We Are The Mighty's editor-in-chief Ward Carroll recently sat down with Got Your 6's executive director Bill Rausch -- a West Point graduate and Iraq War vet -- to talk about the organization's campaign to compel Americans to vote by viewing the experience through the lens of military veterans and for vets to lead the effort by their example.
WATM: What do you hope to gain by going to the conventions?
Bill Rausch: Over the next two weeks, Cleveland and Philadelphia will be the epicenter of the presidential campaign, which is why our attendance as veteran leaders is critical. Both campaigns have been supportive in providing credentials to our team helping us achieve four main objectives, which are to educate the country about the value of veterans as civic assets, engage the candidates on issues of importance to the veteran and military communities, compel veterans to participate in the electoral process as voters, community leaders, and candidates themselves, and, finally, to leverage the service and experience of veterans and military personnel as inspiration for all Americans to vote.
WATM: What should the veteran community take from your efforts over the next few weeks?
BR: Well, it's not really about what veterans should take from it, it's more like a challenge to veterans and the entire military community. Like we did during our time in uniform, we need to lead. As veterans and civic assets, we have a responsibility to call the country to action this November by participating in the electoral process — whether it be by registering and committing to vote, volunteering for a campaign, or running for state or local office. We need to engage candidates on policy issues that impact the lives and welfare of veterans and military service members. Any candidate running for federal, state, or local office should be challenged to clearly define their policy stances on issues of importance to veterans. And, vets need to educate the country about the value of veterans as civic assets. Veterans may have taken off the uniform but their commitment to service has not faltered. Veterans vote at higher rates, volunteer more, and participate in their communities at rates higher than their civilian counterparts. It's time we change the narrative of the damaged veteran by showcasing and highlighting actual veteran leaders serving their communities.
WATM: And what about the broader American public; what should they take from this effort?
BR: Good question. We also want to challenge the American public. While we're focused on the military community, this campaign applies to everyone. All Americans can honor the sacrifice of veterans by actively participating in our democratic process. Register and vote in November, regardless of your background or political leanings. We can all unite in the goal of increasing the political engagement of our citizens. In January 2005, 80 percent of registered Iraqis went to the polls to vote in the first national election after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Images were beamed around the world of Iraqi voters holding up their ink-stained fingers as a sign of pride and hope for the future. Despite our national commitment to spreading the institution of democracy to others, America's voting turnout was a paltry 54 percent of the eligible voting public in November 2012. We can and should do better. And all of us -- not just vets, but all of us -- should insist that the debates deal with real issues, ones that impact the lives and welfare of veterans and military service members. Civilians have a responsibility to challenge candidates to outline their plans for supporting and empowering our veterans.
WATM: You've worked on a major presidential campaign, testified in front of congress and work with government leaders as the executive director of Got Your 6. Of all of that experience, what do you think informs this campaign the most?
BR: I deployed to Baghdad, Iraq in May of 2006 on the heels of the December 2005 Iraqi election and I met with so many Iraqis who proudly showed me photos of themselves and their families holding up their purple fingers on election day. These men and women faced down roadside bombs, suicide bombers, and snipers to participate in their democracy with 80 percent turnout. Over the past 100 years, we've not even come close to that level of turnout. We can do better. We should do better. We will do better.
WATM: Given the plans and statements made by both candidates on reforming the VA, is there a candidate that you support?
BR: Got Your 6 is a non-partisan, non-profit veterans organization. We do not publicly support one candidate or party over the other. I am a member of the 'veteran party' and serving the veteran and military family community is my primary purpose this campaign cycle.
WATM: Do you know who you are going to vote for?
BR: I can tell you that I plan on voting at my local polling place, Fire Station No. 4 in Alexandria, VA with my wife and 2-year-old son. I believe that voting is a civic responsibility and that our country is stronger when more people participate in our democracy. For me, voting as a family is a way to lead by example and show my son the importance of voting in every election. It's our duty and obligation as citizens of this great country to vote on November 8th, 2016 which happens to be veterans week and I can't think of a better week for election day to fall on.
WATM: Agreed. Thanks for your time Bill, and we look forward to watching you and your team in Cleveland and Philadelphia over the next few weeks.
BR: Thank you, Ward, and Beat Navy.
WATM: Good luck with that.