Dana Harris, Generation Citizen’s Advocacy Manager, shares her perspective on political disillusionment – and how you can help us change it.
I grew up with the belief that in order to make real change in this country, I had to work around government, not through it. I spent my high school years committed to community service. In college, I majored in Political Science but I was adamant that I wasn’t studying politics. And I wasn’t alone in this. While many of my peers were interested in talking politics and Political Science was one of the most popular majors, I knew nobody who aspired to be a politician. Diplomats? Some. Journalists? A few. But not politicians. Government, as I and my peers saw it, was a space for old white men, bottlenecks, and well, politics (or as I always put it, the politics of politics). Government was not, as we saw it, a place for young go-getters and the fundamental social change and justice we aspired to.
In the week since the presidential election (and even before) my peers have all but begged for ways to take political action. Their goals have varied in loftiness: How can we change the electoral outcome? How can I influence the policies that the president-elect has committed to implementing? How can I hold my local elected officials accountable? How can I get more involved in my community government? These questions represent a realization that change needs to happen through government, not just by working around it. We rely on our local politicians not just for making decisions with respect to our schools, roads, and museums, but to stand by us and our needs when our president may not, to uphold or reject the demands from higher levels of government, and to regulate the social policies that are left to states to decide on – and those that might return to states’ purviews.
Yet these questions that are being asked about how to engage with government are sincere: many of us do not know the answers and the pool of resources that Google offers is challenging to navigate. I never had a formal civic education. Though well educated by most standards, so many of my peers lack the knowledge and skills to be truly active citizens and shape a government that will create the communities and the country they want to live in. It’s not too late for us to learn how to take action.
But more fundamentally, we need to teach our young people the knowledge and skills they need to participate just like we teach them math and English. We need election cycles with meaningful policy debates and diplomatic conversations between those with conflicting perspectives. We need citizens to participate everyday, not just once every four years. We need citizens who know how to influence policy, how to hold their elected officials accountable, how to participate in their local governments, and how to create the communities and the country that they want to live in. Generation Citizen, and widespread action civics education, is more important now, than ever.
It didn’t take the election’s outcome to make me see not only the necessity of political engagement and participation for driving change, but the necessity of civic education in preparing for it. Of course, I work for a civic education nonprofit. But this entire election season – outcome aside – has truly emphasized the importance.
Join me in going beyond the ballot:
- Take action in your community with our Beyond the Ballot Toolkit
- Educate young people about the role of local government and how they can influence it
- Have conversations with youth about the importance of local government
- Influence policy to promote effective civic education.
- Support action civics education
Generation Citizen is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 tax exempt organization which does not endorse candidates; our goal is to engage our staff, participants, and stakeholders in political and civic action on issues that matter to them personally and in their communities. The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the writer alone and do not reflect the opinions of Generation Citizen.