The Moth Radio Hour ends every show with this disclaimer: “Moth stories are true as remembered and affirmed by the storyteller.” That can be said as well about the stories and editorial choices presented on No on 9 Remembered.
If you were around during Measure 9, you may remember different things, or remember things differently, from the storytellers and editors on this website. We all have our own point of view and anything recollected from 30 years later is inherently unreliable if accuracy is your standard.
It’s important that we don’t read these stories as gospel. But even if memory is unreliable, it still tells us an important story.
We asked longtime activist and oral historian Sandy Polishuk for help with this conundrum. In the introduction to her book about political radical and labor journalist Julia Ruuttila (1907-1991), Sandy writes:
“Memories are creations, they are not necessarily an accurate reflection of what happened. In her research on eyewitness testimony, Elizabeth Loftus has concluded that ‘postevent information cannot only enhance existing memories but also change a witness’s memory and even cause nonexistent details to become incorporated into a previously acquired memory.’ Over time, she tells us, we may be unable to distinguish between what we ourselves experienced and what we have been told. Surely most of us have ‘memories’ that in truth are stories told to us about our early childhoods, which we ‘remember’ as experiences, perhaps because the story was told so often and was about our favorite subject, ourselves.”
Sandy says there are other reasons interviewees may not tell the whole truth. They might be embarrassed or ashamed of some of their past actions. They could fear hurting others. And of course, everyone has secrets.
Italian oral historian Alessandro Portelli explains discrepancies in historical memories as “not caused by faulty recollections . . . but actively and creatively generated by memory and imagination in an effort to make sense of crucial events.”
Our hope is that the stories in No on 9 Remembered contribute to the meaning-making still so necessary as we grapple with the crucial events of our present time, connected as they are to what we saw during Measure 9.
References courtesy of Sandy Polishuk:
- Loftus, Elizabeth. Eyewitness Testimony. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979. pp. 55, 78.
- Portelli, Alessandro. The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History. SUNY Series in Oral and Public History. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991. pp. 1-26.
- Polishuk, Sandy. Sticking to the Union: An Oral History of the Life and Times of Julia Ruuttila. Palgrave Studies in Oral History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. pp 7-8.