The holiday season is the season of giving, but it’s also a time to reflect on what we’ve already been given – the gift of democracy.
Our founders fought and died to give us a country that affords its people the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As we all know, we haven’t necessarily always lived up to this ideal, but it’s what sets us apart from other nations where freedom of the press, free speech, and the right to vote are curtailed or non-existent.
But with every gift comes responsibility. We can’t take our freedoms for granted. The way our government operates and how our elected officials respond sets the tone for our country. Over the past few years important norms have been broken. The free press is under attack, government officials are hired and fired with a tweet, white nationalists openly hold rallies, and families seeking asylum are separated, with kids in cages and parents deported.
You may have personally felt the impact of these new norms. Have you been dismayed to find that friends or even relatives brush off remarks that had been unthinkable just two years ago? Have you recently or increasingly been the target of racism or anti-semitism? The new norm has allowed hatred to spread in communities across the nation. Our country is more divided than ever.
“I vote,” you say. “But I’m only one person, so what else do you expect me to do?”
The answer lies in civic engagement. The preface to Civic Responsibility and Higher Education, edited by Thomas Ehrlich, puts it this way:
"Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes."
In other words, getting involved in your community in a way that’s meaningful to you will have a positive impact on your neighbors, your community and even your state. It could be volunteering at your local food shelf, attending town halls to get to know your representatives and learn about the issues, or even running for office.
As Americans, we have a responsibility to go beyond the vote to preserve our gift of democracy. You may see your contribution as one small, inconsequential thing. But democracy only works when everyone participates.
Together we can work toward the ideals we all share.
Together we can create a brighter future for generations to come.
Together we can ensure our gift of democracy stays strong -- a shining star of hope for us all.
SAVE THE DATE
Mark your calendar for MNxMN 2019: Beyond the Vote -- February 24, 2019, at Harding Senior High School in St. Paul. This conference will provide the skills, knowledge and connections to help you find your place in our democratic process.