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January 7, 2021

RED KIND OF BLUE

A CALL FOR UNITY

BY ASSAL RAVANDI

 

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a liberal -  I'm also a woman, a minority, and an entrepreneur – but above all, I take pride in saying that I am an Iranian-American veteran of the United States Army. I supported President Obama in 2008, Hilary Clinton in 2016, yet in 2020, I voted with the Republican party.

 

I campaigned for President Obama in 2008, giving all I had to ensure my candidate was successful in claiming victory as the 44th President of the United States of America. I gave up my career during one of the most impactful economic recessions. But the message of change and hope that our new leader brought to our homes, schools, and places of worship - to me, it mattered significantly.

 

After the 2008 election, I joined the United States Army since I didn’t have the credentials to work in the administration that I so desperately wanted to. Most importantly, and far above all else, I wanted to one day say I served in the United States Army for my commander-in-chief,  President Barack Obama.

I campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016, traveling to New York with desire and determination to advise and open the eyes of her and her campaign staff on the issues surrounding veterans - and what truly matters to us. As the results solidified, I was overwhelmed with significant worry, fear, agony, affliction, and devastation. I made my way back home, but felt as though the defeat were my own. My mother was in bed with an astounding and heartbreaking look in her eyes. As she slowly started to move toward me, we realized how much we needed each other’s embrace in those moments that seemed, in our eyes, the start of demise in our country.   

 

I remember feeling intoxicated with grief. Nevertheless, I headed back to the office to start planning the Inaugural Ball for President Trump. I stopped at Staples for office supplies and proceeded to the labels section. That is when my knees buckled out from under me. I managed to grasp something in my range to prevent myself from falling, and began sobbing for what felt like an excruciating loss for America.  

 

I had never voted against the democratic party until then. While some of you may want to stop reading now, I plead with you to allow me a few minutes of your time and read this message in its entirety. In the end, my hope is that you will feel your time has not been wasted.

 

“Change is a foreign policy that doesn't begin and end with a war that should've never been authorized and never been waged.” Said President Obama the day after the primaries. While I admire him to this very day,  I ask him this:  

 

  • What about a domestic policy that has begun with a war among my brothers, sisters, neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, and others? What about the war that should have never been authorized? Is this what we call “change”?  Is this what we now define as “progress”?

WHY I VOTED AGAINST MY PARTY IN 2020? 

 

COLLEGE SCANDAL 

When news about the college scandal broke, it brought me back to my college years. I was near the finish line at gaining my undergraduate degree in a combat zone. There were many of us who studied through deployments. After a mentally exhausting day at work with the Afghan national army, the laptop would come out of the green duffle bag with a sense of enthusiasm. We were considered the average American - including immigrants from third world countries - who work long and hard for a chance to one day be accepted into their dream school for athletics, or academics, only to have their spot taken because of hierarchy, money, and power. We knew that the more education we received, the more possibilities we had in this world. All the while, there were rich, privileged, and entitled young students with powerful and affluent parents that would use their success in a disingenuous act. They had the resources needed to navigate through a tainted society to benefit their child’s future - some by obtaining falsified entrance-exam scores, others by falsifying athletic achievements - all with the intent to receive admission into elite schools. 

RHETORIC VS. CONDUCT

I have heard the opposition on the tough immigration policies implemented the last four years. I understand and empathize with a person’s lack of opportunities - for an individual’s desire to reach beyond the borders into a hopeful future. What I do wonder, however, is this:

If a destitute individual stands outside your Hollywood mansion pleading for help, how would you respond? Would you allow him/her to enter your home? What about two of them? Three? Would you risk depriving your kids of food and resources for these individuals?

The fact is, not all of us could say that we would -  if we did, the percentage of homeless living in our country would have a significant decline in numbers. 

Nonetheless, there are groups of individuals with resources, power, and influence who won’t even pay for their own flight to attend a charity event - even one in which they support. 

 

If I disagreed with any of these points, I’d risk being labeled as an intolerant, racist, and selfish antagonist. You would declare me as part of the “problem” in this country. 

 

I have worked in public service for almost 20 years. I have been on the receiving end of a policy, and I have seen people impacted by poor policies and regulations. I know many who work in the public service sector who have stories to tell that are often heartbreaking, and mind-blowing. 

OUT OF TOUCH 

 

When I was deployed to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shank in Afghanistan, I experienced a considerable amount of eye opening incidents - situations that the average person doesn’t experience. Though one daily ritual will forever be engraved in the essence of my memory: 

 

As we lined up for each meal, we spent time chatting, gossiping, laughing, and sharing. We looked forward to this time to make the pain a little less difficult to bear - a little easier to accept. The pain of being away from our loved ones, or losing a buddy. The pain of a twisted ankle caused by a 10-mile march into a village with the cavalry unit embedded with us. The pain of the uncertainty ahead...

 

...and there it was. Every day at chow time we found ourselves lingering by a wall that contained photos. Photos of service members killed in action at FOB Shank. Rows of photos that led into the dining facility as the walls ran out of space for them all. The youngest was 18 years old. 

 

Would you consider that heartbreaking? Unfortunately, that was just the beginning. 

We have celebrities with power, money, and influence who are self-proclaimed philanthropists all over the world.

 

There was an A-list celebrity who declined our offer to attend our veterans' charity event, whose publicist stated, “he has a family to support and needs to work year after year.” I wish I could say it was only that one time, but this was their excuse for the past 6 years. You see, they didn’t care whether we remembered, with documentation, their consistently matched responses from the previous years. It didn’t phase them that this particular actor was loved and admired by the veteran community. 

 

Another celebrity publicist - when we requested an acknowledgement video -  responded with: “He is retired”. My first reaction was to respond with, “From life?” 

 

Imagine if a service member, before every deployment, said: "You see, I have a family, so I think it’s best to sit this deployment out.”

 

A while back, we partnered with another organization that represented disabled veterans, caregivers, retirees, and their families. They asked for a specific talent to attend the event hosted by the organization. After weeks of convincing, her requirements to attend cost our nonprofit over $10,000. 

 

How does one make millions portraying military service members and telling stories they know nothing about -  stories in which they cannot relate? Have they taken the time to learn what it is like to live a life in combat and war - or to experience Post-Traumatic Stress and loss of physical abilities? I’m not judging them for the foreignity they have in this, but why do they feel they have the right to alienate our military from the spotlight? Veterans deserve more respect, or at the very least, for one to take the time to learn about their role in a film that honors them. They are the heroes, yet those who portray them get the recognition, and won’t even shake their hand when attending an event in their honor. 

 

 

FACTS

When a 77-year-old African-American retired police captain was fatally shot by a rioter looting a pawn shop;

When the leader of a movement suggested that she agrees with looting because “the way that history has worked, the way that we’ve ever gotten wins, has never been through peaceful protests alone”;

When people lost jobs, resources, loved ones, and their sense of self worth, politics got in the way of humanity;

When we lose 22+ veterans to suicide everyday. An issue that impacts the lives of everyone on both sides of the aisle, never receiving the amount of attention the way the media has bestowed upon COVID-19;

When I saw my Republican friends forgiving me for being a Democrat and yet my Democrat friends never forgave me for being a gun owner;

When correction to misrepresenting the facts was forgiving to one side and not the other where the same rules didn’t apply; 

When we cheated the true victims of sexual assault out of proper advocacy and support by bringing toxic femininity into the movement; 

And when finally “let’s not see color” was replaced by “let’s see it always everywhere,” how is one supposed to rationalize decisions? 

 

JANUARY 6, 2021

If some classify January 6, 2021 as a success, we should truly rethink our humanity. NO ONE WON! Faith died; trust died; compassion died; brotherhood died; love was questioned; democracy deteriorated; people died; friendships fell apart; neighbors became enemies; and the world had a front row seat to all of it. 

 

We can either disregard half the country and consider them a lost cause, or we can ask ourselves what is it about an “R” or a “D” next to a candidate’s name that seems toxic to the other half. 

 

WHAT DO WE DO NOW? 

I think the correct questions should be: 

What must we do now? 

I never thought I would be able to throw my support behind President Trump - but I did. We even planned an inaugural ball in 2017 without bias or prejudice. Today, we woke up and continued our work in planning for the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States, President-Elect Joe Biden. We do it because believe it or not, when I raised my right hand to serve in the United States Army, though I was more frightened than you can imagine, I believed in the power of our democracy and what this country stands for.

 

"The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states-red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states.There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”-Barack Obama

 

Now, you can’t call me a member of the radical left, nor the ignorant right. My track record is the evidence of my independent thinking, and I have two Master’s degrees from George Washington University. 

 

It’s time to stop: 

Let’s stop criticizing people because of something they did in middle school; 

Let’s stop pretending silence is violence and looting is not;

Let’s stop calling people uneducated, or even ignorant for their beliefs;

Let’s stop pretending that love doesn’t conquer all; 

Let’s stop building walls of partisanship and hatred; 

Let’s stop fighting and start organizing; 

And finally, let’s stop forgetting who we are and why our country has been the envy of the world for decades. 

 

The fact that everyone is tired, weary and frustrated is not a state of mind. The medicine for our wounds is right here among us. One can find it in our neighborhoods and schools; by pulling over - all at once - for the siren we see behind our cars; you can find it in fellowship; you can find it in public servants and in the truth we tell one another; you can find it in the 18 year old who will never know what it’s like to live under the free American sky because long ago he gave his life for your freedom; and you can find it almost everywhere, all around us if we open our hearts and are willing to truly listen to each other.

 

When I woke up this morning, I thought of Bobby Kennedy’s famous speech from April 5, 1968: 

 

“No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of the people.”

 

Collectively, we at Academy of United States Veterans Foundation made a decision. We decided to dedicate ourselves to bringing a sense of unity back to our communities. We will start through modification.

 

Today, we changed the name of our ball to: 

 

WE THE PURPLE 

Inaugural Ball

 

We have made it our top priority to ensure the safety of all of our guests. We will be following the current restrictions and regulations that are in place for the State of Virginia. The current regulations require us to have no more than 10 individuals per group unless there is a consistent flow of patrons. Our team of course has designed a solution. Our coordinators have worked directly with the Ritz Carlton to create a venue that will  be inclusive but follow these specific guidelines. The ball will  have a common area. However, dinner will be served in groups of 10 in individual glamorous rooms. We commit to the safety of our guests and a phenomenal celebration of this solemn occasion: The 59th Presidential Inauguration. 

 

We The Purple is only the beginning of a journey pioneered in hope, unity and optimism for this beloved country of ours. It will be a bi-partisan celebration of the 59th Presidential Inauguration with respect and honor for the office of presidency and our fellow Americans. We won’t call it non-partisan because - to be straightforward, no one and nothing really is! We want to see Democrats and Republicans come together like never before. Though we may  be physically distant from each other, we have the opportunity to open a window in this wall of hate. 

 

I believe that my parents made the best decision when they fled Iran in hope of a better life. I believe that wearing the Army uniform with a sense of pride represented every single one of us. I am not naive, because I am an American! 

 

“I pray heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but the wise men ever rule under this roof.” —John Adams

 

###

 

P.S. To Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington, Casey Affleck, Ben Affleck, Chris Pratt, Mark Cuban, Jack Black and others whose names I may have left out: 

 

Your advocacy for our veterans and other communities has been unyielding and, in my opinion, the majority of your colleagues do not extend to the good work that you have done over the years. Please accept my sincerest apology as you are the exception to the rules expressed in this opinionated editorial. We are all beyond grateful for the genuine philanthropic work that you have poured into our communities. 

 

(A very special thank you to Bill Maher for the inspiration)

Assal Ravandi is the Founder and CEO of the Academy of United States Veterans, an organization that focuses on promoting veteran causes, campaigns and veteran service organizations through media relations, public relations and community outreach. A former U.S. Army intelligent analyst and language instructor, Ravandi trained as a combat-qualified linguist and cultural affairs adviser and served in Afghanistan.

Among her military honors and awards were the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, two Army Commendation Medals, the Army Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the NATO Medal, and the Combat Action Badge. However, Ravandi would say that her proudest distinction was simply serving with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment.

A successful immigrant herself, Ravandi knows something about the difficulties of integrating into a new society. Identifying with the troops with whom she served, Ravandi realized that her new mission was to help veterans from all backgrounds "connect the dots" between an honorable discharge and securing a meaningful and sustainable new life. Through a range of contacts, connections, and cajoling - with the help of a series of business professionals, executives, and educational institutions -Ravandi coordinates the steps necessary to help veteran service organizations and programs find great visibility in the American community and empowers them to continue their service to the veterans of the United States Armed Forces.

Having a rich background in strategic public relations and community outreach Assal, has become well known for her knack for effective communications while impacting change in the community. Her passion for community outreach through event planning began in San Antonio, Texas, where Assal organized fashion shows that benefited the San Antonio Cancer Foundation and various other non for profit organizations. Along with her charitable efforts Assal has built an extensive studio background working on major motion picture films such as; Dream Girls, Flags of our Fathers, Ask the Dust and Babble to name a few. Working with Paramount Pictures Assal handled award publicity, where she strategized award season publicity plans for several films to be submitted for the Golden Globes, Academy Awards, Sag Awards and several other major award shows. After working on the Oscar Campaign of Dream Girls and Flags of Our Fathers, Assal began to work independently as a talent publicist, working with various international artists who used their public image to do greater good in their communities. While representing her clients Assal also worked on multiple award campaigns with independent production companies, organized and built several grass roots charity events, such as fundraising and publicity for the Women's Clinic and Family Counseling Center in Beverly Hills, California. Assal entered the political realm in 2008 when she organized and chaired several events for President elect Barack Obama. The Gala hosted August 21st had an impressive host committee of Tony Bennett, Ashley Judd, Lucy Liu, and Don Cheadle and many more. The Count Down for Barack hosted on October 17th, a Get Out to Vote campaign, hosted speakers Esai Morales and Deidre Hall. January 20th 2009, Assal chaired and organized the Inaugural Purple Ball, which was noted as the most glamorous event in all of Washington D.C. This event which benefited the United Negro College Fund, was named in the top five of the Inaugural balls by the New York Times, LA Times, and In Style and received mainstream media coverage from CNN, Entertainment Tonight, The Insider and many others.

Assal holds a Master of arts in Strategic Public Relations and  Master of arts in Human Development from The George Washington University. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the university. 

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