have been looking for a new book that will help me reignite my natural optimism about democracy. Browsing through Amazon’s top choices I was having a hard time finding something positive. I found a page filled with titles like: “How Democracies Die,” “How Democracy Ends,” “Democracy in Chains,” “Democracy in America?” “Unequal Democracy,” and “Democracy for Realists”. Then this morning, I read an excellent article by Yoni Applebaum (@YAppelbaum) in the October edition of the Atlantic – it reminded me that we are the ones who decide if democracy is going to survive or fail.
Let’s start with something basic – the foundation of our democracy is ordinary citizens working with local elected officials to tackle hometown problems. It is not the incredible fury we vent online, the great comeback we craft on Twitter, or even the online petition we sign. Our government of the people, by the people, and for the people is founded on our responsibility to participate – we seem to have forgotten that pact.
My favorite part of the Atlantic article is when he says “democracy is a habit” that is formed over time and through experience. It is our direct experience with government that teaches us that we can make a difference – giving us the confidence to participate in the future. It is direct experience that teaches us that elected officials have the same concerns that we do about our communities – giving us trust in the system. And, confidence and trust are what spur us to participate in the future.
So, where do we start building the habits of democracy? We start when people are young. It is in middle school that most young people begin to develop a sense of control over the events in their lives. It is then that we need to create a space where young people have the opportunity to experience first hand their power to create change. It is then that we need to introduce them to local government. It is then that we should allow them to determine what they care about and find ways to make their visions a reality. The passion of the young is the fuel for our democracy.
If we really want to save our democracy, the best place to start is in our communities. The best hope we have for long-term stability is to foster a new generation that has the habits of citizenship.
Author: Kristen Mueller
Kristen Mueller leads national communications, creating engagement and excitement around Earth Force, and its partners’, hands on, minds on programming. Specializing in traditional media and social media relations, she brings youth voice and leadership to the forefront of the environmental education field.