Due to the unprecedented nature of the 2008 election, communities of color are being actively sought after and their role and influence scrutinized by the media and political pundits. In an effort to add depth to the national conversation about the important role these communities are playing and will continue to play in ’08 and beyond, the Center for American Progress Action Fund is bringing together noted experts from the Asian American, Latino, Native American, and African American communities to discuss how these communities view this process, how they are working together to advance a common agenda, and about the role voters of color will play in November and beyond.
Politics and Religion come together today in an event at the Center for American Progress. “From the Pulpit to the Polls; The Role of Religion in Politics” will be held today a 12:30 (Eastern). I’ll be live blogging from the event –
you can follow along here.
Make sure to post questions and comments! An “instant replay” will be available after the event ends (at 2:00pm).
Featured panelists include:
E. J. Dionne, Jr, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, syndicated columnist, and author of Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith & Politics After the Religious Right
Amy Sullivan, Nation editor at Time magazine and author of The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap
Jim Wallis, President and Executive Director, Sojourners, and author of The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America
From the Peace and Security initiative:
“From Electrons to Elections” policy guide is a non-partisan resource designed to educate young voters on science, technology, and health issues and provide them with the platforms of the leading political candidates on these subjects. It engages students on the issues through interactive technologies including blogging, YouTube videos, and polls. The guide explores a wide range of issues including peace and security, energy and environment, health, and emerging technology. Click here to view the guide.
Of all the questions posed to presidential candidates, only 5% are about human rights.
That’s according to a report recently released by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. But of that 5%, Darfur was an issue that was repeatedly addressed. In fact 23% of the human rights questions posed to Democrats were about Darfur, ( only 0.7% of those posed to Republicans)
So why does Darfur get all the attention?
Because its coming from the electorate, according to Gayle Smith, co-founder of ENOUGH!. “I’ve worked in Africa for many years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Coby Rudolph, National Outreach Coordinator for the Save Darfur Coalition said they’ve approached the presidential campaign with several goals:
- Inject Darfur into the dialogue in the presidential campaign. Opportunities for this came from debate, forums and the media. For example in Iowa, Save Darfur hired a full time organizer to engage political reporters, mobilize activists to ask specific questions about Darfur, and on caucus night, people across the state of Iowa took platform planks into the caucuses to get Darfur into the party platforms.
- Influence the specific policy positions and priorities of the candidates. Save Darfur came at this with the reality that one of these people will be the next president of the United States. So they have already begun targeting the candidates on what their policies toward Darfur will be. One media example of this would be a billboard ad in the New Hampshire airport. When candidates got off their planes, they saw a billboard with a photograph of a young refugee girl. The text read, “You’re running for president. She is running for her life.” Save Darfur also took out full page ads in several newspapers (especially in Iowa and NH) with signatures of activists and those concerned about Darfur. Signatories included congressman Bruce Braley, religious leaders, and other grasstops.
- Inform voters on candidates’ positions. Save Darfur activists have tracked candidates’ statements on Darfur and posted them on their website. They also invited each candidate to post a short video with their statements on Darfur. Those who have not submitted a video have a link next to their name where site visitors can ask them for their views on Darfur.
- Mobilize local activists. The presidential campaign has proven to be a great way to engage activists and volunteers, because they can break things up into manageable goals. Rather than try to solve all the problems of Darfur, volunteers and activists can focus on tangible results, such as reaching specific candidates, influencing campaigns, getting certain questions asked in debates, etc.
- Demonstrate a constituency of conscience.
- Influence the current administration and congress. Save Darfur has not forgotten that things can be done now, before the next president is sworn in.
So how about you- what human rights issue do you care about?
Is it being addressed by the candidates?
Do you know how the candidates feel about that issue?
Have you talked about it with people you know?
In a recent report, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, found that only 5% of questions posed to presidential candidates were about human rights. A panel was put together to discuss these findings, and in this 3rd installment, I’ll share what Gayle Smith, co-founder of ENOUGH! had to say.
“It is sad, but true,” she started, “that human rights do not make good politics, certainly in a campaign environment.” But, she added this could be changed.
But before we can change anything, we have to understand why we in this situation now.
The American public has 2 impediments when it comes to human rights – 1) indifference, 2) they believe it is intractable. The good news is that people are less indifferent that they have been in the past. But the bad news is they still think these problems can’t be changed.
And you won’t find a candidate who will say, “I’m going to solve these problems.” They just can’t risk it.
A second problem is time frame. Human rights crises take a long time to resolve. When you compare that to a administration cycle (4 or 8 years) and especially in a campaign cycle, they are just not compatible. “It’s a process, and its hard to campaign around a process.”
Human rights is presented as a stand alone issue, but in reality it is part of many issues:
- the opinion of the US in the world
- intervention and the use of power
- international cooperation
- engagement with the rest of the world
The human rights advocacy community should work on integrating their messages into other issues, Smith suggested.
Cohesion (lack of)
There is no perception of an articulated constituency. And in the election debate, candidates have to balance between being strong and soft. Human rights is perceived a soft (Carter was often thought of as soft and naive). After 9/11, the pressure for the president to be tough is even higher. The candidates feel that pressure.
“Our media covers human rights in a way that injects it into the debate, but they fail to ask the really hard questions,” Smith says. “Like about the trade-offs between rights and stability.”
What can be done?
So what would it take to change things? Three things:
- A change coming from the electorate. “Darfur is as high as it is [in the report] not because of the media or the policymakers, but because Americans have kept it on the agenda.
- Soft power/smart power – “the notion that we need a set of tools and approaches in foreign policy that extend beyond the military”
- A shift in values – “From values as a matter of personal choice, to values as an expression of solidarity and citizenship.” Some of this, she pointed out, can be seen now in some religious communities.
We used to think of human rights as an issue that other countries had to deal with, but unfortunately, Ms. Smith pointed out, human rights is an issue we now face at home.
Its not likely that you would find a presidential candidate that is against human rights. So why is it that human rights issues take such a backseat in presidential campaigns?
The Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) found that so far, only 5% of questions posed to presidential candidates were about human rights issues. Earlier this week CAPAF hosted a panel discussion and released reports on its findings concerning human rights issues in the campaigns.
Mr. Haugen started off with a reality check. The typical American voter does not care deeply about these kinds of issues. “It will actually take a long time to shift the thinking of the American people who will do the voting to actually care deeply about these issues. And,” he continued, presidential campaigns are “a reflection of what Americans care about.”
But its not just about caring. Its about caring enough.
“They [human rights battles] are really very much a fight- between those who are perpetrators of these abuses and those who want them to stop. And the most fundamental thing we have to remember is that a fight always comes down to a question of who is most committed. And perpetrators of human rights abuses are extremely committed to what they are doing, and it is an utterly unfair fight if those who are trying to stop the abuses are not equally committed.”
So where does that commitment come from? Mr. Haugen says that in elections, when leaders speak about human rights, they come from one of three perspectives:
-They believe it is a compelling national interest- “this matters because it affects us”
– They believe it is a compelling national value- “this matters to us morally”
-Or, they have compelling personal visions or identities.
These could all be sources of inspiration that would cause us to be committed.
But many politicians are wary of speaking about human rights issues. Especially in an election campaign – to do so could politicize the issue, then they find themselves working against an issue simple because their opponents are working for it.
But, he says, we shouldn’t shy away from asking the candidates questions and bringing up the issues during campaigns. In fact doing so could be helpful in three possible ways:
1) First of all one could get a candidate to promise action. Haugen called this “memorialization of a commitment.” If a candidate promises something during a campaign, they will be reminded of it later in office.
2) Bringing up a human rights issue with a candidate can sometimes reveal a competitive advantage. One might expose a creative idea, or bold approach that distinguishes s/he from other candidates.
3) Conversely, one could expose a political vulnerability. By bringing up an issue and explaining to the candidate that his/her constituency is concerned about this, one can expose a vulnerability that may be significant to voters.
So for Haugen, there is a delicate, but predictable, balance between discussing human rights, and the getting the public will to do something about it.
Its not likely that you would find a presidential candidate that is against human rights, and certainly during this election year there are plenty of human rights issues to be concerned about:
- the International Criminal Court,
- …just to name a few.
And there is no shortage of opinions on what to do about all of these issues.So why is it that human rights issues take such a backseat in presidential campaigns?The Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) found that so far, only 5% of questions posed to presidential candidates were about human rights issues. Earlier this week CAPAF hosted a panel discussion and released reports on its findings concerning human rights issues in the campaigns.In the next few posts, I will present what each of the panelists had to say on the subject. Feel free to comment! It should also be noted that this was not a partisan event – its was strictly a look at how human rights issues are addressed in a presidential election. Karen De Young, associate Editor for the Washington Post was the first to speak, and she gave an overview of human rights in the context of the past in various presidencies. “There has been a long strain of exceptionalism in US reluctance to criticized when commerce or strategically important countries have been involved,” she continued. “Commercial interests have continued unabated as an influence on human rights policies, and the threat of communism has been replaced by the threat of terrorism.” “But I believe on balance, in varying degrees, for self interest and altruism, for conservative reasons and liberal ones, in fits and starts, and ups and downs, the United States for many years had a legitimate claim to being considered a positive force for human rights in the world. And it was recognized as such. Others criticized it, sometimes legitimately, sometimes not. The death penalty is something abhorred by our closest allies, our massive prison population is justifiably denounced, a favorite Soviet response to US human rights criticism was to point out the historical treatment of people of color…”The difference now, is that the United States is not only accused of failing to live up to its high ideals, cutting corners and putting strategic and commercial interests above human rights concerns; it is accused of intentionally violating many of the very specific rules of decency and law for which we have long criticized others: torture, secret detention, suspension of legal rights, disdain for international treaties and conventions.”In the current election, Ms. DeYoung says, free trade will continue to be a major discussion. She believes there are economic arguments to be made on both sides of the issue. The next president like those before, will have to find that balance – and it won’t be perfect.”Despite our belief that we have the responsibility to feed the hungry and protect the abused, we’ll never do enough to help people in places like Darfur,” she continued. “We’ll always be straddling the fence to some degree.”All of the current candidates, she points out are against torture, but none of them can agree on its definition. Everyone is against human suffering such as that in Darfur, but “history has shown many times over that when faced with the very real tensions between competing priorities in office as opposed to on the campaign, we simply don’t know what a president is going to do.””But the arguments are important and we all need to continue to press our government and our candidates to use US power and resources to express our better self as a nation.”