It’s been a difficult few weeks for our old American government. From the two-week shutdown to the continued debt ceiling brinksmanship to the disappointing rollout of the Obamacare website, it is hard to find anyone that is positive about the direction of our political system. The rest of the world vacillates between poking fun at, and deathly worrying about, our increasingly fractious polity, and the concept of American exceptionalism seems at risk of becoming a thing of the past.
So with all that said, is it possible to be bullish on our government? Or is it time to throw in the towel?
Two weeks ago, as the shutdown began, GC sent out a national newsletter, in which we claimed that the good work our students were beginning to take on in their local communities was proof that politics can still work. We have started out our semester, and our students are up to good work, taking action on issues ranging from teen pregnancy to gang violence to racism to feral cat colonies in Rhode Island (seriously). They are showing that local politics can work- if people engage in it.
But the reality is that we are one organization, and while the 10,000 students we are working with this year is a lot, it is also close to nothing. Furthermore, I just wrote about how non-profits claiming that they were solving intractable problems through their own (admittedly small) programming was disingenuous at best, and arrogant at worst. So, to put it out there, while GC is doing good work, and I think, is showing that politics can work, it is not solving the American political crisis. Far from it.
But here’s what does give me a little hope- the fact that people are so (excuse my language) pissed off right now.
In a recent Zogby poll, 85% of the country disapproved of Congress. I’m not sure I can think of anything else in this country that 85% of people would agree on (more people, actually, might be hoping that the Red Sox do not win this upcoming World Series). The trick, though, is channeling this deep frustration. For all the problems in our democracy, and there are many, it is clear that new leadership is needed. And for that, the answer is to re-engage in politics, not to disengage.
That’s much easier said than done. Figuring out how to engage with a system that shut down for weeks for no real reason, cost the country billions of dollars, furloughed hundreds of thousands of dedicated workers, and took the country to the brink of economic disaster is not easy. But it’s necessary. We each need to figure out our own role in re-engaging, and slowly, re-building our proud democracy.
Here’s what Generation Citizen can commit to in this fight: doing everything in our power to show young people that they can make a difference in their local communities through using the political process. And trying to start a national conversation on the importance of civics education. And maybe, most importantly, showing that politics and government can be a force for good.
That’s not enough though. We need you, in all your frustration and anger. So, what are you going to do to help? How can we create a dynamic where we can actually be positive about our political process and regain that American democratic exceptionalism?
– Scott Warren
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.