“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter” – Winston Churchill
Unfortunately, in the context of modern society, Winston Churchill could not be more right. A lack of political awareness is now an epidemic problem. According to Pew Research Center more Americans can identify Peyton Manning (69 percent) than they can Barack Obama (64 percent). This same study concluded that a third of Americans are ignorant of whether the United States of America has a trade deficit, of which party is controlling the House and even of whom their state governor is. These statistics frighten me. The strength of any democracy is measured by the civic knowledge and engagement of its people; the numbers above do not tell a promising story for the future of American democracy. I joined Generation Citizen to help change the course of our political future, and direct it into safer waters.
I lived in the metropolis called Mumbai in India for the first 15 years of my life. Growing up, adults of all sorts including but not limited to parents, relatives, teachers, and even taxi drivers, would endlessly lecture me on the intense bureaucracy and corruption that plagued the Indian political system. These lectures were largely similar – first-hand witness accounts of bribes and inefficiencies involving some governmental officer. Needless to say, by the time I was 13, I had heard enough stories to be convinced that the Indian political system was broken. However, as I began to learn civics in the seventh grade (which was shockingly only introduced to students that late into middle school), I had an epiphany – I thought I had fixed the Indian political system! I remember proudly yet innocently asking my teacher, “If everyone is complaining about corruption, why can’t we just form a new government?”
Unknowingly, I had a hit upon the core flaw plaguing the Indian democracy – a deep-seated apathy. Although most of the Indian population loves complaining about the problems in the system, few try or even want to change it. This indifference gradually turns the Indian populous into participants of a system that shuns merit and champions immorality. But why is the Indian population so apathetic towards such a serious national issue? It seems that changing the system involves a great deal of manpower, motivation and energy. The older intellectuals of the country are either lured away through dirty large heaps of money or they do not meet the previous criteria. This process of elimination leaves only one powerhouse age group that has the potential to change everything: the youth.
Only the youth can clean up the mess former generations have made of this sacred political process. Civic engagement is thus not a privilege, but rather a fundamental duty we must perform to create a society that is more just and efficient. Today’s younger generation is also in a unique position to affect the political process. This generation has been molded by globalization and the information revolution. Each of our younger voices is peppered with varying cultures, perspectives and insights. This younger generation of ours embodies the true sense of democracy like no other, and we dishonor this gift by civically disengaging.
This realization propelled my friends and I to engage in a political magazine that documented the opinions of young writers across high schools in Mumbai. We also expanded the Model United Nations program at our school, and even started a tradition of hosting a conference every year. These events sparked a chain reaction in my school. Groups of students in the grades below are becoming increasingly politically active; they are starting social and political discussions within school, and are even incorporating “politically active” as a positive in the social hierarchy.
Although this is most certainly promising, the chain reaction has failed to reach a very large number of students. I witnessed a similar problem when I moved to Greenwich, Connecticut during sophomore year of high school. Although partaking in social and civil issues interests students, their attention span fails to outlast the previous trend. The only solution to this issue is through a long-term integration of an action-and-result based civics education in the students’ regular curriculum. Generation Citizen does exactly this, and that is why I could not be happier to be a part of the team. I hope to learn from this model, and eventually start a similar one back home in Mumbai.
– Ashim Vaish, Generation Citizen Development Intern
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.