Vet The Vote: How Veterans and Families are Choosing to Serve their Country, Again
First Amendment Voice recently partnered with Vet The Vote and nearly twenty other organizations—including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, NFL, National Military Family Association, and Student Veterans of America, to name a few. We were inspired to join this coalition for two key reasons: 1) to preserve fair and peaceful elections in the U.S. in the 2022 midterms and beyond, and 2) to continue showcasing the enormous impact that veterans and their families have on American democratic institutions and processes.
What is Vet The Vote?
Vet The Vote is a project of the We the Veterans Foundation and in 2022, the goal is to recruit over 100,000 veterans and their family members to serve as poll workers for the upcoming midterm elections. This is absolutely critical, since more than 130,000 poll workers have stopped serving over the past three midterm elections and 68% of election officials across the U.S. found it challenging to secure enough poll workers in the 2018 midterm elections. Furthermore, the Pew Research Center reported that 58% of poll workers during the 2018 elections were 61+ years of age.
What all of this means is that our democracy is more at risk than we might think. Poll workers are essential to maintaining fair and free elections. Some of the many responsibilities they fulfill include:
Checking in and assisting voters with any questions or concerns they may have
Ensuring there are adequate supplies for all voters, as well as accommodations for disabled voters (e.g., page magnifiers, wheelchair ramps)
Processing absentee ballots
Maintaining voter privacy
Requesting the removal of disruptive poll observers
In polling places with too few workers, there could be excessively long lines (which could turn people away from voting entirely) or even lead to the shutdown of the polling place in the event of a severe short-staffing issue.
Short-staffed polling places are problematic for urban and rural voters alike. In populous urban areas, the wait time may be longer than the time remaining to vote before the poll closes, especially later in the day when many people go to vote after work. In less-populated rural areas, some people may need to drive for miles just to access a polling place, which can disproportionately impact low-income voters who may have limited means of transportation.
With these troubling consequences in mind, what better way to ensure the right to vote is protected than having veterans serve as poll workers? The vast majority of veterans have already served in nonpartisan ways and understand the importance of service in their communities. Maintaining the security and integrity of our elections now and in the future has never been more important, and American veterans are well-equipped for this task. You can support Vet The Vote by signing up to be a poll worker or donating to We the Veterans Foundation.
2022 National Symposium Panel on Veterans
Additionally, we have a programming scheduled for our 2022 National Symposium in September on the role of veterans in civic engagement. Will you be in the Philadelphia area on September 24th? Please consider joining us at the National Constitution Center. Register here
In addition to our partnership with Vet The Vote, First Amendment Voice also had an outstanding panel on the role of veterans in depolarization during our 2021 National Symposium. You can listen to the full panel on our YouTube page here.
FAV is launching a new series on our YouTube channel exploring the difference between civics and politics and our role as a civic organization. Watch our latest video in the series in which our executive director discusses our partnership with Vet The Vote as an example of civic engagement in action.
We know there are many research-backed benefits to volunteering, but it can be challenging to find new ways to get more involved in our communities while balancing other personal and professional obligations. In the spirit of our upcoming Edward D. Lowry Memorial Award for Citizenship ceremony, this blog post will review some awesome resources for volunteers – and we invite you to share some of your favorite resources in the comments section below!
Where to Find New Volunteer Opportunities
City or County Websites: Many local government websites around the U.S. include designated sections for civic engagement opportunities.
VolunteerMatch: Over 135,000 nonprofit organizations use the VolunteerMatch portal to recruit participants for both in-person and virtual volunteering opportunities. Since the platform was founded in 1998, it has connected more than 16 million people to volunteer gigs around the world. You can find a wide variety of volunteer options on VolunteerMatch’s website by searching for either specific causes to support or skills you can offer in a voluntary role.
Volunteers of America: This nonprofit organization was founded in 1896 for the purpose of helping vulnerable citizens access basic living necessities like housing and healthcare. Today, more than 60,000 volunteers support the organization’s human service programs in more than 400 communities across the U.S. You can get involved by contacting a local VOA office or volunteering at one of their senior living and care communities.
Volunteer.gov: Also known as “America’s Natural and Cultural Resources Volunteer Portal,” Volunteer.gov was established by the Bush Administration in 2002 and continues to be a fantastic resource for people seeking local, state and national volunteer opportunities.
Lowry Award for Citizenship Recognizes Outstanding Volunteers
The Edward D. Lowry Memorial Award for Citizenship recognizes the work of nonpartisan volunteers bridging divisions within their communities to promote the public good. Get ready to learn more about the positive work going on in countless communities across the country as FAV lifts up amazing community leaders and civic entrepreneurs who exemplify the following qualities:
Relentless service to others
Able to work across ideological differences for the common good
Fearless advocate of the First Amendment principles
Overcomes setbacks; strives on in the face of adversity
Exhibits strategic thinking but able to translate that into results
Inspirational: encourages others to give of time, talent or resources
Consummate networking to connect organizations & people for community impact
In 2010, Stephen Colbert of the satirical news show, The Colbert Report elevated the United Farm Workers of America (UFW)’s “Take Our Jobs” campaign to the national spotlight by applying to work alongside migrant farmworkers during the summer. A major goal of the campaign was to disprove the rhetoric of “immigrants stealing our jobs” by offering 1.8 million UFW jobs back to American citizens (14.9 million of whom were unemployed at the time).
Despite the immediate availability of work opportunities in a tough job market, just 9,000 Americans applied for the program and only 7people lasted more than a couple of weeks working long hours in the fields. Stephen Colbert lasted just one day and later shared his experiences while testifying before Congress’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship and Border Security. The “Take Our Jobs” campaign may not have succeeded in employing many American citizens, but it certainly succeeded in showing a large disconnect between rhetoric and reality when it comes to immigrants.
Media and politicians using fearmongering tactics against immigrants is not a new phenomenon in the U.S., but it became more explicit in recent years, such as former President Trump’s infamous comment on the campaign trail about how some Mexicans are “rapists” who bring drugs and crime across the border (three years later, he said “These aren’t people. These are animals”).
Racism and xenophobia play significant roles in anti-immigrant sentiment, but what do the facts actually say about immigrants in the U.S.? Here are just some of many studies that demonstrate why anti-immigrant rhetoric has little basis in reality:
Notable Findings from the 2020 Pew Research Center’s Study
Immigrants presently comprise 13.7% of the U.S. population
Approximately one million new immigrants arrive in the U.S. each year, predominantly from China, Mexico and India
Roughly three million refugees have settled in the U.S. since the creation of the Refugee Resettlement Program in 1980
The Obama Administration deported more immigrants (3 million) than the Bush Administration (2 million) and in 2017, the Trump Administration deported only 295,000 people, the lowest figure since 2006
Public opinion about immigrants has vastly changed over time; whereas 63% of Americans viewed immigrants as a “burden” on the country in 1994, nowadays 66% of Americans believe immigrants “strengthen” our country
FBI Study on “Lone Wolf” Terrorism
An FBI report published in 2019 found that, out of the 52 “lone wolf” terrorist incidents on U.S. soil between 1972 and 2015, all of the perpetrators were male, 90% were born in the U.S., and 65% were white (just 13% were of Middle Eastern descent, highlighting a disparity between reality and the “Islamist extremist” stereotypes we’ve seen in media over the past 2+ decades).
Immigrants’ Economic Contributions
A 2019 study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that immigrants without college degrees make up anywhere from 24-36% of the workforce in vital industries like farming, construction, manufacturing, and hospitality. Without migrant labor, our economy could suffer serious consequences like skyrocketing inflation or mass shortages as production slows due to a scarcity of “low-skill” labor. This isn’t to suggest that immigrants lack education or skills, of course; like other Americans, immigrants are a diverse group with a wide range of knowledge, skills and services to offer those who value their unique contributions.
In a similar vein, immigrants fill a disproportionate share of elder care and home health jobs in the U.S., according to a June 2019 study published in the journal Health Affairs. Given that the U.S. is expected to face a shortage of 151,000 professional caregivers by 2030 and 355,000 caregivers by 2040, our nation’s elderly citizens need more immigrants to come to the U.S. Without more immigrants (especially in wake of declining birth rates in the U.S.), we won’t be able to provide adequate care and dignity to some of society’s most vulnerable people within the next decade.
First Amendment Voice’s annual National Symposium is just around the corner, and this year, we have two incredible, virtual events centered on freedom of religion. Our keynote conversation on religion and reconciliation will take place on September 22 at 2:30pm EST (click here to register) and our panel, “Bridging Divides: The Role of Faith Leaders” will take place right afterwards at 3:30pm EST (click here to register).
To give you a sneak peek at the exciting information you’ll discover from these discussions, here are some fascinating facts about freedom of religion in the United States:
Two Key Clauses in the First Amendment
Did you know that religion was only mentioned once in the Constitution before the ten amendments comprising the Bill of Rights were added a few years after the initial ratification? Before the First Amendment was enacted, the only reference to religion in the U.S. Constitution involved the prohibition of religious tests to determine whether someone was qualified to run for public office. Thus, people of any (or no) religious affiliation could run for election in the United States, which was not a common freedom in the world in the late 1700s.
After the First Amendment was ratified on December 15, 1791, our nation’s understanding of freedom of religion was clarified through both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. As implied by the name, the first clause prohibits the federal government from ‘establishing’ a state religion, similar to what happened with the Church of England.
Meanwhile, the free exercise clause refers to citizens’ freedom to practice their own religions as long as they don’t violate public morals and/or conflict with a “compelling government interest,” per Supreme Court precedent on the issue. A recent example of this was seen in numerous court battles over Covid-19 restrictions on religious congregating, such as South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom.
References to God in Constitutions
Another interesting fact about the U.S. Constitution: there are no references to any divine figures in the federal government’s Constitution, but every U.S. state’s Constitution contains at least one reference to God or the divine, according to the Pew Research Center. Pew’s analyses further revealed that the word “God” is mentioned a total of 116 times across 50 states’ constitutions, in addition to other religious or spiritual language such as “almighty,” “Supreme” or “Sovereign” Being, “Creator,” “divine,” “providence,” and “Lord” (though this last one is typically used in the context of the phrase “the year of our Lord”).
Furthermore, as of 2021, seven states’ constitutions still prohibit atheists from holding public office, including Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The state of Pennsylvania’s constitution doesn’t explicitly prohibit atheists from serving in public office, but it does include the clause, “No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth.” Of course, most of these state’s religious belief requirements are largely unenforceable due to the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as prior Supreme Court precedents.
The Role of the Bible in Presidential Inaugurations
According to WhiteHouseHistory.org, George Washington was the first president to take the oath of office by placing his hand on a bible during his inaugural ceremony. Most other presidents since then have followed suit, placing their hands on a special family bible and repeating the oath typically administered by the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Since George Washington’s presidential inauguration, only Theodore Roosevelt (1901) and John Quincy Adams (1825) did not take their oaths of office by swearing on a bible; notably, Adams swore on a book of law meant to symbolize his oath to the constitution.
Don’t Miss Our National Symposium Discussions
Ready to learn more about freedom of religion and how faith leaders across the country are striving to bridge divides and revive constructive engagement in our nation’s public discourse? Click on the registration links in the first paragraph of this article to secure your spot in more thoughtful discussion opportunities at our National Symposium this year!
Have you ever heard someone say they “don’t know what to trust anymore” when talking about watching or reading the news? Perhaps you’ve had similar thoughts?
If so, you’re not alone. Public trust in the media has been plummeting over the past several years and even though there are many credible sources out there with ethical journalistic standards and genuine commitments to reporting news as accurately as possible, it can be enormously challenging for everyday citizens to separate the facts from the “fake news.”
Considering the many destructive consequences of disinformation, we can’t allow ourselves to become ambivalent about the news by assuming none of it is worth consuming simply because it may or may not be trustworthy. Instead, here are three ways we could depolarize the media for the betterment of all Americans.
If you haven’t already read our free, research-packed white paper on the “pandemic of polarization” happening in the U.S. right now, be sure to get your copy here.
Require Media Literacy Classes in Public Schools
First and foremost, we should recognize that the U.S. didn’t become hyper-polarized overnight and the media industry isn’t entirely to blame, either. Education – or more specifically, critical thinking and media literacy classes – is an essential tool for defending citizens against disinformation campaigns in our daily lives, but as of 2020, just 14 states have either proposed or enacted laws requiring media literacy education in schools (to learn more about what your state has done so far, check out this nifty graphic from Media Literacy Now).
Given just how much influence media discourses have over our socio-political lives, media literacy classes are arguably just as important as regular U.S. government and economics classes. Citizens can start taking action at the state level by urging elected representatives to enact education policies designed to amplify students’ critical thinking skills when consuming media. It won’t completely solve the problem we’re currently in, but teaching K-12 students to be more mindful of information they consume – where it comes from, how it’s presented, how to verify what’s truly accurate – could help us more effectively combat political polarization in future generations.
Renew Emphasis on Local News
Viewership and readership figures for local news have been declining over the past several years and more than 190 local news stations (a market share of approximately 39% of households) across the U.S. are all owned by the same company: Sinclair Broadcasting Group. The problem with this is that researchers found Sinclair reduced local politics coverage and increased national politics coverage in its acquired stations. Additionally, Sinclair appears to be giving the same – or strikingly similar – scripts to local news anchors, which means the “local” news in many of these regions are actually dictated by one large nationwide media corporation with minimal to no actual presence in the communities it provides news for.
To temper the influence of national broadcasting groups taking over local markets, we must support truly local news organizations that have more of a vested interest in the community simply because they are part of that community. After all, research has shown that Americans typically trust local news organizations more than national news groups. There are also many benefits to consuming local news, including region-specific reporting, supporting journalists in your community, and developing your awareness of local issues that may impact you more directly than national issues.
Add Clearer Disclaimers to News Reporting
Have you ever seen the phrase “sponsored content” in a news article before? This is related to native advertising or “advertorial” content, which refers to advertising within what typically looks like an otherwise normal news story. As newspapers and news networks have continued to lose a significant amount of subscriber dollars in recent years, many have turned to native advertising as a means for bolstering their financial viability with minimally intrusive ads for readers and viewers. The problem here is that many people can’t tell the difference between advertorials and genuine news stories.
By increasing the visibility of “sponsored content” disclaimers and directly explaining to consumers what sponsored content means, news organizations can help the public better-understand the purpose of the information they’re consuming (advertising a product/service or reporting a news event?). Companies can also go a step further with other disclaimers, like how Twitter flags potentially misleading tweets with the disclaimer, “Get more information on [public issue like Covid-19 or mail-in ballots]” and how The Washington Post flags some articles as “more than X year(s) old.”
Learn More About ‘Depolarizing’ Media
For more information on the role media organizations play in the polarization of the American public – and what they could do to depolarize discourses and heal divides – be sure to sign up for what’s guaranteed to be a thought-provoking media panel at our upcoming National Symposium on Thursday, September 23rd (4:30pm EST). We will release more information on our exciting roster of panelists in the coming weeks – stay tuned!
Thanksgiving conjures feelings of gratitude. We celebrate this time of year thinking of all we are thankful for, even during hard times like the current health crisis and other challenges. Personally, I have been grateful for the lack of travel during the last eight months. It has offered the opportunity to learn more about my new home town, including co-sponsoring two special Candidate Forums to help voters be more informed at the polls. Over 800 people had a chance to participate live or watch the videos prior to casting their ballots, allowing FAV to live out our tagline that “citizenship is not a spectator sport.” I am grateful to the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce for inviting us to be a co-sponsor.
As an organization, FAV is grateful for our members who invest in our programming to help reach a broader audience. We offered a free Difficult Conversations workshop to members last month. Based on a special request from University of San Diego, we programmed another workshop in December during the student recess. Basic members and above are welcome even if you have participated in Kern’s amazing workshop before. I’ve done it five times, and I’ve learned something every time! Kern leads us on a journey of self-discovery in our relationships and ourselves. Send an email to [email protected] to inquire about registration. We’ll let you know if we have a slot or put you on our waiting list.
“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.”