Who teaches the practice of democracy to our youth?3:36 PM
Since I have returned to the U.S., I have repeatedly heard expressions of frustration, disregard, and even dismissal of American youth because they do not vote. In June, the U.S. Census declared that Millenials now outnumber Baby Boomers. While their lack of voting is troubling, frankly, I do not think that the problem is with American youth, Millenials or younger; the problem runs much deeper.
For some, the practice of democracy is little more than to inform oneself about the issues and the candidates, to vote in primaries and elections, and to contact elected representatives (via letters, letters to the editor, emails, online petitions, Facebook shares, and Twitter hashtag campaigns, or any other means that may come along). If these are the obligations, and so few achieve even these modest goals, it seems foolhardy to expect more.
|11 9 07 Voter Apathy Bearman Cartoon Used with permission|
The landscape is not entirely depressing. Current efforts around #BlackLivesMatter have powerfully engaged young people. Some electoral campaigns have engaged substantial numbers of youth. Here in Salina, KS, I was encouraged by young people that I saw at a recent NAACP event. Some young people recently met with the Salina Chief of Police, Brad Nelson, to talk about firearms in the city. There is an energy, but it has to be cultivated, formed, trained in the practices of democracy.
When I learned to play soccer, I played on teams organized by the local recreation commission. I practiced at home and played during recess at school. I had a coach, someone who taught me the rules, drilled me in how to play the game, and convoked others to play alongside me. In high school, I even spent a season coaching kindergartners. Just as playing soccer is not learned from reading a rulebook, the practice of democracy is not learned from simply reading the U.S. Constitution. It is about the virtuous cultivation of a set of practices, habits, and skills. Wanting my soccer team to win the game was not enough, we had to know how to play, by the rules, with teamwork. Likewise, a desire for social change is not enough. We need to know how democracy works, the rules of grassroots democracy, and how to work together.
|(Used with permission)|
Let me extend my soccer analogy one step further. There is a big difference between watching a game on television or in the stands and actually playing on the field. Professional soccer is a money-making endeavor. I believe that the World Cup and FIFA are, above all, money-making enterprises. Yes, they promote goodwill and support youth soccer leagues and the like, but they are also rife with corruption. So long as people pay to watch and sponsorships roll in, FIFA is happy. Likewise, the political process in the U.S. encourages "team" loyalty and financial support and a lot of watching on television and computer screens and, occasionally, in person. That "watching," being entertained and amused, was the point of Postman's critique.
In a democracy, we all need to get off our couches and practice democracy with skill and virtue. We urgently need a renewal of our democratic life in the U.S. Our troubled times require us to find the means to successfully harness the discontent of so many, the anger heard on all sides of the political spectrum, into concrete changes in our society, but, if we are not skillful and virtuous in our practice of democracy, then we will continue to deserve and get more of the same.