'The quiet and thoughtful voices'
12 Dec 2021 — Journal Gazette
Karen Francisco

If you're a regular reader of this page, you know this space is filled each week with a column written by a Fort Wayne-area woman. It's by design : an initiative to lift up women's voices.

I was happy to support it when the co-founders of Advancing Voices of Women approached me and then-publisher Julie Inskeep with the idea nearly five years ago. We received too few letters and opinion columns from women.  

This week, I'm claiming the space for a farewell message. After eight-plus years as editorial page editor and 21 years as a member of the editorial board, this is my last opinion column for The Journal Gazette. The space reserved for AVOW contributors seems fitting because my greatest hope is that, in a time distinguished by angry and polarizing voices, I carved out a space specifically reserved for voices that are neither of those things.

This is the space for quiet and thoughtful voices. This is the space for a high school senior to reflect on the powerful bonds of friendship. It's where a female veteran can remind us the oath she and other service members took should not be abandoned when political outcomes aren't to one's liking. This is the space for a young Black writer to point out the toll the pandemic and racism have had on the mental health of Black women.

The approach and tone taken in this space since early 2017 are what I've hoped would extend to all of the commentary on these pages. I realize that hasn't always been the case, particularly at election time and after Jan. 6, but I've done my best to lift up voices from both sides of the political spectrum. 

Sadly, the extremes on each end of that spectrum have become unwilling to listen to views they don't hold themselves. They generally respond to those views by attacking the contributor : and The Journal Gazette's opinion pages : on social media. 

Of course, there's no courage in attacking someone's view on your social media site. A curated collection of followers will undoubtedly validate your position. That might be satisfying, but it does little to advance your understanding of others' views or to bridge divides. Real courage is putting your thoughts out where others might challenge them. It's also the only way to reach compromise and to make real progress.

In addition to lifting up women's voices, the founders of AVOW have sought to encourage civility. It can be found, even if harsh attacks seem to prevail in today's public discourse. I was encouraged in the last session of the Indiana General Assembly by the example of a first-term state senator, Fady Qaddoura. The former controller and chief financial officer for the city of Indianapolis, he represents portions of Marion and Hamilton counties.

Qaddoura first caught my attention not because he's Indiana's first Arab Muslim lawmaker, but because he was unfailingly polite and respectful in addressing his colleagues and those testifying before a Senate committee. Qaddoura never raises his voice; he never mocks or belittles anyone.

At an event last weekend honoring the work of the bipartisan Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission, Qaddoura shared a conversation he had had that day with a neighbor who is a supporter of former President Donald Trump. The two men likely shared no common political views except one: Qaddoura's neighbor agreed that political maps should be drawn by an independent commission, not by politicians intent on preserving power.

The state senator shared the story as a hopeful sign for independent redistricting, which he will seek through the process of amending the state constitution. I can't help but believe his neighbor's support for the idea had much to do with Qaddoura's respectful approach and willingness to listen. 

I'll be participating in next year's election only as a voter, but I'll offer this final endorsement: Listen to the candidates who don't depend on bluster, attacks and polarizing rhetoric. Listen to those who seek common ground. Listen for the quiet and thoughtful voices.

This is a good stopping point for a 40-year career in newspaper journalism. In two Indiana cities and at three newspapers, it's been a fascinating and fulfilling job on both the news and opinion sides of the newsroom. Thank you to everyone who has shared your time and stories. Thanks to all who have contributed letters, op-ed columns and comments about what I've written. Thank you to my co-workers and editors and, especially, to Journal Gazette President Julie Inskeep, whose unwavering support for opinion journalism is increasingly rare in this industry. 

You can read about my successor on Page 14A. I know he shares my belief that our editorial pages can make a positive contribution toward a better city, region and state.

I'm now looking forward to days without deadlines and to moving close to loved ones. I'll continue to follow the news here and wish the best for all who call it home.

Karen Francisco is editorial page editor of The Journal Gazette.

This story is provided free courtesy of The Fort Wayne Newspapers.
"'The quiet and thoughtful voices'" Journal Gazette 12 Dec 2021: A12