I wanted to share a theme, more of a feeling, that many of you probably experienced over the Thanksgiving holiday. That feeling was one of gratitude. I felt grateful for the opportunity to not only spend a wonderful dinner with family, but also to share a hiking and camping adventure with my son on Catalina Island. Given that Rob is now a working guy, Thanksgiving weekend was one of the few times during the year when he had four days off. Since the weather would also probably cooperate with us, we decided to hike the Trans Catalina Trail. Catalina Island lies 45 miles off the coast of Los Angeles.
Early Thanksgiving morning, Rob and I boarded a ferry bound for Avalon, the main town on the island. While that day would be arduous, we persevered through ten miles of mountainous terrain to make it to Blackjack campsite just before sunset. No leg of the remainder of the hike would challenge us like that. Gratefully, we feasted on a BBQ dinner and fell asleep early as a little rain drifted in. During the next three days, we enjoyed incredible sunsets, starlit nighttime skies, and raw nature. Wild bison surprised us, one of us walked into a cactus and needed some patching up, and shared hardship bonded us. While we both missed church that Sunday, we enjoyed a spiritual experience in nature that helped us reflect on the past year and dream about the next.
First Amendment Voice is looking forward to 2019 with gratitude, hoping that we can continue creating inclusive conversations that allows citizens to come together to bridge divides in our country. We hope you continue engaging with us as we educate and advocate for free expression, being able to freely practice our religions, press freedom, and the rights to assemble and petition government for change. We are thankful for your active participation in our Republic and hope you will help us inspire others to engage in the public square.
“Speech is powerful. It’s the lifeblood of democracy, a precondition for the discovery of truth, and vital to our self-development. But speech is also dangerous. It can corrupt democracy, enable or incite crime, encourage enemies, and interfere with government.”
Those words were written Lawrence Tribe and Joshua Matz in their 2014 book on the Robert’s Court, Uncertain Justice. We see examples of their analysis before us each and every day.
Over the course of the last couple of years, I had the pleasure of dining in an intimate environment with Jamal Khashoggi. I always came away with new insights about the Middle East, and in particular, trends within Saudi Arabia. He had an insider’s perspective as he spoke truth to power from self-imposed exile in Virginia. Journalism today has become more dangerous. It has always been dangerous. A friend and Getty Images photojournalist, Chris Hondros, embedded with my units about ten times while I served in Iraq. Chris didn’t make it back from covering the Libyan conflict in 2011. Another colleague, Regis LeSommier, with Paris Match, has interviewed Bashar al Assad twice in the last few years. In order for the world to understand what is going on in dark corners of humanity, we need intrepid journalists willing to risk their lives in order to get the story.
However, the climate in the United States has gone from loss of confidence in public institutions, the media being one, to hostility in some circles. This has led to attacks on media organizations. Of course, journalists, and media organizations exhibit bias. All human beings do. But we should resist the urge to demonize journalists and the organizations they represent. Media organizations that have shifted from more objective, fact based reporting to opinion have done so based on market conditions. That’s what we, as Americans, have asked for. While we talk a good talk in terms of just wanting the news, neuroscientists have documented the effects of seeking self-affirming sources of information. We like it when we believe we are right. Reading or hearing a story that confirms our own preconceived narratives feels good.
FAV is happy to continue our coffee talk program that provides a forum for civil discussion about press freedom and other pressing First Amendment issues. If you would like to learn more about coffee talks or host one, please reach out. We would love to promote more opportunities for citizens to come together and explore ideas relevant in your community.
Yours in service,
Steve Miska and the FAV Team
Didn’t get a chance to attend last month’s National Symposium in Philadelphia? Watch newly released videos on our YouTube channel to get a sense for the experience that participants enjoyed. Don’t forget to Subscribe.
The Third Annual National Symposium took place at the National Constitution Center on September 15th in the City of Philadelphia under the theme “E Pluribus Unum or Divided?” exploring what unites us as a country and where social divisions might be widening.
The National Constitution Center hosted the symposium for the 3rd year in a row. Morning sessions hosted panel discussions on social divisions as they relate to the First Amendment. A working lunch addressed ways in which we can engage in civil dialogue both as students and non-students. During the afternoon, the forum spotlighted the NFL Kneeling Controversy in a Town Hall forum debate with a veteran, NFL football player and other perspectives featured.
Michel Faulkner speaks on the NFL kneeling controversy panel at the 3rd annual National Symposium in Philadelphia
Many FAV supporters had the privilege of interacting with experts from the first amendment space in Philadelphia during our national Symposium, in addition to meeting lots of people interested in civil discourse. After Dr. Wilson Goode, the first African American Mayor of Philadelphia, provided a thought provoking keynote address, the opening plenary panelists explored the contours of first amendment trends on college campuses, in the media, and through the lenses of technology and social media. These nonpartisan experts agreed that America’s current state of political polarization could not be addressed with technological fixes or government involvement. They concluded that we as citizens needed to develop political and social paths forward to resolve some of the most vexing challenges facing our country. So, how do we do that?
After our breakout trainers provided tools for civic engagement, Kern Beare, Founder of Pop the Bubble, demonstrated how to engage in a “Difficult Conversation,” and Janessa Gans Wilder, Founder and Executive Director of the Euphrates Institute, led students on a journey of self-exploration to determine what in their personal stories shaped their current perspectives of the world. Following the Symposium, Kern led several Difficult Conversation workshops in the DMV area, including Capitol Hill on September 18th, Frederick, Maryland on September 27th, and Arlington, Virginia on September 28th. We seem to have a thirst for understanding how to bridge divides in our society. The partisan rhetoric alienates many people from wanting to engage in the public square. However, when we host events that establish norms of first seeking to understand andlisten, people tend to be willing to take the risk of venturing forth.
FAV will continue to collaborate in this space and is currently in discussions with strategic partners to bring our programming to the west coast. Don’t worry, we’ll return to Philly and DC, as well. Look for more opportunities to experience meaningful dialogue around sensitive issues like the conversation we hosted in Philadelphia. Kern moderated a discussion on the NFL Kneeling issue between Reverent Michel Faulkner, a former Jets Defensive Lineman, Scott Cooper, a retired Marine officer, and Mr. Alan Inman, a decade’s long leader and organizer in African American communities and Senior Advisor to the Global Peace Foundation. Speakers demonstrated civility to each other, as well as, audience members who asked questions or contributed to the discussion. Stay tuned for similar programming in future FAV events! The experience can be uplifting and contribute to healing some of the divisions within our present discourse.
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Yours in service,
Steve Miska and the FAV Team
3rd Annual First Amendment Voice National Symposium Highlights
Our national convening in the City of Philadelphia for our Third Annual National Symposium took place at the National Constitution Center on September 15th. The theme this year was “E Pluribus Unum or Divided?” as we explored what unites us as a country and where social divisions might be widening.
The National Constitution Center was our host site for the 3rd year in a row. Morning sessions hosted panel discussions on social divisions as they relate to the First Amendment. A working lunch addressed ways in which we can engage in civil dialogue both as students and non-students. During the afternoon, we spotlighted the NFL Kneeling Controversy in a Town Hall forum debate with a veteran, NFL football player and other perspectives featured.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or Abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”