I am writing this letter as I am very concerned about a political trend that is threatening the Public Image of Rotary. As a member of Zone 28 Rotary Public Image Coordination team, I would ask you to share this concern with your clubs.
One of the most sacred things about Rotary to me is the stand to be neutral towards religion and politics that Rotary has always taken. This ensures that no matter how divisive the issues are it does not cause our clubs to offend or lose members over such matters.
As we live in a time where politics are more than ever polarizing, we as Rotarians have to be even more diligent in keeping our meetings neutral especially during election years. I have observed in recent times a trend where political candidates try to use Rotary as a platform to express their agenda. Sometimes under the guise of legislative updates, our elected officials infiltrate our clubs for other purposes. Perhaps the politicians are not aware of our position on politics and view us as an organization like the Chamber of Commerce, but it is our duty as Rotarians to be sure no partisan positions are taken in our clubs and to be sure that they are not being used as a political platform.
RI Code of Policies gives us clear guidance on how to handle this. It states in section 7.030.2. Club Programs: Issues of Public Interest
A club may properly discuss public questions of interest to its members provided that, when such questions are controversial, both sides are adequately presented. No corporate action shall be taken on any pending controversial public measure. (November 2004 Mtg., Bd. Dec. 59) Source: January 1957 Mtg., Bd. Dec. 169; Amended by November 2004 Mtg., Bd. Dec. 59. See also February 1982 Mtg. Bd. Dec. 285
Rotary is a philosophy of life that undertakes to reconcile the ever present conflict between the desire to profit for one’s self and the duty and consequent impulse to serve others. This philosophy is the philosophy of service, “Service Above Self”, and is based on the practical ethical principle that “One profits most who serves best.” This has been the driving force in the public perception of Rotary. I would hate to see the “Service above Self” image of Rotary destroyed by partisan politics. This philosophy cannot coexist if the agenda of any single person or group is promoted; it becomes turned around making self above service the model.
During this upcoming political campaign season, if you must invite a politician to speak to your club, please make sure that you have the opposition there to speak also. If a Rotary Club is to become perceived as political, the damage not just to the club but to the public image of Rotary as a whole is immeasurable. Rotary has been able to thrive in what could otherwise be politically hostile countries because its image of neutrality towards politics is accepted worldwide. Can you imagine what Rotary would be like if it was thought to have a political agenda?
During any campaign season, it is best to completely avoid any club programs that may be of a controversial subject matter. We have to be extra cautious not to alienate or try to persuade our fellow Rotarians, even if they do not hold the same beliefs as we do. It may sound like a great program to have a renowned public official address your club, but if the speech is controversial, you may find a large number of your club members very upset. Always make sure it is fair to all concerned before engaging a speaker. An easy test whether a potential speaker is too controversial, is to ask yourself if his or her speech will help build goodwill and better friendships in your club and will benefit everyone in the club.
If you do have a speaker who may have a political agenda or controversial subject matter, be upfront and share Rotary policy. Make sure that they understand they will be interrupted and asked to leave the podium if they cross the line. It has to be clear that the strength of Rotary depends on its non controversial positions and inclusion of all. If you do this you have every right to dismiss them from the podium. I do doubt that many speakers, knowing the consequences, would take that chance by crossing the line if properly orientated on Rotary policy.
Neutrality is often a difficult thing to maintain. Just imagine, if your business was in an area where the political affiliation was the opposite of yours. Would you allow promotion of your political beliefs at your business that would cause you to lose your customers? Of course not, you would be out of business soon. The same goes for your Rotary Club. Your members are like your customers, Please be careful not to offend them, or you may also lose them.
Several election cycles ago I had an incident that showed me just how politically neutral a Rotarian can be by just following Rotary policy and not offending anyone. One morning I received a phone call from my districts standing congressman asking me to play a key role in his campaign in my area. I politely said I was unable to help. Later that day I was surprised when his opponent showed up at my office and asked me to serve as local director of his campaign, again I had to decline. Neither one ever asked me what party affiliation I had nor did I offer it. I knew both gentlemen quite well and both just assumed I was affiliated with their party. To this day they still do.
Yours in Rotary Service,
Tim Kaminski Rotary Zone 28 Public Image Team Serving Rotary Districts 5580, 5950, 5960 & 6250