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Why I tell the news in 59 seconds

Marcela Onyango on her programme Feel the News

Illustration by Megan White @daizydoodles

At least three times a week, I record a 59 second video during my lunch break. I spend my evening editing and posting it to Feel the News with Marcela, my TikTok show. It’s a news show with a sense of humour and anarchism, delivered in under a minute. The format is simple: I explain a news headline, ask my listeners, “how should you feel about this news?” – and then proceed to tell them how, exactly, to Feel the News. Now you might ask: why would I spend my only opportunity to calmly munch on avocado toast while mindlessly scrolling through my Twitter feed, to record a TikTok video? Why am I adding subtitles to a video at the end of my workday when I’d much rather prefer to lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling for hours?

Illustration by Megan White @daizydoodles

These are certainly the questions I ask myself every time I feel unnecessarily angry for not catching a typo on a video subtitle. However, when I get a comment like, “saved this to show my dad”, I remember why I do this. Not because I love to be praised, which I do, but because my dream has always been to be an anti-capitalist evangelist stand-up comedian. Feel the News with Marcela has given me a platform to achieve this: it’s an opportunity to talk to a lot of people about world issues in the same way I speak to my family during dinner, minus the interruptions from my dad telling me to chew with my mouth closed. 

The only place I’ve ever really felt safe to share my opinions about my perspective on the world has been around my friends and family. That’s because my politics are considered ‘radical’ in my hometown of Temple, Texas, and to be fair this would be the same for most of the United States. I moved to Texas from Nairobi, Kenya, when I was 12 years old. As if being an immigrant child in a new land wasn’t hard enough, I was also an openly proud communist. This was a place that was still grieving the loss of the Dixie Chicks (now the Chicks) to the dark side after one of the Chicks proclaimed their hatred for George W. Bush after he attacked Iraq. So no, they were not open to this new girl with ‘crazy’ ideas.  

This hostile environment didn’t stop me from calling out the evils of American imperialism in Latin America; it did, however, stop me from having friends. Some of my teachers weren’t fans either. When parents go to parent-teacher conferences, negative feedback about their kids generally involves irresponsible behaviour or not doing their homework. No, not me. My teachers would complain to my parents that I ‘had an opinion’ because that week we might have gotten into a pretty heated squabble about why not letting the Russians have Japan was not a good reason to drop the nuclear bomb – as my classmates watched on with their usual disdain.

How did I become a communist, one might ask? I’m not quite sure. My dad always says I was born a communist, but I don’t believe that. I’m pretty sure he says that because he was raised in East Germany. I think reading the Communist Manifesto, Stephen Biko’s ‘I Write What I Like’ and my huge crush on Che Guevara must have done it. Yes, I was a horny teenager who let my crush for a revolutionary determine my political ideals. Who didn’t? I think the more important question here is, why was I openly spreading my heretic views, when all I received in return was the abhorrence of my peers and most adults? I could say a relentless devotion to being true to myself, but that’s not it. I have pretended to like Good Charlotte to get a boy to like me (he didn’t). So being true to myself isn’t really a priority. 

I think I was willing to sacrifice friendship in high school to tell truth to power because I wanted to make the world a better place. I knew that capitalism wasn’t going to do that because it was the source of all the problems. So yes, it was 100% worth spending my Friday nights alone watching Gilmore Girls reruns because no one wanted to hang out with the village commie.   

After high school I went to college where, to my parents’ horror, I chose to major in International Relations, a subject with no direct career prospects. My parents wanted me to major in Biology so I could get a job, so I compromised by picking up Economics as my second major. I didn’t care about getting a job, I wanted to change the world – and in order to change the world you have to know how it works. At the time I didn’t understand how learning about different plant species would help me end world hunger. Yeah, I know Biology is more than this, but seeing as I wasn’t a Biology major, that’s all I know. 

After graduating from college, I ran to Washington DC, where I got a Master of Public Administration and was ready to start my world-changing career. Living in DC was life changing for me, not because I found out drinking was highly encouraged at work, but rather because I realised that I actually hated politics. No one takes communists seriously in DC and everyone seemed to be in it for the glory rather than for the people. I mean, glory is nice, but sacrificing the work didn’t seem worth it for me. I also noticed that when I would speak about issues with my non-political friends, they were not only engaged, but they would laugh a lot. That’s when I found out that the only world-changing thing I wanted to do was to teach people about the evils of capitalism while making them laugh. I started doing stand-up in DC, then fast forward four years , COVID-19 kills stand-up comedy and so I turn to TikTok to continue my destiny of using comedy to complain about social ills. 

Let me be clear, TikTok didn’t welcome me with open arms. In my first video, I said Zimbabwe was wrong for bowing down to US and European sanctions and paying reparations to white farmers whose stolen land had been returned to Black Zimbabweans. This was a smoke signal to white racist trolls. I was called a ‘Black Karen’, and I swore that would be my first and last video. However, my partner said something I’ll never forget: “They are angry because they don’t hear this often.” At that moment, the courageous teenager I used to be showed up and helped me post part two of this video, fully expecting another wave of hate. However, what I got this time was a group of TikTok-savvy Black teenagers attacking these trolls and defending me. That’s when I knew I had found a home. For all those people who were angry with my content, there were more people who wanted to learn from it. 

These days, I consider myself to be an anarcho-communist and instead of getting a lot of hate, Feel the News encourages a lot of discussion. One video that I’m particularly proud of is one that informed people that the United States is currently supporting a despot in Haiti. A plurality of the comments on the video were “Thanks for educating us”. I love educating people, but I wouldn’t be fully truthful if I didn’t say the stand-up comedian in me also loves people telling me they laughed at my jokes. TikTok has allowed me to create a small group of friends who follow me to learn while laughing. For me, that’s worth overexposing myself to the news so I can tell people how to feel about it in 59 seconds.  

Illustration by Megan White @daizydoodles

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