During the 2004 presidential election there was a lot of focus on increasing voter turnout, but voting is the absolute minimum a person can do and still be an active citizen.
The real area in which Americans are failing to live up to their duties as citizens is in political involvement. We live in a democracy, and yet if people are active at all, they are only engaging in the bare minimum.
It is time for Americans, especially young Americans, to make their voices heard by becoming involved in civic organizations with causes that they are passionate about.
I had the privilege of attending the American Democracy Institute’s Eastern Regional Conference on Feb. 4. The American Democracy Institute’s main goal is to build tomorrow’s leadership by engaging young people in politics.
The best way for young people to prepare for leadership roles is by giving time to a political organization or cause.
It does not sound excessive or difficult, but many people will find any excuse not to get involved with politics.
And why shouldn’t this be the case? As our elders see us, we are a set of politically apathetic cynics. But we do not have to live up to their expectations.
Hillary Clinton was the keynote speaker at the ADI conference, and she sees a different future for our generation, a bright future. She calls upon us to make that future.
“We need your voices, we need your blogging, we need your activism, we need your help in anyway you can,” Clinton said.
Clinton said that it is our obligation to not just complain about political problems, but to respond. If President George W. Bush believes that global warming is a myth and we disagree, as citizens it is our duty to pass a petition, form a group or write a letter.
Our generation is known for its generosity in volunteering; we are way more likely to volunteer than our parents or grandparents. This is commendable, but the types of volunteering being done only offer short-term solutions.
Organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Kids Care Clubs are great ways to respond to problems, but they do not address the sources of the problems. When Gary Nuzzi, co-author of the political blog Two Dems, spoke at the conference he summed up the shortfall of responsive-type volunteering.
It does not prevent recurrence. Nuzzi said, “The only way to affect long-term change is to get involved in the political process.”
Political organizations are always enthusiastic for new participants. Organizations such as the Committee of Seventy, Philadelphia Young Democrats, Philadelphia Young Republicans, and pro-life and pro-choice groups are working for real political change.
According to Kathleen Gerber, vice president of the Philadelphia Young Democrats, the organization’s goal is “to inspire our members to join their civic associations, become block captains, get to know their local legislators and learn how to join with others to have a direct impact in their communities.”
Whatever your passion is, whether it be the environment or voter reform, there is an organization for you. No more languishing on the couch arguing with John Stewart about who the most incompetent congressperson was today. Someone who only complains is no more competent than someone who tries and fails.
Get off your butt and get involved. It is your duty as a U.S. citizen. It will be worth it, because as Hillary Clinton said in her speech, “There is nothing more exciting than fighting for a country and a cause you believe in.”
Emilie B. Haertsch can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.