U.S. Chamber foundation seeks business support for civic ed
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has a message for corporations: The country is in trouble, so get off your butt.
The foundation made its pitch to the business community in a newly published white paper chronicling the sorry state of civics education, the role that corporations can play in healing a divided country and why it should all matter to businesses.
The health of civics education is "quite bleak," foundation President Carolyn Cawley said in an introduction to the paper, which she called "the first step in our efforts to make the business case for civics."
With the support and buy-in of the private sector, the foundation believes, the country stands a better chance at improving civic education and engagement, which in turn could heal the in-fighting, distrust and misinformation undermining the health of the country and well-being of corporate America.
The report includes comments from presidents and CEOs of Allstate, United Airlines, BET, and Blue Cross and BlueShield of Minnesota, as well as academics and public policy experts, on the decline in civics education and its impact on polarization, community engagement and even basic knowledge of the U.S. political system.
"Many people do not know how our government works, which leads to confusion on political outcomes and, ultimately, distrust in the system," Allstate CEO Tom Wilson said in the report.
The foundation, which is affiliated with but independent of the politically active U.S. Chamber of Commerce, last year began investigating corporate involvement in civics education programs, said Mike Carney, vice president of the organization.
The biggest takeaway: "The business community was largely absent from any of these programs when it comes to providing financial support or rhetorical support," Carney said.
The findings led the foundation to launch a public relations campaign aimed at convincing corporations that supporting civics education was not only their civic responsibility but in their own best interest.
"Companies — whether they're small, mid-sized or large — have all benefited from our political and our economic system," Carney said. "So, on some level, it's a patriotic obligation to help. And I know that might sound naive, but that is a big selling point for this."
Civic educational programs that reduce polarization, increase tolerance of diverging viewpoints and promote community volunteerism is good not only for the country but also for a sustainable economy, he said.
"We see this as an opportunity to help businesses do good in society, but if you're a business owner, this is not just limited to altruism — although that's an important part," he said. "If you're thinking about the long-term sustainability of your enterprise, you want people to respect the rule of law, you want people to be able to come to work and disagree without being disagreeable, and you want people to come with the emotional intelligence that these 21st century jobs require."
The foundation's interest in building corporate support for repairing a broken democracy comes at a critical time for its cousin — capitalism.
A Gallup survey last year found that fewer than half of young Americans had a positive view of capitalism, down from 68 percent in 2010 to 45 percent in 2018 among those aged 18 to 29.
Another Gallup survey in April found that nearly 60 percent of Americans aged 18-34 believed some form of socialism would be "a good thing for the country."
And 70 percent of millennials (ages 23-38) said they were somewhat or extremely likely to vote for a socialist candidate for president, according to a YouGov survey last month.
The white paper notes a correlation in civics education and waning support for both democracy and capitalism.
"Trust in major social institutions — as personified by the decline in the public's trust in government and other large organizations, including companies — has also suffered from a lack of civics knowledge and civility," according to the report, which attributes the comments to United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz.
Wilson, Allstate's CEO, said simply, "Capitalism is under attack," and attributes the loss of well-paying jobs as a contributing factor.
Working collaboratively with governments to create more high-paying jobs "will protect business's license to operate, create more economic prosperity, and increase support for democracy and capitalism," he said.
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In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.
The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.
With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.
This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.
Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
Testifying at the North Carolina General Assembly against cuts to funding for vocational education. The woodworking classes I took throughout high school were among the most formative of my public school education, so as a high school senior I advocated for their continued funding to lawmakers in Raleigh.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
It's actually a triumph-in-progress. At Demos, we are privileged to work with powerful grassroots leaders redefining democracy and pushing the reform conversation across the country. Alongside these Inclusive Democracy Project leaders we are dreaming and scheming about what it would take to build a truly inclusive democracy — without limiting ourselves by what's perceived as politically feasible or reasonable — and to chart a radical reform agenda that meets the challenge. Our agenda is in progress and, like all real victories, is benefitting from the efforts of many smart and talented people. Stay tuned, it'll be ready for public consumption soon!
And your most disappointing setback?
They have always come after I've not listened well enough, have brought too much ego and taken things too personally, or not followed my gut about when a process or decision felt off.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
I'm from North Carolina, where we pioneered multiracial, pro-justice fusion politics during Reconstruction, civil disobedience during the civil rights movement and franchise-expanding voting reforms since the 1990s. More recently, we have also been home to the vanguard of voter suppression and other democracy stifling tactics since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. I stand on the shoulders of giants and against the abdication of our identity as democracy leaders. I also do this work because, as a white woman, I know the exclusion of entire communities from our democracy was — and is still — led by my people and, often, in my name. I work every day to undo that legacy and ongoing reality.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Learn to simultaneously practice patience and show up with urgency in all the work I do.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
Impeaches and Cream
West Wing or Veep?
West Wing — for the sometimes-too-earnest belief that government can be a force for good, not the centrist politics!
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Turn on do not disturb.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I'm deeply terrified by karaoke.
Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.
With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.
Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.
Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.
I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.
Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.