Highlights from 2015 AOJ Minority Writers Seminar

By | November 29, 2015

Association of Opinion Journalists Minority Writers Seminar participants at the Poynter Institute in St. Peterburg, FL. I'm the one in blue in the middle. (Photo courtesy of AOJ)

Photo courtesy of AOJ

Association of Opinion Journalists hosted a Minority Writers Seminar on Nov. 12-17, 2015 at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, FL. The diverse group of participants, myself included, hailed from all over the country and included freelance writers, full-time news reporters, editorial writers, academics and college students. I’m the one in blue in the middle of the second row.

Highlights included:

  • Learning how a newspaper editorial is assembled through deliberation and consensus, and why informed opinion and reasoned debate is so important to our democracy.
  • Hearing how sometimes editorial writers must craft an editorial arguing a position with which they they personally disagree.
  • Writing a newspaper editorial on deadline, after deliberating with four other editorial writers and reaching consensus on a position.
  • Writing a personal essay/column on deadline. (Update January 31, 2016: Here’s my revised/published essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education.)
  • Recalling and sharing the personal essay I wrote when I was 25 years old about “Growing Up In America As Other: When You’re Not Quite Minority Enough”
  • Networking, camaraderie, and being inspired by the knowledge, skills, diversity, experiences and humanity of my fellow attendees and instructors.
  • Drinking too much coffee on the first full day. Oh, #overcaffeinated. There’s a good reason I only drink decaf.
  • Eating tapas with new friends.
  • #PrayforParis.
  • Attending a forum with David Axelrod, political consultant and former senior advisor to President Barack Obama.
  • Wandering through the trippy Salvador Dali museum.

This is the editorial I wrote on deadline during the seminar about the situation in Syria. It was a practical learning exercise, one that helped renew my confidence in my deadline-writing abilities.

As the United States’ entanglement in Syria and Iraq deepens and the region’s humanitarian crisis reaches epic proportions, members of Congress must end their inaction and debate a war authorization as quickly as possible.

No one wants the loss of American military lives in another open-ended conflict on foreign soil. But Congress has deferred all decision-making related to the conflict in Syria to President Barack Obama, while blaming his policies as weak, unreliable, nonsense and lacking a “larger coherent strategy.”

In October, Obama authorized the deployment of 50 U.S. special operations soldiers in Northern Syria. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said recently that more American troops could “absolutely” be sent to Syria to fight ISIS, the militant Islamist group that now controls broad swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria.

If members of Congress, especially the ones running for commander-in-chief in 2016, don’t agree with Obama’s unilateral decisions, then they should come up with their own alternative plan. That’s their job.

Obama’s actions in the region have relied on a 13-year-old congressional authorization that gave President George W. Bush power to wage war on Al-Qaida and invade Iraq. In February, Congress refused to debate a proposal submitted by the Obama administration asking for a 3-year authorization to fight the Islamic State unrestricted by national borders.

Members of Congress need to do more than talk tough in the press against extremism and Obama. At the very least, they should publicly debate their own strategy addressing the intertwined challenges of ISIS and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

The time for lawmakers act is now. The number of deaths in Syria grows daily. More than 200,000 people have been killed in the 4-½ years since the Syrian civil war started. Islamic State terrorists are also believed to have slaughtered another 30,000 people.

By December 2015, an estimated 4.7 million people will have fled the region, putting a tremendous burden on our allies in the Middle East and Europe.

Congress can no longer sit idly by criticizing the policies of the President Obama, while inaction continues. Stakes are too high.

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