I know a thing or two about turning 50, having recently crested that hill, myself, while touring the Tuscan hills, just outside of Assisi, Italy. There’s nothing like reaching a milestone to make one more contemplative regarding where one has been and where one is going in life.
For me, I’d say I’ve had a pretty good ride, thus far. I’ve spoken to and engaged a sitting U.S. president and received a blessing from the current Pope. I’ve witnessed the divinely–created majesty of Yellowstone and the divinely–inspired genius of the Sistine Chapel. My eyes have feasted on the gilded grandeur of the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Italy and cried over the impoverished squalor of tin-roofed shacks in the hills of Nueva Guinea, Nicaragua. I’ve lost loved ones to acts of violence and reclaimed those I cherish from the clutches of cancer. All in all, I believe I am stronger, happier, and more appreciative, thanks to the experiences I’ve had in life. Each step is an accomplishment; and each accomplishment, cause for celebration. Nevertheless, my journey is far from over; and the best is yet to come!
While my milestone has passed, journalists and concerned citizens around the country prepare to celebrate the same with a key piece of national legislation. Nearly fifty years ago, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was passed by Congress and eventually became law after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed his name to the bill on July 4, 1966. With a few strokes of a pen, FOIA forever altered the way our nation views our government; yet this important act did not just happen. It was born out of 11 tireless years of activism on the part of Rep. John E. Moss and countless reporters who, having personally been denied information from government agencies, worked hard to change the system for the rest of us.
Moss’ experience came when he received a rejected request for information from the Civil Service Commission during his first year in office. Following that encounter, Moss became a powerful promoter for the release of government information to the public. His passionate advocacy for change began in 1955, as he agreed to chair a subcommittee on government information. His work on that subcommittee ultimately created the groundbreaking FOIA, signed by President Johnson in 1966, and effective in 1967. Throughout this 11-year period, journalists worked with and testified before members of Congress, towards the common goal of creating a more transparent government – proof-positive that members of the legislature and media can achieve greatness, together.
Fifty years later, government transparency is still an aspiration, rather than an accomplishment. As Congress attempts to pass two bills aimed at improving the FOIA (HR 653 in the House of Representatives and S 337 in the Senate), the Society of Professional Journalists is seeking to provide support for these measures. Journalists, nationwide, are joining forces with our legislators to accomplish a new goal, and we need your help. As we move towards the 50th anniversary of this document, our unified battle-cry must become, let’s Fix FOIA by 50!
This journey is far from over as we move forward in the task of steady, consistent improvement. It’s as true in our personal lives as it is for us as journalists. Call and write your local legislators and urge them to support HR653 and S337. Click here to view a list of Senate contact information for your state, and click here to access your state’s House of Representatives’ information. Join the movement on Twitter at #FixFOIAby50.
After all, 50 years is just the beginning. The best is yet to come!