Jamison is a retired attorney and freelance writer in Fresno, Calif.
Are we not still the nation of Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Douglass, Lincoln, Tubman, King and so many others who founded, preserved and enriched the United States? One wonders, when we see today:
- Too many people who holler, "This is a free country," without understanding that with freedom comes responsibility.
- Rampant pig-headedness, incivility and unwillingness to compromise.
- Large numbers who fall for baseless conspiracy theories.
- People who exalt their separate cultures and races over a common national culture.
The better question is: How can we still be that nation? Education is the key. Instead of trying to implement fuzzy terminology like "critical race theory" in education, age-suited, frank lessons on significant Americans can teach our history, good and bad. With portraits and visual aids, students can be asked to imagine they are the person they are studying or are present observing the person at a pivotal event.
There are many possible significant Americans. Picture, if you will: It is November 1776. Gen. George Washington is retreating from New York to New Jersey after losing the battles of Long Island and White Plains, but on Manhattan Island, Fort Washington and some 3,000 Americans hold out. The British attack. You are Margaret Corbin, helping your husband fire a cannon on the British. Your husband is killed. You take his place sponging and loading the cannon and are severely wounded. The fort is lost but you are the first woman to receive a disabled veteran's pension.
It's now December 1776, you are a free black in the Continental Army crossing the Delaware with Washington. A famous painting will later immortalize you as you sit in front of a standing Washington. On the other side, you march to Trenton for four hours in a freezing rain, shoeless like others in this ragtag army of farmers and shopkeepers, where you help achieve a great victory.
In 1796, you read this warning in President Washington's farewell address: "the alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself frightful despotism. ... The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction ... turns this disposition ... to his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty."
In 1801, you are listening to Jefferson give his first inaugural address. Jefferson calms the factions of which Washington warned, saying ,"We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists."
It's now 1852, Henry Clay's Compromise of 1850 is holding the country together. You are at an anti-slavery convention, where the brilliant Frederick Douglass is speaking and says, "Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. ... The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me…This fourth of July is yours, not mine. ... You may rejoice, I must mourn."
In November 1863 you are a soldier in the Union Army attending the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg. You hear the high-pitched voice of President Lincoln say, "It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advance ... that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
It's now 1896, and as Homer Plessy you hope to salvage the magnificent civil rights laws and constitutional amendments passed between 1865 and 1875. You are asking the Supreme Court to overturn a Louisiana law that requires blacks to ride in separate rail cars from whites. You lose. You hear as the decision is read aloud: "The argument assumes that social prejudices can be overcome by legislation and that equal rights cannot be secured except by an enforced commingling of the races. We cannot accept this proposition. If the two races are to meet upon terms of social equality it must be the result of ... voluntary consent of individuals."
But then you hear Justice John Marshall Harlan's dissent: "The destinies of the two races, in this country, are indissolubly linked together. State enactments ... cunningly devised to defeat the legitimate results of the war ... can have no other result than ... to keep alive a conflict of the races. The thin disguise of 'equal' accommodations ... will not ... atone for the wrong this day done."
It's now 1939. You are a high school classmate of Yogi Berra, who later becomes a famous baseball player equally well-known for his dog-eared quips. The teacher asks Berra a simple question, like, "What is the capital of the state? He says, "I don't know." Frustrated, the teacher says, "Yogi, don't you know anything?" He replies, "Ma'am, I don't even suspect anything!" An unsuspecting nation is soon at war with Time magazine's 1938 Man of the Year, Adolf Hitler, and Berra provides covering fire for the beaches on D-Day.
It's 1944, you are a Hispanic soldier on the Queen Mary, now a tourist attraction in Long Beach but then painted grey to avoid U-boats as it ferried troops from America to Europe. On the "Grey Ghost" the military distributes Superman comic books to buck up the soldiers. Discrimination renders "Truth, Justice and the American Way" unfulfilled for you, but you know you must fight for America's ideals against the far worse evil of the Nazis.
In November 1944 you are Staff Sgt. Macario Garcia. Severely wounded and refusing to be evacuated, you single-handedly assault and destroy two enemy machine gun emplacements, freeing your unit to move forward. You receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for conspicuous heroism and inspiring courageous conduct.
It's 1954. You are in the chamber when the Supreme Court reads the decision in Brown v. Board of Education that "separate but equal" in education is inherently unequal.
It's 1960. Casey Stengel has managed the New York Yankees to seven world titles since 1949, but is canned because he turned 70. He wryly comments, "I won't make that mistake again."
In 1963 you are on the National Mall and hear a Martin Luther King say, "I have a dream."
You are now an 11-year-old Hmong child in the jungles of Laos. Your gun is taller than you are. You have been drafted to fight the Laotian and North Vietnamese Communists under General Vang Pao in support of America and democracy in Laos. Your people revere American ideals, rescue American flyers, and disrupt the Ho Chi Minh trail. You fight at night and play with some toys in your pocket during the day. The war is lost. You escape to America. Where you once had to learn how to use a hoe, now you must learn to read and write. Your children excel.
It's 2017. You are listening to President Obama's farewell speech in Chicago. You hear him say, "The work of democracy has always been hard ... always contentious. Sometimes ... bloody. ... But the long sweep of America has been defined by a ... constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all and not just some."
To understand America, then, with its great promise and its great faults, our children, in elementary school and again in secondary school, must study the mosaic of the remarkable people of America, their times, character and challenges. Our children should be able to identify with individuals of their own sex, color or culture and with the stake that they had in America's experiment.
Elementary school teachers should also set aside time to read for the class and parents universally acceptable books on good character. Examples include Thornton Burgess' stories of the adventures of woodland creatures like "Bowser the Hound." Bowser was a not-so-bright dog who found himself lost. Bowser eventually overcomes his own foolishness and hardship to find his way back home. Along the way each chapter begins with quotes like, "The harder it is to follow the trail, the greater the reason you should not fail," and "Who when surprised keeps calm and cool is one most difficult to fool."
At the end of the eight-year Revolutionary War, as he fumbled for his spectacles, a now grey-haired George Washington calmed officers of the Continental Army considering rebellion over lack of pay, stating: "I have grown old in the service of my country." Were he to issue a tweet today, it might be: "Grow old in the service of your country!"
Devotion to America's ideals is the goal.
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Latino voters in Texas have the numbers to shift the political paradigm in their state. However, the turnout rate among Latinos continues to lag behind other groups. This discrepancy is caused by systemic issues and a history of disempowerment that has left many feeling voiceless and unrepresented, according to a recent study.
The authors of "Real Talk: Understanding Texas Latino Voters Through Meaningful Conversation" spent hundreds of hours talking and listening to Latino voters to get a nuanced understanding of how they felt about the political process. And what they found is a serious disconnect between the political parties and Latino communities.
"We spoke to 104 Latino voters and nonvoters in five different regions of Texas," author Cecilia Ballí said during a recent virtual discussion hosted by Open Primaries. "We were trying to see how they make sense of their place in the political system and the political world in this country."
Ballí, Michael Powell and Betsabeth Monica Lugo focused on in-depth discussion rather than surface-level surveys. "We weren't polling them. We were getting to know them intimately," Ballí said.
What the researchers found was a community filled with people both parties have failed to understand and have shown an unwillingness to understand. While a common myth claims the Latino community is largely apathetic — a charge often levied on groups who historically don't vote in high numbers — the truth is many Latinos don't feel their vote matters or that anyone cares about their interests.
Feeling forgotten and unheard
Asked why campaigns often don't do more outreach than simply releasing Spanish-language ads, Ballí remarked that the problem is the system, and its players, give up on voters who are less likely to participate in elections. Campaigns do not devote time, money and resources to win over people have already decided not to vote.
"They way campaigns work is they purchase data on who has voted in the past and those are the people they do outreach to," she explained. "They reason it is safest to just do outreach on a limited budget and time to people who have voted in the past to try to get them on your side."
This, as Ballí notes, has resulted in a self-perpetuating cycle. And, on a related note, she believes "Americans don't know what to do with" Latinos.
"We saw this for instance [in 2020]," she elaborated. "In the Democratic Party, we had a Latino candidate who ran for president, Julián Castro, and regardless of what you think of his quality as a candidate, his strengths and weaknesses, you could tell from the media narratives and the debates that no one really knew what to make of him and where to put him."
Discussing the typecasting and social stigmas felt among communities of color,, Open Primaries President John Opdyke discussed the idea that "demographics are destiny."
There is a common assumption in the national political narrative that the growth of communities of color will automatically translate to more gains for the Democratic Party. As a result, the Democrats assumes their support, while the Republican Party generally spends little effort trying to attract such voters.
The consequence is a further detachment from these communities, because when support (or lack thereof) is assumed, just like the likelihood of a person to vote is assumed, campaigns feel less incentive to reach out and connect on a personal level and understand the struggles and experiences of individuals within a community, particularly the Latino community.
Ballí said generalizations and assumptions cannot and should not be applied to Latinos, who do not fit neatly within the social and political boxes that are often assigned to them. The political views among Latinos are broad and do not always fall along strict partisan or ideological lines.
"I think we're just beginning to understand — not even to understand, but just witness the great variety of — political views among Latinos," she said.
'Partisanship is low or weak among Latinos'
Because the U.S. political system is dominated by two political parties, the electorate generally has to pick a side to have a voice, but that lock-step system does not fit Latino communities, according to the authors.
They found that a majority of the people they talked to did not adhere to the single-track political mindset that may be assumed by those who control the political narrative.
"There are so many theories out there about partisanship, how it works, where it's coming from," said Powell. "None of them after we talked to a 100 people seemed satisfactory."
He added: "People were not fitting neatly into any of the theories or any of the polling, and as we were studying the popular narratives, the public narratives in journalism and in the media, things didn't really add up."
Ballí added that in the first 20 interviews they had with people, the researchers had no idea what they could say to broadly sum up the Latino vote.
This is not to say that Latinos don't affiliate with political parties. The researchers interviewed people who identified as Democrats, Republicans and independents. However, Ballí explained that there is a great deal of fluidity in how Latinos define their political values that adds complexity to their political identities.
"We didn't hear people speaking very strongly about party platforms," she said. "They were making sense of issues in a very complex way where on some issues they would express ideas that sounded more like Democrats. On other issues, you could classify them as Republican."
She added that there were many people they talked to who said they vote for the candidate, not the party. Or, they would say they did not want to be too extreme or closed off to other ideas or policy positions.
Of course, such ideas may not belong solely to the Latino community.
"It is possible all Americans see issues this way," Ballí said. "We just haven't done these types of conversations and studies with them."
Increasing Latino involvement
Balli mentioned on more than one occasion that there is a common misconception that Latinos do not care about politics. Yet, the research found that Latinos follow political news..
"The vast majority of them could speak to some degree on what was going on, especially in national politics," she said.
What they found was not apathy, but a community full of individuals who are following politics from the sidelines, Ballí explained. And many of them remain on the sidelines because they lack confidence in their vote and the process and the resulting government actions.
"They haven't been able to tie specific leadership among candidates and elected officials to some improvement in their life," she said.
But, Ballí also said there is the reality that voting is a social habit. Like any other social behavior, people learn to vote by seeing other people doing it. And the more an individual votes, the more natural it becomes and a recurring habit is formed.
The issue in many Latino communities, particularly in low-income areas, is that many people didn't grow up watching their parents vote. Ballí noted that not a single nonvoter they interviewed said they saw a parent vote from a young age.
"The strongest predictor of whether or not you vote is if you grew up watching your parents vote," she remarked.
In the study, Ballí and the other co-authors stress the importance of building communities of voting. To boost voter turnout among Latinos, it will quite literally take a village.
However, she also recognizes the layers to this discussion, because at the end of the day, we have a system in which politicians care more about winning elections than encouraging the most participation possible.
Ballí expressed cynicism that the people currently in power will ever try to correct the systemic problems that have fostered a political environment where historically marginalized communities, like the Latino community, never feel like they are being heard or represented.
She does, however, believe that pro-voter and civic engagement groups can make a difference.
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Voter turnout was up across the board last year, despite the pandemic's impact on the election, and Asian Americans played a key role in bolstering civic engagement.
An analysis, released last week by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, found that young Asian Americans had one of the largest increases in voter participation last year of any racial or ethnic group.
Despite a lack of outreach from political campaigns, young Asian American voters were still highly motivated to turn out at the polls by concerns about the coronavirus and racial injustice, the research found.
Roughly 47 percent of Asian American voters under 30 cast a ballot in last year's election, according to CIRCLE's analysis. This turnout was higher than young Black voters (43 percent), but slightly lower than Latino youth (48 percent). White voters had the highest youth turnout at 61 percent.
When choosing how to vote last year, most Asian youth opted to mail their ballot (46 percent) or return it via drop box (21 percent). The remaining third chose to vote in person either early or on Election Day. Their preference for voting by mail may be tied to population centers: Nearly one-half of all Asian Americans live in the western U.S., where more states proactively mailed voters absentee ballots.
Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. Over the last two decades, the country's Asian population has nearly doubled to more than 23 million, accounting for 7 percent of the overall population.
As a result, voting rights advocates see Asian Americans as an increasingly crucial voting bloc. Last year, Asian voters of all ages reached a record high turnout of 60 percent.
However, political campaigns for both major parties have continued to miss opportunities to connect with these voters. According to CIRCLE's research, young Asian Americans reported lower levels of contact by political campaigns than any other young people of color.
Just 43 percent of Asian youth reported that they were contacted by Joe Biden's campaign or the Democratic Party ahead of the 2020 election, compared to 61 percent of Black youth, 55 percent of Latino youth and 46 percent of white youth.
Outreach from Donald Trump's campaign or the Republican Party was even more sparse, with just 25 percent of Asian youth reporting contact. In comparison, the GOP reached out to one-third of white, Black and Latino youth voters.
Instead, Asian youth reported higher levels of informal civic engagement among their friends and family members. Despite the diversity of languages spoken by Asian Americans, fewer than 50 counties in the U.S. are required under the Voting Rights Act to provide bilingual voting assistance. So this peer-to-peer outreach "provides an opportunity for young Asian Americans to make a difference in their communities," CIRCLE's report found.
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