Super Tuesday is upon us. It’s the big day when various states hold early voting in the Presidential primaries. In 2020 Latinos will be the largest ethnic voting group (32 million strong). We must make every effort to ensure that our votes and voices count. That means get involved or suffer the consequences.
Earlier this month I attended an American Academy of Arts and Sciences meeting for the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship. Amanda Gorman kicked off the festivities with the poem, “Believer’s Hymn for the Republic.” It gave me hope for the future of our nation’s democracy. The hyper-polarized political landscape is discouraging. It makes it very difficult to see better days ahead. But we need to look closer and realize we all have more in common than we think.
I was asked why people do not get involved during a discussion. I mentioned unfamiliarity with a new process; fear that they’ll say or do something wrong; deferring to others who they believe know best; and time constraints. Additionally, for Latinos and other minorities, a lack of participation may stem from negative past experiences with corrupt governments in other countries.
Except that we all want the same things: schools, safe neighborhoods, well paying jobs. No matter our approaches, we can agree that those things do matter and are worthy of pursuit.
In seeking a better society we need to talk to each other–not past each other. We must do our part to create a freer and more civic-minded society. Yes, this takes work. Work we must all do. If we do not get involved it means we relinquish the right to complain when policies or politicians we dislike pass.
As I write this, I am actually at my local court for jury duty. I confess: it is not my favorite thing in the world. Civic participation and engagement can at times seem like a burden. The weight should not outweigh the benefits. This civic duty strengthens the fabric of our democracy. The truth is it’s a small price to pay for the freedoms we all enjoy.
We live in one of the greatest nations on earth. It is up to us, the people, to play an active role in making it better. By electing people who meet our needs we can form a government that truly represents us.
The work of our nation’s Founders is not done. The civic work we all do moves us closer to building a more perfect union. Conversely, the opposite is true: we have a more imperfect union if we fail to do our part. Essentially, we get the government we deserve.
When we hear the media talk about how “special interests groups” get what they want at the expense of others we assume it was done unfairly. What they don’t mention is that those individuals are only playing by the rules of the game. They have figured out how to make the system work to their advantage.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” That is civic engagement in a nutshell. If you don’t advocate for issues that matter to you, no one will hear you. Or worse, nothing will change.
For the nearly 60 million Latinos living in the U.S. who now comprise 18.3% of the population, the question is whether the government is meeting our needs today. There are numerous benchmarks to determine the answer. Things like access to healthcare, entrepreneurship opportunities, affordable housing, and safe schools are just some of them.
The reality is that the government has a lot of ground to cover. Getting involved ensures our government serves us well. That could mean attending a school board meeting or a local government hearing. Or championing a local initiative in your community. Maybe it means joining associations to advocate for voiceless groups. It could even mean running for office. The ways to participate are endless. The bigger truth is that your participation matters.
Every American has skills and perspectives that are critical to improving someone’s life. Together we can create a society that allows individuals to tackle these problems together.
Fortunately, the Commission will soon release a summary of the work it has undertaken to “deepen the national dialogue around democracy, citizenship, and community, by exploring civic engagement and political participation […].” It will also issue an action plan to “promote the values and behaviors that define effective citizenship in a diverse 21st century democracy.” This can serve as a blueprint for building a more civically-minded society.
Follow this important work. Join others who want to strengthen the fabric of our society. It will ensure that future generations will enjoy the liberties and freedoms we enjoy today. I am confident we will leave this country better than how we found it.