Putting civility back into civil discourse

Our shared values define us more than our differences and acknowledging those shared values can see us through our challenges today if we have the wisdom to trust them again — Senator John McCain

A campaign to “reintroduce” civility in civic discourse in America was launched by the McCain Institute of International Leadership in Washington, D.C. to honor Arizona’s Senator on the first anniversary of his death Aug. 25, 2018.

Called “We Hold These Truths,” the nonpartisan campaign is intent on bringing the concept of human rights and an understanding of the First Amendment to younger generations to motivate them to act.

“Our democracy was founded on the belief that each individual has rights, and with those rights come responsibilities,” said Paul E. Fagan, director of Human Rights and Democracy Programs for the institute that is part of Arizona State University in Washington D.C. “Today, it can seem easier to disengage and to be divided by our differences than to get in the arena and stand up for our shared humanity and to serve causes greater than self. 

McCain stood for civil acts 

Mccain, who was tortured for almost six years as a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War, dedicated his adult life to Arizona and the defense of liberty and freedom. Last year, the longtime maverick senator lost his life to glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer.

The awareness campaign honors and builds on McCain’s legacy, to secure the understanding and practice of human rights that is sorely needed right now, said Luke Knittig, senior director of communications for the institute. 

Engage young generations 

Research by the institute shows many Americans want to engage in human rights but don’t know where to begin, or what human rights really are, Knittig said. 

The findings also revealed that there is no current shared “language” to define human rights and that people from all political backgrounds are exhausted by social divisiveness.

“There isn’t a common lexicon about human rights or even what our basic rights mean or what civic engagement is,” Knittig said.

The institute hopes to educate and galvanize the public to explore and engage – through the lens of the First Amendment – in human rights to encourage citizens to act to protect and preserve rights for others across the country and globe.

The campaign specifically targets young Americans who are interested in progress, safety and freedom.

Cindy McCain, who spoke about the campaign on national television on the anniversary of her husband’s death, encouraged Americans to go out of their comfort zone to reach out to others.

“Go speak with someone perhaps that you disagree with vehemently, or maybe someone you’ve never really liked, but go talk to them. Maybe agree to disagree but do it in a civil fashion and post it on social media with #ActsofCivility,” she said. 

A close look at the First Amendment 

One of the campaign’s first events is a debate on free speech September 17 at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The institute also plans to launch university ambassador groups, mentoring groups, civic dialogues at town halls, and other “liberty-centric” events. 

“Ultimately we want folks to be involved in causes that are larger than themselves,” Knittig said. “We want folks to engage and stand up for those rights and recognize that when those rights are better repsrented by our leadership, we’re better as a country.”

Victoria Harker

1 comment

  • The erosion of our 1st. amendment is a very scary thing. It’s shocking to see younger generations thinking it’s ok to limit what people say, simply because it doesn’t agree with their way of thinking. In the past we were taught to let others say what they wanted, even if we detested whaat they said because we may say things that were detested by others as well. We are seeing extreme censorship on social media and elsewhere. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on because tomorrow it may be your side that is being censored.

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