A lot of you wrote about Las Vegas and shared your thoughts on what we should do about this issue as a nation. Some were in favor of stricter gun control. Some were weary of the ability of gun control to stop the problem. Some felt that freedom comes at a cost. All of your ideas, feelings, and reflections were so carefully and wonderfully worded, supported by outside sources where needed, and understanding of others’ perspectives. This communicative care is so much different from how "we" (as a society, not necessarily any one of us individually) communicate these days with social media and the like. It made me think about how we need more time and space to develop these arguments, consider alternatives, and process our feelings. 140 characters just doesn't cut it.
Again, thank you so much for sharing with me because it also helped me process my feelings about the week and begin think about what might be possible for change in the future.
One common theme I did see, though, that concerned me a bit was how often the statement "I don’t want to get political" was presented as a qualifier before stating really well thought-out political arguments. As I saw this over and over again as I read your responses, I developed more adept ways of responding to that feeling. Ultimately, my thinking began considering the difference between "politics" and "civic responsibility." I think you're all concerned about engaging with the Mean Girls style of political drama that some of our elected leaders and certainly the talking heads on the 24-hour news cycle engage in. I COMMEND you all strongly for this. You see that this kind of communication and finger pointing isn't going to get us anywhere as a country in terms of easing tensions and divides. You are all so, so, so wise. Wise beyond your years, for sure.
What I'd like to offer as an alternative to "getting political" is the concept of "civic responsibility." We live in a participatory democracy, and we are all hoping that this democracy can help us as a nation realize a "more perfect union" -- to quote the preamble to the constitution. We all have different ideas about what the “more perfect union” looks like and we have diverse ideas about how to move toward it. This reality is the entire point of a participatory democracy and, in an ideal iteration, should not become a rivalry between left and right.
Participatory democracy, to run well, requires a few responsibilities of its “citizens” (here, for my purpose, “citizen” is broadly defined to include all whose physical bodies exist in the nation-state of the US...unavoidably, some of the items below relate to state “sanctioned” citizens, meaning that certain documentation is required to participate, for example, in voting.):
Stay informed on current events issues; in today’s media landscape this means caring about and developing a critical literacy of news media so that you can be sure the sources you’re reading are giving you well-researched and verified information. The list of sources I’ve included at the top of the Weekly Writing topic page on our Google Classroom provide this kind of vetted information. If you feel your values, ethics, and moral center are not adequately represented on that list, please email me and let me know where you get your information! If it meets the standards of verifiable and evidence-based information, I’ll add it! If it doesn’t I’ll recommend some news sources that come from the same value orientation but are more reliable.
Critically develop an awareness of and a commitment to your particular values, ethics, and moral center. Once you know what these looks like on various issues, use your critical media literacy skills to research candidates at the local, state, and national level, rather than voting solely on party lines. Know also that in a participatory democracy, values, ethics, and moral centers are varied. You’re going to find people who disagree with you. This. is. expected. And necessary.
VOTE. For a participatory democracy to effectively represent the people, citizens must vote. I worry that because of people’s concerns with “not wanting to get political” and not following the life of our democracy as a result, we might continue to see a decline in the polls during election years. The candidates we are presented with may not perfectly align with all of our values, ethics, and moral centers...but not voting allows others who do vote to choose those leaders for you.
Engage in your community. As citizens, we have more power than we think we do. We may not be able to directly influence our national or even state-level leaders, but we can engage in our community in ways that help to make real the changes we might wish to see at the national level or help to maintain policies that we already support and believe in. Find how your skills and passions match with needs in your community, however you define that.
Talk to and with each other, and about difficult subjects. Since the election last year, both liberals and conservatives feel like they can’t speak to the other, or feel like they can’t speak freely in groups where they don’t know the political leanings of those around them. I’m not suggesting that you posit your most controversial ideas in front of strangers our out of context, but that in spaces where opposing ideas exist -- don’t shy away from your perspective or position. It’s okay not to agree. It’s okay to feel upset by someone else’s perspective on an issue that is important to you. Deliberative debate, at micro (you and your friend at coffee, during class discussion, etc.) and macro (national opinion pieces, presidential debates, etc.) are among the fundamentals of a participatory democracy. It’s not in alignment with civic responsibility to walk quietly into silence, or to isolate yourself in “echo-chambers” of like-minded people. This is probably the hardest of the calls to civic responsibility, because many people are feeling pretty raw and misunderstood at this moment in our nation’s history. Try anyway. Keep kindness in mind. Take breaths. Be understanding. Find spaces in your heart and mind to accommodate disagreement. You may not change someone else, but you will grow from seeing that you can express your ideas, take a stand, and feel that the vision of the world you want to work toward is at least part of the conversation.
I hope you’ll consider the ways in which we all, regardless of political beliefs, might benefit from accepting and working toward these approaches to civic responsibility. I’m totally with you, let’s leave “getting political” behind, and let’s walk toward the authenticity of allowing ourselves to take a stand, communicate that stand, and listen with humility to the communication of others’ who might not agree with us. I do, really, really, want you all to “get civically responsible” because you’re not only the future of this great nation, but a very important part of it RIGHT NOW.