Bonus Live Episode: HOOAH Award Panel w/ Mike Washington and Becky Margiotta
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The regular series of Rebuilding America is over, but last month Ken was honored with the HOOAH Award from the National Conference on Citizenship. To celebrate this award, NCoC recorded a live Veteran’s Day panel conversation between Ken and two past winners of the HOOAH Award - Mike Washington and Becky Margiotta.
Ken Harbaugh: A service year is a paid opportunity to develop real-world skills through hands-on service. Explore thousands of available service year opportunities at ServiceYear.org/podcast.
Welcome back to Rebuilding America, produced in partnership with New Politics. Our season is over now - 10 episodes focused on national service. But a few weeks ago, I was honored with the National Conference on Citizenship’s HOOAH Award. The award is meant to recognize a veteran who defines citizenship through service.
Since our series is all about service, the ways in which it manifests and the people who pursue it for the betterment of our country, we decided that the best way to celebrate this award was with a bonus episode of Rebuilding America.
On Veteran’s Day last month, I held a live-streamed conversation with two servant leaders and past recipients of the HOOAH award, Becky Margiotta and Mike Washington. What follows is that live recording. Enjoy and thank you for listening to Rebuilding America.
I could not be happier to introduce our two guests today, Becky Margiotta and Mike Washington. And I'll let you all a little bit behind the curtain of podcasting. Normally, when I do this, I have a couple of monitors, one that has a list of my research notes, one in which my producer is communicating with me, but we're live today and we're on video. So I've taken this as an excuse to leave the notes behind to just look at you all and to have a heart-to-heart conversation with Becky and Mike, about their understanding of citizenship, why they think they were nominated for and awarded the NCOC award. And I will start with Mike, the most recent NCOC HOOAH award winner in 2019. I got that right, Mike, right? Last year?
Mike Washington: Last year, yeah.
KH: And I asked Mike and Becky in particular from that whole list of prior award winners to join me today because I have known them a long time. I have always looked up to them, always admired their personal commitment to service and their personal stories. And Michael, I'll give you a chance to give a little bit of your background because every time I've asked you to share it, and you've been on one of my shows before, we've gotten just so much feedback. But what I want you to work towards is this idea of citizenship as a duty to one another. So we'll start with who is Mike Washington? How did you get where you are? And how did you develop such a deep and abiding sense of service and service as an element of citizenship?
MW: Well, thanks, Ken and congratulations. I can't think of anybody better and it makes me think even more, how the hell did I get it last year? But I know how I got it last year, because I made Chris Marvin breakfast in Houston during our hurricane relief in Team Rubicon, apparently the bacon and eggs I made for him were just so good that he's just remembered that. But yeah, I come from a family of military service. My wife, Valerie is an army veteran, my daughter, Aja, army veteran, and now an ICU nurse in Georgia. My son-in-law, Eric, is still in the army. My father was a Marine. My brother is Marine, I'm a Marine. My son was a Marine and he was killed in action in Afghanistan. Following that sense of service to the country, showing up when your country needs you, just showing up because you never know when your country is going to need you.
And the lineage goes on further back in our history. And like, I shared last year in my acceptance speech, this service does not have to be in a uniform, carrying a weapon. We were talking before we started to record, I was congratulating the organizations on the voter turnout that we had that shaped the election and is turning our country around, which is so, so very important. And that had nothing to do with carrying a weapon, that meant young men and women getting out there, knocking on doors, talking to people, energizing the voter base and people who felt disenfranchised. That citizenship in its purest form, I think. There is a place to protect the Republic, I think, and to export our ideals of democracy and who we are as America and who we want to be, but there's also a [inaudible 00:13:35] of men and women who went out there and did that hard work. I just can't imagine that. But it was great and it made a difference.
That's the important thing, is letting people know that this makes a difference. So showing up, doing that work, we need it. We absolutely need it. Because at the end of the day yeah, I'm a veteran. Yesterday I was writing Engine 27 in Seattle. I work at the fire department and I was cleaning toilets and pushing a broom, cleaning up the station because that's what we do. So it takes all of us, everybody that's in this room right now, everybody who's listening, because if you're listening, you're kind of... we're all cut from the same cloth. And sometimes that's a military cloth, sometimes that's just a good citizenship cloth. Sometimes it's a Team Rubicon response cloth, but we all are like-minded and we all know we want to move this country forward. I have a saying in my world, 3.5 yards to carry.
If we can just keep going back and hitting that whole, 3.5 yards to carry, we get a first down and we move the chains when we move a little bit further. Well, I think we got more than 3.5 last Tuesday, and I'm really happy about that. And that's because of the work of all citizens who are listening to us right now. So that's what citizenship means to me. That's my lineage. And Ken, I'm just so proud, so proud to know you, so proud to know you and man, when I heard your name, I'm going, like, it just made me think more like how the hell did I get this? This is Ken.
KH: The feeling is mutual, Mike. You mentioned the elections and I think it goes without saying that we experienced one of the most traumatic election seasons in living memory perhaps of all time, at least going back to the mid 19th century. Becky, as fraught as this political season has been, what are your... do you see silver linings? Do you see any opportunities for rebuilding, for healing? The show that we are recording now is Rebuilding America, about the things we can do as citizens to not just recognize these fractures or to begin to repair at the Billions Institute. I want you to talk a little bit about that. You teach and support foundations and nonprofit executives in the important work they're doing. What is the opportunity before us wearing that hat, but being clear-eyed about the difficult times where we're living in right now.
Becky Margiotta: Ken, thank you and congratulations again. And so I actually just recorded a little loom about this myself, about this idea of we sort of fixate on the Ws and the Ls and those are important milestones and there is their power shifts kind of, not really. I think this last four years also for me has been illuminating about all of the ways that our government is designed structurally to allow obstruction and to actually enable people to not do the jobs we thought we hired them to do, which is obstruction. And so I think structurally, many of the flaws that prevent our government from actually tending to the welfare of the people and the defense of our country, have been just laid bare. And so in some ways we can not see that now, and I do hope that we can address some of those.
Even the fact that the president president elect isn't receiving national security briefings right now. Right? That to me, I think, for people who are sincerely concerned about national security, that should raise alarms. So all of this obstructionism has been laid bare and now we know it, right? And so the Ws and the Ls, those feel good in the moment, but even... so I worked for four years on a campaign that worked with 186 cities to get 100,000 people off the streets and into permanent housing. And I put four years of my life, every single moment to it, every single day, and I didn't know when we would hit the a hundred thousandth person, but I knew it was eminent.
And I told our junior person on the team who was the bean counter, I said, "Hey, Jessica, when we hit 100,000, you get the phone call, you get the whole team on the conference call. You're the one who's going to call it." And it's like, "You just surprise all of us." And she was really excited about that. And then one day I got the call from Jessica and she was like, "Hey, Becky, stand by. I'm going to get everyone else on the line." And I was like, "Oh, I know what's coming." Something I'd worked for for four years was going to come to fruition.
And Jessica said, she's got everybody on the line, it's about 13% team and then she was like, "You guys, we did it. We got the 100,000." Everyone was like woo, all excited. And I literally was so caught up with, I had like a lump in my throat the size of Texas that I couldn't even speak, and I was the leader and went to West Point and this would be the time for a rousing speech and I literally couldn't talk, and had this like, wow, you can really make a difference in the world, just euphoria going through my body. And then so I literally didn't say anything. And then everyone on the team was like, "All right, cool. See you tomorrow," and they hung up.
So literally we had this huge moment and I didn't say a word, and then I swear, I just got right back on the phone because I had another phone call to make, and is right back to work. And so we think these W and Ls are significant. It is significant. Biden won by more than 5 million votes, it's the largest turnout ever in history. It's the largest popular vote, I think in like dozens and dozens of years, right?
So it is huge and we should celebrate. And I think then it's just stick your nose to the grindstone and get right back to work, because there's actually larger, bigger things beyond the Ws and Ls, regardless of who's in power, despite the obstructionism that I think those of us who feel called to look after one another and look after the whole, which is, I don't know the extent to which that value is widely shared in the United States at this point, quite frankly. I think individualism is a rot that's rotting us at the foundation. But those of us who do feel called towards collectivism and to mutual care and mutual concern, the work never ends no matter how the Ws and the Ls lineup. And yay for the W and keep nose back to the grindstone.
KH: Becky, I love hearing you talk about being called to look after one another, because one of the things that strikes me about both of your leadership styles is that it's not academic, your understanding of service is not just some intellectualized thing. It's very hands-on, it's very engaged. Mike, who was a master Sergeant in the Marine Corps, just talked about cleaning toilets as a captain in his Seattle fire department station house. Becky, you have had skin in the game in every job you've had in the last 100,000 homes at a very literal sense, can you share the tattoo story? I don't know if it's on the forearm or somewhere you can show it, but I love that as a living reminder that you got to put your skin in the game.
BM: Absolutely. And you got to clean toilets too. I think that's... Michael hats off to you and all of us. There shouldn't be anything that we're above doing. And so I'll share with the team that we decided when we launched 100,000 homes campaign that we should embed celebration into it. And when I had said at the very beginning, when the 10,000 person moved in, that I would get a tattoo of the 10,000 with the holding place for the last zero. And it wasn't a foregone conclusion that we would reach 100,000 people in housing, so when the 10,000 person moved in, I got this tattoo, I'll cover the last zero. And for a couple of years of my life, when people would see this, they would kind of guess, but that there was a comma error in my too. And then when the 100,000-
KH: For those on the radio, it's one, zero, zero comma, zero, zero going into the 100,000. It looks weird, but then what happens?
BM: Well, then when the 100,000 person moved in, which also, for there was a good period of time when we were on track to be the 30,000 homes campaign. And I was like, "Yo, I got a tattoo [inaudible 00:22:36]." And I would joke like, if we don't do it, it'll be a lifelong testament to failure that I'll just have this story to tell. And you know what? There is no failure. That's another thing. I think it's an important point, is anything that's moving the ball forward... Like, Michael, I love your three and a half feet analogy there, anything that moves the ball forward, it's like six inches to a foot, I'll take it. But the last zero's on there now.
So, and I think it is important to build in celebration. We should celebrate, we should celebrate. We should celebrate the massive voter turnout, even if you're on the other side, whichever side you're on, whichever side, I think I've given away my side, yay, voter turnout. This is all good. Our voter turnout is abysmal in our country and it took a real uptick this time. And I think that's fantastic.
KH: Mike, the question I want to ask you about citizenship is reflective of Becky's observation that we need to be celebratory. But I want you to talk about the need to sometimes be brutally honest. When I think about the work that you do on a daily basis, some of it formal, some of it just talking to your peers or vets that I know who've reached out to you about the trauma that sometimes goes with assuming that burden of service and that burden of sacrifice. It is not always a celebratory thing, sometimes a very painful thing to shoulder that burden for your country, to live a life of service to others. I want you to give the context here, if you don't mind me asking you to do it, about the loss of your son, and then talk about how you have channeled that into saving so many other lives.
MW: Yeah. You know, gosh, in my family service has been a choice. My son came up in a upper-middle-class bringing, he could have gone to college, my daughter could have gone to college, so they had choices. And I think my son saw the legacy and the camaraderie that Marine Corps brought and that the service brought and he wanted to be part of it. And when I came back from my last tour of duty overseas, the two of us did that great father-son road trip down to Southern California and we were listening to an NPR broadcast on the fighting in Fallujah at the time. And one of the Marines that was being interviewed, it sounded like the reporter wanted him to say that he didn't know what was going on, "I'm scared, I don't know what's happening."
And this Marine was just kind of like, "I'm here with my best friends where I think we're doing good work here, and I think it's important that we're here. And yeah, I get scared sometimes but quite frankly, this is where I belong." And I looked over my son and I kind of got the impression that whatever ideas about college that he had had gone out the window, especially when his sister went in the army, there's no way he's going to go to college and his sister's in the army. And I asked him, I said, "Michael, you're going to go in the Marine Corps, aren't you?" And he kind of looked at me sheepishly because his mom and I have been kind of pushing college on him, and he goes, "Yeah, dad." And I go, "Okay." And I said, "You don't have to do that. Right? You don't have to do anything. I'm proud of you. You're a great kid.
You took care of a lot of business when I was deployed overseas the last couple of years in the Marine Corps and you just really stood up and was just a great young man, just a good kid." I said, "You don't have to prove anything to me, I'm so proud of you already. Why do you want to join the Marine Corps? Why do you want to do that?" And he goes, "Well, because there's people out there who need to be protected. And sometimes that means carry a rifle on, I know that sometimes it takes being in the Marine Corps and being that person." And I couldn't find fault without reasoning. I couldn't say well, yeah, but that's for somebody else to do, or yeah, not you, son. And I was filled with pride and I'm still filled with pride at his logic for going in. And at the same time I had that dread because I've been out there.
And of course going through all those changes when he was killed in action, looking at myself and what was my contribution to this, but at the end of this journey or on this part of the journey that I'm on now, I understand. And that's his picture right behind me. I understand that he was doing what he was supposed to be doing. He was being a citizen. This was his initial steps in citizenship. But it started when he was a teenager, when he was a child, when we would cut the lawns of some elderly neighbors without being told to and things like that. So his citizenship started early and it manifested itself into maturity in the Marine Corps and going overseas. And who knows what that would've looked like now? But in the grand scheme of things, it was his motivation that helped save my life and allowed me to reach out and extend my work beyond carrying the rifle, beyond being on a fire engine, now being a therapist to first responders and veterans and people in the military.
So I think that's where his citizenship continues to give. It doesn't end for him, it continues through me and motivates me. He's there with me a lot. And I think that's where it comes in. And of course now I'm allowed to share my story and make sure that people don't... they understand that being a firefighter, being a first responder police officer, veteran, when you sign up there, it's fraught with not just physical danger, but there's mental health issues that we just hold for so long and just kind of, no, there's none, just man up, just cowboy up and just be that person.
Well, that's how we end up with the issues we have now. So now I'm able to kind of come in and say, "Hey, here's what you're going to face. Here's how we work with it. It's okay to be human and feel these feelings that you have after the things you've seen and the things you've done, you have a community here." And it's just like this community that I'm looking at right now, all these faces and these names. Like I said before, we're all cut from the same cloth, we were doing good. We're doing hard work for America. We're moving the ball 3.5 yards carry. Mine used to be in the Marine Corps uniform, and then in December 30th, my last shift, it was as a firefighter. Now it's as a therapist.
So I'm pushing the ball forward. Everybody I'm looking at right now is pushing that ball forward. Sometimes it's tough yards, it ain't easy, you get beat up, but we get back in the huddle, we call a play, lineup, we run it again and we just keep going. We moved the chains, we're in the end zone, but it takes all of us. It takes all of us. And all the people I'm looking at right now and the people who can hear me, if you're listening, it's because you're one of us and whatever it is you're... where you're at in your journey right now, you're not by yourself. If you need help, that we're a team, so let's keep doing it and we keep moving it forward, man, we're all citizens and we're doing great work.
KH: Thanks for sharing, Mike. And I think your story and Mike Jr. story really captured this idea that the service to each other, that sensitive duty to your fellow citizens really can of become service to the contrary. Becky, I want to ask you about that because you broke through your own barriers in the army, I would love it if you could share some of that experience, but reflect for us on this idea that service to your fellow citizens taken to its logical end is really a service to the country. It's patriotic.
BM: Yeah, absolutely. And I just also... sorry, I just want to say, Michael I'm like, my heart is aching for your loss and I'm in awe of how you're channeling that love for your son and to other people. So thank you.
BM: That is what it's all about. I’m getting teary about that. So well, when I was a plebe at West Point, one of the exercises they had us do was right on a three by five card where we think we'll be in 10 years. And then they had like a platoon bulletin board and they just stapled everybody's up so you could see where people think they're going to be in 10 years. And I had wrote that I thought I would be in the Peace Corps. And that did not go over well at West Point. And my maiden name is Kanis and so they called me... that was what... I wasn't Becky, for a year I was Cadet Kanis or New Cadet Kanis, whatever the case may be. And I got hazed for - "Kanis, Kanis going to be in the Peace Corps, what the..." And there was like, a lot of heat for that. And for me, I was like, yeah, this is service to the country, that's service to the country, what difference does it make?
To me, that felt like not... it didn't feel at all, I had no cognitive dissonance about being at West Point and then having aspirations at some point to be in the Peace Corps. And so I've always thought that it was all about service. And in fact, even, I don't remember, I don't know what it is now, but we had to memorize the mission of the military Academy, and it was something along the lines of to degenerate a crew of people who are committed to a lifetime of service to the nation. And whether it's in the military or outside of the military. And I already sound like I learned that at West Point, I brought that with me to West Point, and it was just resonant with the values there. And it's just always, I don't know, it's always been part of what I think of. And I will say that I don't consider myself a religious person, but I do consider myself a very spiritual person.
And whatever that I do that would be kind of akin to prayer. There's really just kind of only one prayer that I say, which is, may I be of service, may what I'm doing, be of service, both to my fellow human beings, but also just to the evolution of our species, to the wellbeing of the whole, to the collective. And I personally don't even differentiate around nation States in any way, but it's just, may whatever it is I'm doing, that's got me busy, be of service to the healing, to the repairing of the world. It's the Jewish notion of Tikkun Olam, which again is not my tradition, but really resonates with me or the Dow is notion of that we're all one anyways. Every spiritual tradition points to this one truth that we are all one. And that even quantum physics points to this notion of separateness is an illusion.
And so I think what I aspire to, literally in every single thing in my daily life is to remember that truth that is lost in the busy-ness of our day-to-day lives and the lies that we get told all the time, just to remember that, that I am part of the whole, I am the universe temporarily taking the form of human being, and my actions have reverberations throughout the web of life, and at any given time, my intention is to be part of repairing and healing the web of life. And that is the importance of facing into the ways in which I'm part of freeing or tearing at the fabric of life, and to make amends for that, to acknowledge that and be part of get back to repairing. So for me, that is the thing I come back to again and again and again, and so service just is a natural byproduct of that.
And I think it's a shift from selfishness to service, right? And that I hope is it can be like, talk about spreading large-scale change. May that be more contagious of how may I be of service? How can I support you? How can I show up for you? And forgive me if I'm blabbering, I saw this great... I'm into TikTok, I feel like it's keeping me young. I'm 51 years old, but it's keeping me cool. I saw this great TikTok about how... it's really short, about how people think that it's like Republican versus Democrat or left versus right. And he said, really, you've got this impulse to protect and conserve and preserve on one side, and then you've got this instinct to nurture and look after one another and care for one another on the other side.
It's just like... and he said, it's really a masculine, feminine divide. And this person suggested, and I don't know his name to give him credit, what if that impulse to protect and preserve protected and preserve the people who had the impulse to nurture and to care for one another? What if, instead of going against that, it was protecting and preserve that, of like, hey, we're going to put... these are our black people, these are our indigenous people, these are our women and children. We're going to protect them. And so I see that sheepdog mentality and people who volunteered for the service, but it's directed... generally the military is not supposed to work domestically, right?
It's just directed in preserving American interests abroad. I would love to see that desire to nurture, to protect fully coming at and supporting all of these. Like, let's pretend these are our immigrants. That shift, America would be unstoppable. We would be a force to be reckoned with. Right now I think we're actually really weak. But wouldn't that be exciting if we could pull that off. And I don't know what's the jiu-jitsu move to pull that off, but that would be kind of awesome.
KH: Since we've got three vets in this conversation, I'm going to provoke a discussion that I think you only really get to have among vets. And I want to share it with everyone. And it's this idea of the risk of over valorizing vets, and I really think Veteran's Day is the day to have an... especially as we're facilitating this conversation about citizenship, because Becky, you talked about the Peace Corps as being equally high-minded in terms of service, as your time in that army uniform.
Mike, you spent the second half of your career saving lives as a counselor before continuing as a fire captain. I worry looking at how veterans were deployed. And I'm putting that in air quotes during this election season, that we're really overindulging this tendency to valorize the veteran and then to use the veteran for political purposes, and to put them on a pedestal. Mike, you and I have talked about it before, what do you think the long-term risks are of that, of creating a separate veteran class?
MW: Well, I think we're in this position right now as a consequence of Vietnam, the post Vietnam situation, where there was no recognition at all of that war. It was a bad war, we're not going to talk about it, and if we do, it's not going to be good for those veterans who fought in Vietnam. We started the swing with desert storm, and now it's kind of oddly swung in a different direction like it is now. And you're right though, I feel that there is that over valorization, and we don't look at some of the other people who have laid down their lives to further this country. And I think in terms of the civil rights struggle, where the freedom riders were getting on buses and they are going to places like Anniston, Alabama, knowing fairly well what's waiting for them there.
And they got on the bus unarmed and they went anyways and they were black, they were white, they were Jewish or Christian. They were men, they were women. I don't think... I'm pretty brave when I got a Marine Corps rifle platoon behind me, but I don't think I had that kind of courage to walk across the Pettus Bridge and see that line of cops and dogs and everything else, and just link arms, and just... we should be really valorizing that kind of stuff as much as anything else. And having said that though, I think it is important to recognize some of the things that some of our people in the military have done, but it should not be us versus them, like I'm better than you, because I went. And I do feel that I do hear it. I do feel it.
And I don't know what to do about it in this context, except to remind these individuals, as we talk to them and let them know that this is the path that you're walking and it's a great path, thank you for doing that. But there's other people doing some great things in this country too. And then when you're done being a veteran, you're not done, there's an expectation for you to continue to be a citizen just in a different way. Whether it's Team Rubicon or whether it's the, like I said, the fine work of voter registration or something like that, but yes, I definitely see, and I feel that, and I don't know how to correct that on the larger stage except on the individual. Like I said, talking to that young soldier at Fort Lewis and putting his or her service in that proper context so it isn't puffed out as an I'm better than them and my idea and my feelings and my opinion is better than yours because I wore this uniform.
Because we all know that that's not the case. And I think one of the great things though, about the military, that's different than everything else is that we're all... when you join the military, you are forced to stand next to a man or a woman that you likely would never have stood next to before in your life. When I was standing next to the first person I've ever stood next to with a Southern accent, and then on the other side was a guy from Guam. And then across from me, there was a guy from Texas. People, I had never met these people before, and then forcing this crazy crucible that's Marine Corps bootcamp. And as a result, you find out really, it is about the content of character of this individual, not the color of their skin, not their accent, not their religion, none of those things, it is about the content of their character.
And I think if we can concentrate when we see somebody who's a veteran maybe running for office or is talking, it's okay, let us hear about more than just about their service as a veteran and let's see what that content of character is. So that's kind of where I try to go with it, is that content of character component. To everybody, what are you doing? So if you do now work for registering borders and changing the direction of this country with this election, man, that's what I'm talking about. If you wore a uniform, that's awesome. What are you doing now? Are you moving the ball forward? Are you part of the team? So that's kind of where I'm at. And Chris and I and you and Team Rubicon, sometimes we saw that toxic kind of a veteran mentality that it's us versus them, and then we had to remind people.
And I think all three of us had to remind people that it's not us versus them, we're all together in this. You made your choice to go in the service, okay, awesome. Thank you for doing that. You're in Team Rubicon and you're helping people on the worst day of their life and a disaster, great. So keep doing that, but you don't get to put yourself on a pedestal. And if somebody tries to put you on a pedestal, thank them and then get off the couch.
KH: Yeah, Becky, do you have any reflections on that?
BM: I do. I'm just captivated by everything Michael says, so I lose track of what I was going to say, but so Michael, just thank you for those reflections. And you're reminding me about just what a powerful crucible the military service is, where everyone, everyone has the experience of subordinating their own self-interest in service of something bigger than themselves, which is we need more of that. And so kudos the national service, any form of national service, I think is essential because I think that is character developing. And I wonder how many people get to have experiences like that, where they're truly subordinating their own self-interest for the good of the whole. And so that does get chiseled, etched in stone, I think in the soul of someone who serves, whether it's in the military or as a firefighter or whoever that may be.
And so I think it's incredibly important. And so I wonder if instead of over valorizing the veterans, which I feel like I don't know, I can only speak to it personally, really. Like whenever people are like, thank you for your service, I'm like, you're welcome. Nothing bad happened to me. I always feel sheepish and like, I don't really deserve that. I was happy to do it, and the things that were hard forged my character and I don't regret them for a second. And so they were gifts, they were real gifts to me. And so I know that's not everybody's experience, and I know among the younger vets now, they kind of sarcastically be like, "Thank you for your service," and they don't... you know what I mean? Like it's almost a joke. Right? And so there's a tokenism to it, I think, that I think is kind of irritating.
But so instead of over valorizing, what if we got curious about what it is that's distinctive about that experience and could make that more widespread, as is happening with AmeriCorps, with all these other forms of service, which I think are so essential. There was one other thing that I wanted to share. Oh, Dave, you put in the chat about civic privilege. That really... So I just want to confess something. I hope that nobody in my local community sees this. I hope they do. I hope everyone gets to see this, but I'll share that I don't usually talk about being a veteran very much. It's not what I lead with. I don't feel like it's an essential aspect of my identity. It's part of my past and part of who I am. Absolutely, it's forged who I am, but it's not like, it's not my A card, right?
But after the murder of George Floyd, a group of people in our community organized and got started really paying more attention to what is the actual civilian oversight of our police force, and does our police force have policies and procedures that are in keeping that are the least likely to result in the murder of one of our fellow residents. Right? And our community's police commission was effectively a booster club. They would get together once a month and be like, "Good job." And we do have a really good police... For as far as things go, we've got a really good police force here right now who's led by someone incredibly competent who, I think that her heart is in the right place, but there's very little civilian oversight. And so I got on the police commission and you bet your bottom dollar, I let them know I was a veteran.
This is my veteran privilege, right? Because I got on the police commission unapologetically as a reformer, as like, listen, I will believe this till I die, that until every black and brown person in my community says they feel safe around a police officer, we don't have public safety. I don't care what your policies are, I don't care what your [inaudible 00:47:40] are. Until they feel safe, we don't have public safety. So whatever you got to do so that they feel safe too, our work is not done. That's my only position on the police commission. That's my only position. What enables me to unapologetically hold that line is occasional reminders that I am a veteran, because of this over valorization.
And so I hate to say it. I don't know. I'm just like that, I'm like there's a little, thank you for your service, Becky Margiotta hanging off of a light pole somewhere in my community right now. And you know what, good. They should know that, right? Because the same people who overly valorize our police also overly valorize veterans, and they might give me some more credibility. They're not going to dismiss me as some radical lefty. And I don't even think that that's a radical left position, I think like, hey, let's not murder people is actually a very reasonable position. But the fact that I'm a veteran, I can leverage that civic privilege and I'm doing that. And so, I don't if that's like a good idea or a bad idea, but I just want to offer it to any veterans who will listen, you do have civic privilege, so use it, Use it to reinforce your humanity. You can set the example in ways that other people can't in really powerful ways.
KH: Thanks, Becky. I-
MW: And Becky, that was great. And my wife and I, we talk about that. My wife who's an army veteran, she shared that we are all, we're so much. She's Latina, she's a veteran, a mom, a grandmother, all these different things, we're Black Lives Matter. We support the police. We have friends who are police officers. We are all these different things. And then we just get lumped together in just these little boxes, and it just really, it sets us back. It gets tough. And I think so many of us are all these different things and we can stand up and say, yeah, I am black lives matter. At our front yard there's an American flag, there's an army flag, a Marine Corps flag, a gold star, a banner with two gold stars, because my wife's grandfather died on Okinawa, and a Black Lives Matter flag.
We're all those things. And I think that's important. I think going back to one of your questions, Ken, that is where we have to go. Everybody I'm looking at right now, you guys are a bunch of things. You guys are not just one thing. We're not a model up here. And so as a veteran, I'm not a model, I'm proud as hell of being a Marine. I'm proud of being a firefighter. As soon as I can realize that jeez, I'm actually a therapist, I want to be proud of being a therapist too. I just, I can't believe they'll let me be a therapist. Okay. So I'm all of these different things. I'm a ballroom dancer. Yeah. I'm all of these different things. And I think that's where we are. We need to weave that together and move it into that citizenship package of being all these different things, and that's how we move that ball forward.
KH: Well, Mike, I was going to ask you to bring us home and you nailed it. Thank you so much, Becky and Mike, for not just joining us today, but for sharing your incredible wisdom.
Thank you to the National Conference on Citizenship for the award and for the opportunity to host this bonus live episode of Rebuilding America.
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And if you enjoyed this series, you might also enjoy my podcast Burn the Boats. I interview politicians, leaders, and activists about current events and difficult decisions in this bi-weekly series from Evergreen Podcasts.
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Rebuilding America is a production of Evergreen Podcasts, made in partnership with New Politics. Our producer is Isabel Robertson. Associate producer is Leon Pescador. Audio engineer is Sean Rule-Hoffman. Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.
I’m Ken Harbaugh and this is Rebuilding America, a podcast about national service.