hadn’t thought about it in that way.”
So I think we are a community that is still trying to grow, trying to develop. There are many people in the community who are trying to, and I’ll use the word that you used earlier in the show, trying to be progressive, trying to look forward. I think part of that maybe there are a number of people, a lot more than we know, like you and I who didn’t grow up here, who found this place through our travels, through coming for school, through coming for work, who have decided to make this home and who really do want to make this as good a place as we possibly can.
I mean, I lament the fact that I’ve got two daughters, neither of which now live here. But my oldest who did live here moved back to Indianapolis just a few weeks ago. So I think there are more of us who would like this space to be more comfortable for our kids so that we can keep them a little bit closer than what they are. And we know that, that means being willing to make some change and think about some things differently.
Chris: Absolutely. That’s great.
Eric: We are coming to the end of this. I want to give you a minute or so because you’ve gone through a lot. You do have your opinions, you do have your thoughts about a lot of things. So I just kind of want to open up a space to you and say you’ve got about 90 seconds, what do you want to say to Richmond, Wayne County, whoever may be watching?
Chris: Well, I won’t pass up the opportunity to encourage people, as you do at the beginning, to vote in the upcoming election. As I said… or, I mean, I ran for office. I know the difference that a few votes can make. I lost my own bid by about 200 votes, so in Richmond, that’s probably a couple of neighborhoods. I get that it’s hard for people sometimes to feel like the effort to vote has the level of importance that we hear about, but I do think it’s literally one of the most basic and critical first steps that people can take, with engaging all the decisions and opportunities that are in front of us. I think it’s how we begin to translate our values and our opinions and all the conversations that we’re having with friends and neighbors. That’s how we translate those into action that can really matter.
And the people we put in office, they’re not the only ones who are shaping our future, but they are doing it every day, and we have to make sure that we have a say in that process. So, even if you don’t see an ideal candidate, even if you’re feeling disillusioned about politics in general, it’s so important to vote, and I hope that everyone who’s watching this will do that.
Eric: Thank you. I appreciate it.