Civic Engagement shapes our future

Being the daughter of a political science professor has its pros and cons. The pros can include having a large vocabulary, a drive for intelligence and education instilled in you from a young age and having an encyclopedia of political knowledge at the dinner table every night.

The cons include having stories of your political ineptitude used as humorous examples to gain the attention of a classroom full of college students. I try to take it all with a grain of salt.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that my dad has helped shape my political opinions, actions and engagements. I would also be lying if I said that I wouldn’t have been lost without him to guide me through our convoluted political system. This is why I am not surprised by the lack of political action in today’s young people, especially college students.

“Civic Engagement” is a term I grew up around but didn’t even begin to entirely understand until recently. To be civically engaged is to, according to Adler and Goggin in What Do We Mean By “Civic Engagement”? is to “participate in the life of a community in order to improve conditions for others or to help shape the community’s future”. Thank you google.

Unlike the common thought among college students, you do not have to be loyal to a party to be an active member of democracy. However, you do have to have values, knowledge on issues, skills to change behavior and policy and a commitment to make that change happen.

Every college student I have ever met holds values; that is not a category young people are lacking in. Studies have shown that young people are one of the most passionate and value driven generations. In my opinion, the problem lies in the latter three categories.

In order to form a complete, healthy opinion on a matter you must be knowledgeable about the subject.

That one semester of U.S. government you took a year ago doesn’t count. To remain up-to-date on current events and issues you have to turn on the news or pick up a newspaper. So much information is placed at our fingertips begging to be consumed.

To be actively involved in democracy we, as students, must learn to stop accepting what is told to us at face value. We must learn to not only ask questions, but also seek the answers for ourselves.

Once the knowledge is present, we must have the skills to actually enact change. The most obvious skill would be voting. However, there is so much more to voting than just the general presidential elections. Voting must occur on propositional, county, city, state and national levels.

I have heard people say things like “I’ll vote when it matters” when referring to the general presidential election, but the truth is that votes matter at lower levels because a minuscule fraction of the population shows up to vote for city and state officials.

Primary presidential elections matter as well, just ask Donald J. Trump.

The point is that it all matters. If it didn’t matter then there would not have been a Revolutionary War, and the framers of our constitution would not have worked so hard to build a democratic political system. A system that does not rely solely on voting but also active participation in petitions, protest, lobbying for laws by calling representatives, serving on juries, volunteering and even holding public office yourself.

Even something as simple as participating in political discussion with peers can increase civic engagement.

None of this matters, though, if there isn’t a commitment to change. As young people, we are the framers of the future, the future we have to live in. There has to be a ceasing of excuse making and letting someone else decide our futures.

The power to change the way the United Sates works has been literally handed to us and we are squandering it. It is time for the term “civic engagement” to become a permanent staple in young people’s vernacular.

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