The First Amendment and fake news

The First Amendment and fake news

46523940_sWorried about ‘fake news’? You should be. Several new studies, including one by the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin, show that for the average person, it’s extremely difficult to recognize incorrect, misleading and outright false stories on the Internet. Even more troubling, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that stories found to be false by six major fact-checking services often spread 10 times faster online than legitimate news stories.

Studies also show that fake news stories with clickbait headlines in many cases are getting more engagement and shares on social media than legitimate news stories. This poses a serious threat to the freedom of the press clause in the First Amendment. That’s because fake news stories are designed to distort public perceptions about real-life events, which has led to problematic consequences such as increased public distrust of media organizations, lower subscription rates for credible news outlets, higher rates of censorship, harassment and even violence against journalists and alarming incidents of people acting upon fake news stories. Remember the “Pizzagate” scandal? In 2016, Russian operatives, Twitter bots and others manufactured the ‘news’ that Hillary Clinton ran a pizza-restaurant child-sex ring. The falsehood went viral, shaping public perception of Clinton. A North Carolina man, acting on the baseless report, went on to fire an AR-15 rifle inside the pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. that was mentioned in the baseless article.

While misleading and false news continues to appear on the Internet, news by legitimate sources continues to be attacked as ‘fake’ news. By dismissing unfavorable news stories as “fake,” individuals, many of whom have large followings on social media and in real life, are contributing to shape negative public sentiment towards journalists and media organizations.

Discrediting legitimate news stories and/or organizations by labeling them as “fake”, combined with the proliferation and increased sophistication of truly ‘fake’ news is making it increasingly difficult for members of society to discern between fact, “alternative facts,” and fiction. This only furthers public mistrust in otherwise highly credible news outlets and allows an individual’s persuasiveness to outweigh factual reporting published by diligent journalists.

To help combat the growing issue of fake news in our society, be sure to read through FactCheck.org’s guidelines for detecting fake news stories before sharing a questionable news story on social media or dismissing something you disagree with as “fake news.”

Consumer activism and the First Amendment

Consumer activism and the First Amendment

42290378 - young couple shopping in a supermarketConsumer activism, which refers to citizens influencing how goods and services are produced, marketed and delivered to consumers, has been around for years. However, the instantaneous nature of digital communications has expedited the ability for consumers to rally support for their causes and persuade companies to change how they do business.

In other words, consumer activism seeks to change how a good or service is created (especially in regards to ethical and environmental issues) through various means of protest, such as boycotting certain businesses/industries, urging others to stop using a product or service, and spending more money on products/services that are sustainably produced in terms of non-wasteful materials and ethical labor standards.

Just as Citizens United v. FEC found that corporations can assert rights to freedom of speech through monetary means, citizens can also “speak” with their consumption habits and preferences. It’s a fascinating phenomenon that many of us have witnessed yet few have consciously thought about when it comes to its effectiveness and consequences for brands and consumers alike.

To uncover the First Amendment underpinnings involved in consumer activism, let’s explore some present-day examples of it in action:

Modern Examples of Consumer Activism

There are countless examples of consumer activism in the U.S. and abroad, including some of these recent events:

  • #DeleteUber (encouraged consumers to delete the ride-sharing app after numerous scandals, such as user data mismanagement and alleged profits from the Trump Administration’s travel ban)
  • #DeleteFacebook (encouraging consumers to get rid of their Facebook profiles in wake of controversies like Cambridge Analytica and countless data breaches)
  • Blizzard Boycott (gamers fleeing the popular video game company after it censored pro-Hong Kong gamers on its live streams and in its competitions)
  • Zara fur ban (the company eliminated all animal fur products from its stores in wake of pro-animal activists’ complaints)

Is Consumer Activism Effective?

Just as early American colonists effectively initiated a revolution with the Boston Tea Party (which involved a boycott of British tea after the government monopolized the tea industry in the thirteen colonies through lowered taxes on British East India Company goods), consumer boycotts are often effective nowadays as well.

As consumers express their demands through their purchasing decisions, companies are forced to adapt to changing preferences in the market. Activists have successfully persuaded numerous companies to adopt more environmentally sustainable manufacturing practices (using more eco-friendly, recyclable materials) and advocated for fairer labor practices and higher wages for workers both in the U.S. and abroad.

Consumer activism isn’t always successful, but it’s nevertheless an important trend that aligns closely with the freedoms of speech and petition outlined in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Spotting fake news: A simple guide

Spotting fake news: A simple guide

98035653_MFake news has been around for some time, but it’s been brought to light recently in the context of the 2016 presidential election. But the reality is that — to some extent — misinformation has been around since the beginning.

Social media is perhaps the most egregious venue today, since it has the ability to transmit and amplify information quicker than when we could share information only person to person. This makes it even more important to be vigilant when consuming information online so we can avoid falling prey to false or misleading information and perpetuating it.

Here’s how to do you due diligence:

Check the source.
What is the URL? Some fake news sites will try to spoof credible ones, using a similar URL and logo. For example, ABC News could appears as abc-news.com with a similar logo, to trick people into engaging. Also, look at the website’s “Contact” and “About Us” pages. If there’s no editorial contact or the description of their purpose and mission is vague or missing altogether, that could be a sign that the site lacks legitimacy.

When in doubt, do a quick Google search of the website. Is there a history of bad press about the source? Some sites have been outed as venues for foreign governments to intervene in our elections.

Dive deeper.
Sometimes bad actors will use outrageous headlines to grab attention and drive traffic.. Before sharing any piece of content, read the piece in its entirety. Does the article have a byline? If so, does the author have a track record of content? Did the writer interview reputable sources and include direct quotes and links to supporting information? Is the writing clean or is it chock full of errors? All of this matters, because legitimate journalists conduct themselves in a legitimate manner, while trolls aren’t concerned with following journalistic standards and practices.

Look at the big picture.
If you’re on the fence about the credibility of a source, do some research. Are other outlets reporting on the same matter? Do you see recurring themes as far as the facts being reported? People or organizations with malicious intentions will create their own narrative and it’s usually not supported by other accounts.

In short, the Era of Fake News requires critical thinking. Everyone could stand to be more cautious about their approach to media consumption. How do you ensure you’re not engaging in fake news? Share your tips on our Facebook Page.

Back to school: A primer on First Amendment rights in the classroom

Back to school: A primer on First Amendment rights in the classroom

38312007 - cute pupils running down the hall at the elementary schoolThe First Amendment applies to many areas of civilian life, including our educational systems. For example, the courts have recognized that students are guaranteed rights prescribed by the First Amendment.

However, it wasn’t always this way. As our country evolved so did its laws. When adopted in 1791, the First Amendment applied only to Congress and the federal government. So when the public school system was formalized in the 19th century, students could not make First Amendment claims.

This censorship lasted into the 20th century. In fact, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that school officials could take punitive action against two students who had an unflattering poem published in the local newspaper. Why was this permitted? According to the court, “such power is essential to the preservation of order, decency, decorum, and good government in the public schools.” What followed was a dangerous precedent. For example, In 1915, the California Court of Appeals ruled that school officials could suspend a student for challenging the administration.

The 1940s brought some fresh air with the flag-salute case of West Virginia v. Barnette. It was then that the U.S. Supreme Court explicitly extended First Amendment protection to students attending public schools. The Barnette case was rooted in religious freedom. Several students who were Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to salute the flag because their faith discourages them from showing allegiance to any worldly government.

School officials chastised the students and their parents. The students then sued, claiming a violation of their First Amendment rights. This time, the court ruled in the students’ favor, holding that the free speech and free exercise of religion provisions of the First Amendment guarantee the right of students to be excused from this exercise on the account of religious beliefs.

There are more recent cases of violations of free speech in a school setting. Earlier this month, the ACLU sued the Smith County School System in Tennessee because according to the organization, “school officials regularly incorporate prayer into school events and preach to students in violation of the separation of church and state.”

Public schools should be vehicles for education, not religious indoctrination. That’s why we continue to fight for First Amendment rights in and outside the classroom. Will you join us?

November 2019 Newsletter

November 2019 Newsletter

FAV Faithful,

As we approach #GivingTuesday and the final month of 2019, I would like to remind you why it is so important we lead the charge to protect the space for civil disagreement and other first amendment freedoms. These are not esoteric ideas that the Founding Fathers developed over two hundred years ago with no contemporary relevance. Every day, we see attacks against religious freedom, freedom of the press, and free expression. I want to take a moment to highlight a current issue trending around the world that has a significant impact on the United States if we sit on the sidelines and do nothing.

Repressive regimes in other countries routinely suppress the free expression of their people. You might want to wash your hands of that problem if you believe that it is up to the people to resolve their own challenges. Many agree with that position. However, what should you do when a foreign power attempts to limit freedom of expression here in the United States? If you are like me, a passionate advocate of the principles embodied within the Constitution, then you might want to challenge foreign government interference in our democratic way of life.

You may recall the recent efforts by the Chinese government to modify the NBA’s statements about the protests in Hong Kong. This is not new for other countries to attempt to limit American free expression by employing corporate interests. In 1980 the government of Saudi Arabia attempted to prevent a British documentary, Death of a Princess, from being aired on PBS. Fortunately, most PBS stations aired the program despite Exxon’s attempts to sway their decision. Exxon had sponsored PBS’ Masterpiece Theater since 1971 and was the largest corporate sponsor at the time and would go on to be the largest corporate sponsor in the history of public television, contributing over $250 million over 32 years. Thus, you could see that the firm might be able to sway PBS’ decision on whether to air a film that could impact business interests. PBS, to their credit, aired the documentary at the time. However, if you haven’t ever seen the film, you might be surprised to find that you also missed the 25th anniversary of its showing in 2005 and can no longer watch it. It has aired twice in the U.S. and only once in Britain, where similar corporate interests attempted to prevent the showing on British television.

Saudi has not limited attempts to stifle free expression to America. They are most aggressive against Saudi citizens routinely bullying them on social media and going so far as to cut Jamal Khashoggi into little pieces in their embassy in Turkey, causing an international outcry. They have also attempted to pressure Qatar to shut down Al Jazeera, a dominant news organization in the Middle East.

Of course, these infringements on basic freedoms are not new. We see examples across the world like currently in Iraq, which is an assault on free assembly and expression. Snipers, allegedly trained by Iran, have consistently been targeting protesters who are simply calling attention to a gross lack of possibilities for jobs and basic services while government leaders enjoy the comforts of luxury all provided by oil wealth. We see less egregious cases in the United States with conservative college students feeling constrained in their ability to voice their opinions or journalists fearing for their own safety from overzealous Trump supporters. While the scale and effectiveness of the domestic attacks may seem minor to some, we cannot allow the erosion of essential freedoms, fundamental human rights, to be walked back. Only U.S. citizens can defend the freedoms. Take a stand today and help FAV advocate and educate on the issues.

With much gratitude,

Steve & the FAV Team

In the News

How 3 Teachers Took on the Civics Gap—NEA Today—this is a great story on teaching civics in the classroom and how innovative teachers can make a difference in student learning.

Thank you to special advisor, Ed Lowry, who submitted this article that describes attributes for civic engagement: Fast Times at Capitalism High — What Young People Need to Thrive – InsideSources

Studies Released: Tools to fight disinformation

From RAND—People have access to more information than ever before. But it can still be hard to distinguish accurate information from low-quality or false content. That’s why RAND created a database of tools aimed at fighting the spread of disinformation online. These include websites run by human fact-checkers, apps that use artificial intelligence to detect bots, and games that teach players how to spot disinformation. The database is part of our Countering Truth Decay initiative, which aims to restore the role of facts and analysis in American public life.Explore the database »

Giving Tuesday

We have made tremendous strides this year in creating forums to allow for civil discourse and understanding around first amendment freedoms. Help us continue to make a difference in our diverse communities across the nation.

$1,000 offers … covers two coffee talks, two VIP tickets, recognition at reception

            $500 offers … sustaining member covers the cost of one local coffee talk, free VIP ticket

            $250 offers … allows purchase of campus advocacy kit – list materials

            $100 offers … support local delegate kit – business cards, other promotional materials

            $50 offers … allows free student or veteran attendance at Symposium

            $25 offers … basic membership includes special invites & discounts at Symposium

            Can’t donate today? – sign up for our free newsletter to learn more about FAV impact

FAV is proud to announce we achieved the Bronze Seal of Transparency from Guidestar already this year. Please consider contributing to FAV as part of your end of year giving.

Upcoming Events

Coming up in DC – 5 December, Times Talks – Women of the 116th Congress

This bi-partisan discussion takes place at the Newseum. Tickets cost $25, get them HERE 

San Clemente, CA – January 15 in combination with the i5 Freedom Network. “Should Prostitution Be Legal?”

San Clemente, CA – February 29, Difficult Conversations Workshop – Save the Date

3 little-known obstacles to students’ voting rights in the U.S.

3 little-known obstacles to students’ voting rights in the U.S.

38646453_MThere is a long history of voter suppression for various groups in the United States, with the most common examples being African Americans and women. Although these groups have since obtained the right to vote through the 15th and 19th Amendments respectively, there still exist barriers to voting for other groups, such as convicted felons, mentally disabled individuals, elderly folks without the means to obtain new ID cards and/or go to the polls, and even college students.

As the Pacific Standard argued in a December 2018 article, access to voting is one of the most important issues related to freedom of speech in a democratic society, yet we rarely discuss possible strategies for removing barriers to voting access. In regards to college students specifically, what’s preventing them from voting? Let’s unpack this little-known issue further:

Lack of Poll Accessibility

As the New York Times reported in October 2019, more and more states and municipalities are imposing restrictions on college students’ access to polls. For example, the Texas Legislature recently outlawed polling locations that don’t stay open for the entirety of the early voting period (12 days), which effectively banned on-campus polls that could only operate for some of that voting period due to funding and other resource scarcity.

Other restrictions that currently hinder the accessibility to voting rights for college students include poll parking requirements (some states – like Florida – have required polling locations to have a set number of non-permit parking spaces available) and limited/no access to early voting options.

It’s incredibly important for polls to have a presence on college campuses because students with limited access to transportation are already on campus for their classes, which presents a timely opportunity to cast their vote. Although the misconception that young people don’t vote continues to persist – despite youth turnout in 2018 being the highest it’s ever been in 25 years – college students nevertheless deserve access to polls, just like any other American citizen.

Complicated Residency Issues

For out-of-state college students, residency is difficult to establish for both financial aid and voting. Some states prohibit the use of out-of-state driver’s licenses as valid forms of ID for voting, while other states forbid the use of student ID cards as valid forms of ID for voting purposes. This means that out-of-state students may be unable to vote in the place they currently live and they’re physically unable to go home and vote in their hometowns.

Valid Voter ID Requirements

Speaking of voter ID requirements, obtaining a new ID card can be a logistical and financial challenge for many college students, regardless of their state of residency. If they don’t have a valid driver’s license from the state they attend college in, they may have to fork over more money to obtain a new form of identification just to ensure access to the polls.

For some students however, this process is too inconvenient, too costly and too time-consuming, so they end up not voting at all.

In the U.S., we should not prevent citizens from voting simply because they do not have the means to get to the polls and/or the financial means to obtain a valid form of ID. The same is true for college students: if they want to cast a vote, why shouldn’t we be helping them express themselves through the most democratic form of free speech we have in this country?

October 2019 Newsletter

October 2019 Newsletter

Community Leaders,

Do you sometimes wonder if the work you’re doing is having the impact you hope for? In early September the FAV team and I wrestled with pulling together the people and details for the National Symposium in Washington, D.C. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I read a note via email from a name I didn’t recognize.

Benedict Cosgrove from New York City

Greetings from Brooklyn —

I just wanted to send a quick note, outside of the LinkedIn ecosystem, to express my admiration for what you and your colleagues are working toward with First Amendment Voice — and also to offer my thanks.

For the past few years, frustrated with what I’ve seen happening in Washington DC, I’ve contributed a number of opinion pieces to media outlets in the U.S. and abroad. Writing those pieces was certainly cathartic — but it’s also become clear that I’ve sort of been shouting in a bubble.

The emphasis on dialog and civil debate that FAV and similar orgs espouse hits home. I don’t disavow the arguments I’ve made in those op-eds — not all of them, anyway — but engaging with others, rather than voicing disgust and (yes) anger, does seem a far more rational way to go about embracing the responsibilities of citizenship.

So — thank you for the work you’re doing in this space, and for the straightforward, compelling questions you’ve posed on LinkedIn. They’ve gotten me thinking — rather than simply ranting.

And good luck with the symposium later this month.

With respect,

Ben

The audience listens during the 2019 Symposium as Steve Miska describes the impact Ben’s message had on him

Needless to say, Ben’s note lifted my morale instantly. I knew that FAV programming impacted people when they attended one of our events. What I struggled with was whether we were reaching people through other mediums like LinkedIn. Subsequently, Ben and I have spoken on the phone and intend to explore the impact of FAV messaging in the next episode of FAV’s podcast, Find Your Voice. Look for this new episode in the coming days. If you haven’t listened in before, check out some of our previous episodes here.

Are there people in your life who might benefit from the good news stories we share? Please recommend our free newsletter to friends and family. FAV is growing, but we depend on you to find the next person in need of toning down the rhetoric and seeking understanding within your community. Sign up here

With Gratitude,

Steve & the FAV Team 

Symposium photo gallery – Check out photos from our recent Symposium in Washington, D.C. Be sure not to miss next year’s event in Philadelphia. 

In the News

Civics in the Classroom: This is a story about a high school teacher going above and beyond to teach civics in the classroom based on current events. FAV encourages leaders at all levels: community, classroom, family to engage younger generations in the basics of civic education, especially as it relates to first amendment freedoms.

 Supporting Local News: One of the issues attendees at coffee talk programs hear about is the importance of local news organizations in providing transparency over local government. This Knight Foundation initiative is geared to help grow awareness about retaining and improving local news capacity.

Please plug: share our newsletter with friends and family. Encourage them to sign up! FAV wants to grow in our ability to inspire citizens.

Why should we care about American companies appeasing China?

Why should we care about American companies appeasing China?

17168253_MIn wake of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong and escalating tensions between China and other powerful countries like the United States, you might have heard about controversies involving American corporations like Blizzard Entertainment, Apple, Disney, several U.S.-based airlines and others that are giving in to censorship pressure from China.

For context, the Chinese Communist Party, which has been ruling China for 70 years now, has severe restrictions on access to information and freedom of speech for its citizens. In our increasingly globalized society, plenty of Western media, products and celebrities are surging in popularity among the Chinese. The spread of Western media — particularly films and TV shows — has been particularly concerning for the CCP, since it would like to propagate rather different values and worldly perspectives than what is expressed through Western media.

These values and perspectives include democracy, freedom of speech/assembly, and even the fundamental bodily autonomy of individuals. The United Nations is being asked to investigate Chine for allegedly being involved in the murder of ethnic minorities for the purpose of harvesting their organs for transplants.

If China is vehemently against American ideals of freedom and democracy, then why are American companies supporting China by silencing dissenters and/or taking actions aimed to appease the CCP? Let’s investigate what’s going on:

The Film and Television Industry

American companies have a relatively long history of catering to their biggest market’s preferences and demands, but appeasing China is a relatively newer phenomenon that has gained traction since the 1990s and early 2000s. This is particularly important for the film and television industry, which has faced substantial profit reductions in recent years due to Internet-enabled pirating, steep competition from video streaming platforms, and declining consumer cinema attendance rates.

To expand their market share and boost revenue, film and television companies have begun altering certain content to ensure their movies and shows will be allowed to play in mainland China. In other words, as a 2018 article in Global Media and China put it: “to improve Hollywood movies’ success in China and to secure a profitable market share of China’s box office, Hollywood studios need to have a good relationship with China.”

Censorship practices implemented to appease China include:

  • Casting a white actor to portray an Asian villain (The Mandarin) in Ironman 3
  • Casting popular Chinese actors and actresses in blockbuster films like X-Men: Days of Future Past and The Meg
  • Removing any content that could be considered pornographic, such as Rose’s nude scene in Titanic
  • Casting a white actress (Tilda Swinton) to play a traditionally Tibetan character in Doctor Strange (in addition to depicting Stephan Strange’s spiritual awakening as occurring in Nepal, instead of the original comics’ location, Tibet)

The list of movies courting Chinese viewers by including or removing certain talent, settings and storylines could go on and on — but what about other American companies beyond the film and television industry?

Recent Censorship Controversies

As China analyst Matt Schrader said in an Associated Press article published on Oct. 10, “That’s the price you pay if you want to be in the market. You have to abide by demands to censor information: anything that paints the party or its history, or its top leaders, in an unflattering light, or disagrees with their preferred portrayal of China as a country.”

This scenario has played out for numerous American companies and organizations: Apple (removing VPN apps and police map apps in places like Hong Kong), the NBA (denouncing a pro-Hong Kong tweet from the general manager of the Houston Rockets), and Blizzard Entertainment (suspending a pro Hearthstone player and withholding his prize money after making a pro-Hong Kong statement in a live broadcast).

Why Should American Citizens Care?

These are just some of the many examples of American companies defending China and/or silencing people advocating places like Hong Kong and Tibet (not to mention the hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of Uighur Muslims imprisoned in “reeducation camps” in China).

This should be tremendously alarming for anyone who cares about free speech and democracy, American or not. Is appeasing China’s Communist Party through speech suppression and all-out silencing worth the erosion of democratic ideals around the world? Of course not — which is why we must stay vigilant, continue to bravely advocate for everyone’s rights to freedom of speech and critically evaluate the companies we purchase products and services from.

Boycotting these companies — as former customers around the world have begun to — may or may not make a difference when it comes to standing up to China or caving in to their censorship demands. But it’s crucial to remain informed about what is going on beyond our borders, especially when it involves free speech issues that are subtly starting to infiltrate our lives as well.

3 productive strategies for managing political differences in social situations

3 productive strategies for managing political differences in social situations

business conflict conceptInspired by this year’s symposium’s theme — Polarization and the Public Square — as well as the fact that Thanksgiving family dinners are just around the corner, this month’s post is centered on civil dialogue. It’s about the notion of giving family members and friends a time and place to vocalize their viewpoints without silencing or suppressing your own, potentially conflicting viewpoints.

The U.S. has been struggling with political polarization since its founding in the 1700s, but the 2016 Presidential Election was arguably a turning point toward deeper political division, this time within social groups as opposed to groups of people with similar political affiliations in opposition to each other.

Previously, political polarization was largely a macro concept, occurring in wider society and in mass media. Nowadays, political polarization shows up in our social media newsfeeds, family dining rooms and workplaces. So how can you articulate your perspective without clashing with someone else who disagrees? Alternatively, how can you engage in mindful listening practices when someone is saying something you completely disagree with?

To help you navigate political polarization in intimate social settings among friends, family or coworkers, here are three productive strategies for maintaining social relationships without smothering your own political beliefs in the process:

Genuinely Listen to Them

A lot of us claim that we listen to other people; but are you genuinely listening for the sake of understanding what they’re trying to say or are you listening while primarily waiting for an opportunity to step in with your counterarguments?

People can generally sense when their audience isn’t interested in what they have to say and/or the person listening is just waiting for their chance to jump in with new refutations rather than acknowledging and engaging with what they’re actually saying. To avoid contributing to perceptions that you’re not genuinely listening to someone, set aside your arguments for a few moments and focus 100 percent on what they’re saying.

You may disagree and want to argue right off the bat, but fight the urge if you ever want to understand where they’re coming from.

Agree to Disagree

Once you’ve listened to someone’s arguments and opinions, then what? In an era of deep political polarization like the one we’re currently in, it’s unlikely that either party will have a transformative, viewpoint-changing moment in the span of a single conversation.

With this in mind, try to approach conversations with family, friends and coworkers as a learning opportunity instead of a debate. If you go into a discussion with clash and a right/wrong mentality, then it’ll be a self-fulfilling prophecy and neither side will be better off after the conversation concludes.

Instead, understand that you’ll likely end up having to “agree to disagree” and focus on the respectful exchange of information as opposed to trying to “win” arguments (which will likely create more conflict than it resolves).

Focus on Commonalities

Finally, focus on beliefs you and the other person have in common. Perhaps you have radically different beliefs about the separation between church and state, but you can still agree on middle-of-the-aisle things relating to the economy or education policy.

Rather than seeking out fights with people with whom you know you’ll clash, engage in conversations when you can highlight shared beliefs, respectfully agree to disagree when beliefs diverge, and genuinely listen to the other person instead of listening just for the sake of building new arguments.

4th Annual Symposium Held in Washington D.C.

4th Annual Symposium Held in Washington D.C.

ANNUAL FIRST AMENDMENT SYMPOSIUM ADDRESSES THE IMPACT OF POLARIZATION IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE

WASHINGTON DC—The fourth annual national symposium held by First Amendment Voice (FAV) was hosted at the National Union Building on September 21 under the theme, “Polarization and the Public Square.”

Convened around the anniversary of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day (September 17), the symposium gathered civic leaders, veterans, and students to re-affirm the importance of the First Amendment; its promises and protections for all citizens and address the impact of polarization in our public square.

Keynote speaker, Bonnie Carroll, is a retired Major of the Air Force Reserves and is the widow of an Army general who died along with seven other soldiers in a National Guard plane crash in 1992. Out of that loss, she founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, which is today the national program providing comfort and care for all who are grieving the death of a military loved one.

“I believe strongly in connection and dialogue,” said Ms. Carroll. Describing the importance of peer support and creating shared spaces to build a network to help families experiencing loss, Ms. Carroll likened the process of building bridges to connecting people across all aisles, whether political, ideological, geographical or otherwise, experiencing it herself through her work around the world, including Yemen and Ukraine. “We are here today to be in the place where talking, listening, and institutions and civil society results in problem-solving. I believe there is magic waiting for us all in the middle ground where there is room for peaceful, non-threatening exchange.”

Ms. Carroll was joined by colleagues with backgrounds in public policy, law, veteran affairs, nonprofit and peacebuilding, and more to be a part of the discussion on social divisions and the impact of polarization as it all relates to the First Amendment. Moderating a panel on “Polarization—a Survey,” Chelsea Langston Bombino from the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance introduced journalist and author Lu Hanessian to discuss trends in press freedom. She was joined by fellow panelists Dr. Lisa Schirch who covered trends in technology and Ross Irwin, a student at UC Berkley who brought a perspective on freedom of speech on campus who encouraged students and community leaders to participate in discussions that open the dialogue across political affiliation. Mr. Irwin even pointed to the responsibility of parents in educating children and themselves to distinguish bias in the media.

Referred by Ms. Hanessian as an ambiguous umbrella term, media as a whole has become a colossal source of information in which the responsibility relies on the consumer to distinguish and obtain differing perspectives. Directing attention to the instances in which the media has oftentimes—even unintentionally—taken away the humanity of opposing views, she warned, “Polarization goes hand-in-hand with dehumanization. By the time we’re polarized, we don’t much care for the other person.”

A working lunch equipped the forum’s participants with the necessary tools to engage in the public square with an interactive “Difficult Conversations” workshop by Kern Beare from Pop the Bubble and Pete Swanson, Director for the Office of Conflict Management and Prevention at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation.

The afternoon featured a special Town Hall forum that highlighted pioneers in forging civic consensus within their organizations moderated by Larry Rosenberg, a trial, appellate and Supreme Court litigator at Jones Day in Washington, D.C. Speakers included Janessa Gans-Wilder, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Euphrates Institute and Larry D. Hall, the Secretary for the North Carolina Department of Military & Veterans Affairs.

First Amendment Voice (FAV) is a non-profit, nonpartisan movement created to bring awareness, provide education and promote advocacy for citizens to exercise their First Amendment freedoms of expression, religion, press, petition, and assembly while encouraging citizens to understand, protect, and exercise those rights through ongoing programs like the annual symposium. The fourth annual FAV National Symposium was convened in partnership with Global Peace Foundation, Nation’s Mosque, Glass River Media, Veterans for American Ideals, Vale UMC, the Inman Foundation Inc, and SLC Consulting.