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McCain Institute launches ‘We Hold These Truths’ campaign

New initiative designed to engage the public on human rights and to teach liberties

Man in tie and suit smiling
August 29, 2019

Serving abroad for the Peace Corps. Pledging money to sponsor clean drinking water in developing countries. Working an election booth to ensure fairness.

All of these are prime examples of showing humanity. Unfortunately, there is no shared language to define human rights.

A new civic engagement awareness campaign launched by the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Washington, D.C., hopes to reintroduce the concept of human rights to younger generations and motivate them to advocate at home and abroad. 

“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 McCain Institute. “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. ‘We Hold These Truths’ honors the legacy of Sen. John McCain by challenging us to take responsibility for our rights and for the rights of others.”

We Hold These Truths” is a nonpartisan interactive campaign timed to the first anniversary of McCain’s death on Aug. 25, 2018. The campaign specifically targets young Americans who are interested in progress, safety and freedom. The institute hopes to educate and galvanize the public to explore and engage — through the lens of the First Amendment — in human rights in a meaningful way that’s relevant and resonant to their own experiences, and then act to protect and preserve rights for others across the country and globe.

From sharing digital content or writing a letter to creating a video or co-hosting civic discussions, the McCain Institute says there are many ways to be of greater service in defending human rights around the world.

Putting its money where its mouth is, the McCain Institute is planning on launching university ambassador groups, mentoring groups, civic dialogues at town halls and other liberty-centric events. They have also created a citizen engagement platform and Facebook page for the new initiative.

“The institute, partner organizations and supportive individuals working together to secure the understanding and practice of human rights the country and world sorely needs, it doesn’t get more McCain-like or noble than that,” said Ambassador Kurt Volker, executive director of the McCain Institute.

The campaign honors and builds on McCain’s legacy, who dedicated his life to bringing ideas of dignity and civility into the everyday lives of American people. He believed in the United States’ role as a fighter and champion of liberty, and that the country is safer and more prosperous when freedom is afforded to all.

Research shows many Americans want to engage in human rights but don’t know where to begin, or what human rights really are. The McCain Institute’s research illuminated that there is no shared language to define the issue, and people from all political backgrounds are exhausted by divisiveness. The public wants to know its rights and how to care for them.

This is where the initiative believes it can help.

“We Hold These Truths” seeks to raise the profile of human rights to be a central issue across parties in the 2020 elections.

Arizona State University has historically demonstrated humanity, civility and kindness through its programming, outreach and various initiatives, including the Immigration Clinic housed in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law since 2006.

The clinic seeks to address the current vacuum of immigration services in Arizona. It does so by collaborating with nonprofits, government agencies, other ASU departments, community advocates and funders to identify and develop projects that address Arizona’s immigration challenges, including supplying legal help for immigrant families.

“Arizona residents need lawyers that understand immigration law because immigration does not just impact immigration cases, it impacts family, criminal, labor, trade, estate planning and many other fields of the law,” said Evelyn Cruz, founder and director of the clinic. “Besides, access to justice, a critical human right, necessitates access to lawyers that are prepared to help all segments of society.”

ASU’s Project Humanities, a multiple award-winning initiative, is continually finding ways to bring people together by talking, listening and connecting at community events, workshops and lectures.

“Civility and human rights are fundamental to one's own or to another's humanity,” said Neal A. Lester, professor of English and director of Project Humanities. “Our Humanity 101 commitment to promoting kindness, respect, compassion, forgiveness, empathy, integrity and self-reflection certainly aligns with this new initiative. Together, our individual and collective efforts toward a greater social good have to challenge us all to do better and to be better.”

In 2018, ASU’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership launched “Polarization and Civil Disagreement: Confronting America’s Civic Crisis,” a lecture series that encourages civility and “civic friendship” through dialogue and differing opinions — a calling card of John McCain’s life and work.

“Hearty thanks to the McCain Institute for calling Americans to understand and live up to our highest ideals, because restoring an ethic of civil disagreement among free people has to begin with basic civic education,” said Paul Carrese, director of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. “Reminding us of the Declaration of Independence and its truths about equal natural rights for all — the distinctive ideal that America has strived to fully realize, admittedly imperfectly, for nearly 250 years — is a perfect way to get to work, not least because the declaration itself arose from vigorous disagreement and debate.” 

Carrese also noted that John McCain certainly lived out the final commitment of the signers, in the declaration’s closing words, to back up “these truths” by pledging “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

Top photo: Sen. John McCain watches a video history of himself as part of his Iconic Voices series at the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Feb. 19, 2016. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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