Civic Engagement Doesn’t Just Happen

January 5, 2015

“Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” – George Bernard Shaw

 

I was finding it difficult to adequately reflect upon my experience with Generation Citizen at the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, France until I saw this quote. I was walking through an alleyway in Dublin and paused to glance at a series of vibrant works cast along a wall. In one simple line, George Bernard Shaw perfectly encapsulated both the purpose of Generation Citizen and the purpose of the World Forum for Democracy: to communicate that our (or any) democracy is only as strong as the citizens who sustain it. To ensure the continued strength of democracies, effective citizens must be intentionally developed through education and experience.

 

This year, the World Forum focused on a single issue; youth’s role in revitalizing democracy. The Forum gathered individuals and organizations from all over the world who are working to revolutionize the youth role in democracies globally. Undoubtedly, it was an impressive crowd bursting with innovative ideas and admirable passion. One intriguing commonality I observed among many individuals present was the fact that their passion for civic engagement arose not as the result of a positive experience with government or civics, but rather a negative one. A dangerously busy street without a crosswalk that made it difficult for a young girl to get to school, a cultural and geographic battle with historical roots that continues to lead to violence and the loss of innocent civilian lives in Israel and Palestine, poverty, lack of educational opportunities. Living amongst complex and deeply-rooted issues such as these can act as a catalyst for individuals to take full advantage of their roles as citizens. Many attendees at the World Forum did not wait for change; they discovered a way to create it.

 

That being said, as a society we cannot sit back and trust that deeply-rooted social issues alone will breed engaged citizens. Civic engagement does not just happen. Individuals who create change do so because they find an avenue to channel their frustrations and desire for change into solutions rather than becoming disengaged and bitter. Individuals, programs, and organizations such as Generation Citizen and all of the others present at the World Forum for Democracy do just that – they help to ensure that individuals, particularly youth, are equipped with the skills, attitudes, and experiences necessary to channel frustrations into effective change.

 

Learning from all of the amazing participants at the World Forum opened my eyes to the incredible possibilities that stem from empowered citizens. Empowered citizens understand how to solve problems both small and large by harnessing the civic tools at their disposal. Empowered citizens are persistent and committed and create long-lasting, sustainable solutions, regardless of the potential monotony of the change-making process. Empowered citizens challenge the status-quo and convince others that there is a better way. Empowered citizens are change-makers, leaders, and quiet heroes who not only improve life for themselves, but for others around them as well.

 

In the current milieu of racial tensions, distrust between citizens and police, economic disparity, political polarity, issues of national security, personal freedom and privacy as well as an endless array of other issues, it is obvious that the status-quo is not good enough. Rather than fostering negativity, apathy, and disdain amongst democratic citizens, we need to help create engaged and empowered citizens who continue to strengthen and sustain our democracy. As Shaw so eloquently stated, we get what we deserve, and we deserve better. Thus, it is vital that as a society we continue to invest in programs such as Generation Citizen and all of the others present at the World Forum for Democracy in order to fortify the future of democracies globally.

 

– Noelle Cormier, Boston University Democracy Coach

 

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.

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