Three Things You Can Do to Support Our Election

The Democrats are trying to rig this election because it’s the only way they are going to win.

Donald Trump

That an American president should be allowed to speak like this — unchallenged by others in his party — creating mistrust, manufacturing conflict, challenging the basic rite of our democracy, the vote.

Electoral legitimacy is the essential linchpin of our entire political culture.

Dan Coats, former Trump director of national intelligence

In proposing that Congress create a bipartisan election commission to oversee the November 3 election, Dan Coates has equated the fragility of our political system to that of emerging democracies, societies that rely on international observers to secure the electoral process.

Consider that former president Jimmy Carter’s Carter Center “seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health.” The Carter Center has observed 119 elections in 36 countries. That America should be in a position to qualify for such oversight is unthinkable. That the current president is the source of of problem is scandalous.

Election oversight is what America — with American volunteers — provides to other countries, isn’t it?

The National Democratic Institute, a non-profit doing election oversight around the globe, works to establish and strengthen political and civic organizations, safeguard elections, and promote citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. NDI sponsored election commissions have reported on elections in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Nigeria. We used to export omocracy expertise. It’s time we all took a lesson here.

Brett Bruen, opinion writer for Business Insider, was a American diplomat in Africa, where, he worked to defend democracy and secure elections.

It never occurred to me that the lessons I learned in combating conspiracies and ensuring free elections might one day be applied in my home country … Over the past few months, Trump has used the tactics of despots to try and undermine faith in our upcoming election … Our democracy is now under an unprecedented assault.

Brett Bruen, Business Insider

Bruen draws on his diplomatic expertise to suggest three simple but persuasive ways that we can stand up for our electoral system.

Be Present

Be present when you vote. Let yourself be visible. Let folks know when you vote in person, or when you request/receive/complete/mail in your paper ballot. Be on social media. Catch yourself doing the right thing.

Educate Others

Educate others. Let friends, family, community know how to access a mail-in ballot, and what the facts are about mail-in ballots. If you plan to drop off your complete/signed/sealed paper ballot, reach out to your family, friends, community to do the same for them.

Quell Rumors

Quell rumors. Speak up. Don’t let the loudest voice in the country dominate. Call a lie a lie. Just say no.

If we cannot find common ground now, on this core issue at the very heart of our endangered system, we never will.

Dan coats, former Trump director of national intelligence

How to Vote Like a Diplomat

If you plan to vote by mail, plan ahead.

United States Postal Service Flyer received September 15

My parents lived overseas for 17 years of their adult lives in the service of the US Information Agency (USIA), America’s post-WWII public relation arm. Between 1955 and 1966, we were in Venezuela, Italy, and Colombia. From 1971 to 1977, we were in Spain and Italy (yes, lucky!).

Five presidential elections took place in the United States while we were abroad. My parents voted in each one. In fact, while who they voted for was a private matter, voting was part of their job description.

Dad’s mission of seeking hearts and minds for America drew heavily on our democratic institutions — freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, free elections. Each national election was an opportunity for Dad and his colleagues to showcase American democracy — his office set up watch parties at the USIA cultural center in Caracas when Eisenhower was re-elected in 1956, in Bogotá when Johnson was elected in 1964, in Madrid when Nixon was re-elected in 1972.

How do americans vote overseas?

Now all U.S. citizens can receive their blank ballots electronically. Depending on the state in which you are eligible to vote, you may get your ballot by email, fax, or internet download.

American Embassy, London UK

Paper and mailing was the only way in my parents’ day. Now, electronic communications are how business is done. The Federal Voting Assistance Program works to ensure that armed services members, their families, and other Americans living overseas have the tools they need to do so.

Must diplomats belong to The party in power?

My parents were registered Independents during their time in the Foreign Service. Only the topmost levels at the US State Department and other Federal agencies are political appointees, subject to the approval of the US Senate.

What happens to a diplomat when a new administration comes in?

Most foreign service employees — like civil service employees — are selected through a competitive, merit-based process. The non-political cadre of professional employees ensures the continuity of the engine of government when elections usher in changes in leadership. The policy priorities will change, and the engine will march to a different beat.

My parents entered the Foreign Service under Eisenhower — who created the US Information Agency which attracted my father with his PR and journalism experience — and served under Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter.

How to vote like a diplomat?

Plan ahead.

If you’re voting by mail, contact your local elections office to request a paper ballot today. If you aren’t sure how to do that, click iwillvote.com. When you get your ballot, complete it carefully and return it at least a week before Election Day.

Above all, vote. It’s the most patriotic thing you can do. Democracy itself is on the ballot.

I am making calls to encourage voters. Here’s where you can find out more about this.

Guest Blogger: Catherine Underhill Fitzpatrick “On Memoir-Writing”

Many thanks to Jane Kelly Amerson Lopez for the invitation to contribute a few thoughts on memoir-writing to her blog. Kelly and I met for the first time at the annual conference of the Florida Writers Association. It wasn’t long before I realized she has lived a rare and fascinating life, a memoir-worthy life.

Catherine with NYPD 9-12-01

Catherine Underhill Fitzpatrick interviewing a NYC policewoman on 9/11, Twin Towers smoke rising. 

I’ve had my share of unusual experiences. As a feature writer, I once sipped champagne with Ralph Lauren in a walled garden at twilight; tottered on a rain-swept rooftop alongside Jimmy Carter; saved Uma Thurman from calamity; royally ticked off Lauren Bacall; and earned words of praise from Gloria Steinem. I have audited the prayer of a Death Row inmate and whispered in the ear of a prince.  On Sept. 11, 2001, I was in Manhattan to cover New York Fashion Week for Wisconsin’s largest newspaper. At first word of the terrorist attacks, I rushed to Ground Zero and filed award-winning eyewitness reports. A front page of a newspaper containing one of my 9/11 dispatches is among those displayed in Washington D.C.’s Newseum. A personal account of my harrowing experiences that week has been accessioned into the archives of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

But we all have stories to tell: it’s just a matter of finding them, transforming an ordinary life into an interesting read. According to best-selling author Kate Morton: “We are all unique, just never in the ways we imagine.” GON cover high res

I have written two autobiographical novels (Going On Nine and A Matter of Happenstance) and two memoirs.

Happ cover

But here’s the thing: some of the liveliest passages in my memoirs sprang from commonplace events. In Journey: A Memoir of Love, War and Ever After:

  • A chapter about a life-and-death rescue begins with two bored children sitting on a harbor dock. A girl about my age asked if I’d like to take a sail with her on her family’s Sunfish. “Don’t worry, I know how to handle it,” she said. In minutes we were bobbing in the main channel of the chief river of the largest drainage system in North America. We did not bother with life vests.
  • A chapter about the passing of a beloved elderly aunt takes an unexpectedly 41ki-WKTodL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_humorous twist. The morning of the funeral dawned clear and crisp, a perfect day for bird hunting. At breakfast, Dad peered over the top of the sports section. “I think we’ll take the Jeep to the service for Lillybelle.” Mom cut him a look. The Jeep was muddy and reeked of pipe smoke, and it resembled a paddy wagon because Dad had installed a metal grate behind the back seat to keep Patsy, his English pointer, at bay during trips to all the places a man with a Jeep takes his dog.
  • And this excerpt, about a typical family Thanksgiving dinner that devolves into a fiasco. Dad sawed. He sawed like a musician sawing through the fiendish first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. Goose meat fell away in tattered shards. My grandfather’s face settled into an astringent mask.One by one, we forked bits of roast goose into our mouths, stashed the occasional buckshot pellet between cheek and gum, and extruded it into the folds of our napkins. Inevitably, one of my brothers smirked. Another brother snorted. And then somebody spat a ball of buckshot so energetically that it whizzed across the table and landed with a ping on his sister’s salad fork. The sister, naturally, returned fire. And with that, it was open season.

In my memoirs, I wrote about events particular to my life as well as events many of us experience, or once did. Swiping raspberries from the Vegetable Man’s truck. The schoolyard fallout after a bad haircut. The late spring aroma of a fresh-cut lawn. The clandestine ways six kids devised to avoid eating fried chicken livers. I wrote about building forts down by a creek, popping tar bubbles in a summer street, flipping baseball cards with a friend, my father’s sweet advice on the morning of my wedding.

CU FitzpatrickCommonplace events add color to a memoir because they are part of the universal experience. When we read about a child’s first day at summer camp, a teen-ager’s first kiss, a shopping trip that lands the perfect wedding gown, we remember how it was for us. We relate. This is how stories about seemingly “ordinary lives” become extraordinary memoirs.

So, take a moment and remember your first day of kindergarten, your first prom, first major league baseball game, first train trip. Remember a time you felt real fear, or the time you conquered it. Write about a time when you lost hope, or how you found it again. Dig deep, and call up a time when you failed spectacularly, and then went on to success. Identify a handful of universal experiences that are particular to you, and then write about them. Use all of your senses in the writing — note the sounds, the smells, the tastes or textures of things. Most importantly, include what you thought and felt at the time.

“A human being is a single being,” author Eileen Caddy once wrote, “unique and unrepeatable.”

So, go ahead. Get started on your life story. Nobody has lived it quite like you have, and no one can tell it quite as wonderfully as you. And, if you get to the West Coast this winter,  I will be teaching a memoir writing class at the Alliance for the Arts in Ft. Myers.

 Catherine Underhill Fitzpatrick graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism and went on to feature writing positions at daily newspapers in Hannibal, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. In addition to her books, Catherine’s articles, stories, and essays have appeared in newspapers, literary reviews, magazines, and anthologies. Catherine is a member of the Florida Writers Association, the Chicago Writers Association, and TallGrass Writers Guild. She and her husband, Dennis, live in Bonita Springs, FL.