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The Power of Voice

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sarah Sweeney
June 5, 2020

Now is the time to speak up for what is right, and to pursue the truth. When I was young and wanted to know about a certain topic I would visit my neighborhood library, read the newspaper or watch the news. If there was an opinion that you wanted to share you called in to the local radio, submitted an op-ed piece, had in-person conversations or participated in local forums. Today you go online and share whatever is on your mind to the world, and for the most part these opinions are unrestricted in content and audience. We all have the right to share what is on our mind, express our opinions and have a voice in today’s world but it is the way in which we communicate those things that is the key issue here.

As Public Administrators it is within our scope to be a powerful voice for public service (www.patimes.org) and we can model this through our work within each community across America. The messages we share publicly should be well researched, communicated clearly and designed with each population we serve in mind. To be fair and equitable in our public communication it is vital that it speaks against injustice, violence and mass oppression of vulnerable peoples. We must encourage protections for our communities with strong voices. I would encourage us all to follow in the footsteps of our leaders who have brought us into the fold of this practice for a more just future.

Censorship can sometimes be a necessary tool to protect society from destroying itself and having safety measures in place to protect ourselves, such as fact-checking and shutting down hate talk masked as free speech. It is our civic duty as community leaders to encourage others to self-moderate their online presence and challenging information coming through by doing our own independent research of the facts. There is a strong potential for unchecked statements to lead to civil unrest and increased incidents of discrimination and prejudice against those in our communities who are at higher risk of such retaliation.

As we’ve read in the news lately, even high level politicians are not necessarily censored nor are they fact checked in what they disseminate to the public sphere of social media. They are given, “As much expression as possible” because of the reach they have across the internet. These days free speech has become a politically charged platform for decisive individuals to share negativity and incite violence in our communities. As public administrators it is our duty to calm the impending fear before it escalates into physical violence, such as we have seen across the country recently. Those who have spoken out and spoken up are to be commended for utilizing their voice in making a difference, truly. However we must be diligent in our acknowledgement of messages that contribute to social unrest.

It is important to remember that when we are reading anything we must be diligent fact checkers and not believe everything that is put before us. There is a danger inherent in mass acceptance of news or media stories. The ease by which videos are made viral and mass messaging becomes instantly global is incredibly frightening. In our professional practice we have the unique opportunity to aide in the dissemination of information in such a way that is respectful, informed and does not undermine humanity. What we have witnessed recently has been the opposite of this goal, and instead has caused significant social unrest. I would encourage us as leaders to model this behavior in our communities, professional settings and personal lives moving forward. Research what you are reading, hearing and watching to ensure that you are comprehending fully the information before you.

Finding your voice and developing the ability to effectively communicate messaging is a tool that public administrators can learn in school, at work and in the field. We must find the power in our voice before we can encourage others to develop their own. Establish an expectation for yourself to check facts, cite sources and censor yourself and others appropriately so that the opinions, ideas and messaging you are sharing publicly is for the good of humanity and not for your ego. As public leaders it is our duty to ensure that we are providing bias-free information to our communities so they can go forth and make their own informed decisions about the messaging they receive.

Author: Sarah Sweeney is a professional social worker and recent graduate of Seattle University’s Master of Public Administration program in Washington State. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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