I wrapped up last week’s column with a commitment to write this week about “active citizenry in the Age of Trump.” That got to me to thinking: Why should active citizenry be more essential now than another time?
True, the threat to our constitutional order is immanent. Nonetheless, good and true citizens should constantly be engaged. The operating word is “should.”
Our nationwide voting percentage is pathetic: a 58 percent turn-out rate for the 2016 presidential race. Colorado “crushed it,” per the Denver Post, with 71 percent, a third best among states. Seriously? School choice advocates label schools with such performances failing. In accordance with that standard, America gets a big fat F, Colorado a C-. (Historical footnote: 83 percent of eligible voters voted in the 1876 presidential election.)
The world’s oldest continuous democracy and we stink. We’re a democratic miasma. Not only is a sizeable portion indifferent to their civic responsibility, they’re also illiterate when it comes to issues and government itself. It’s time to clean up our act.
Liberal ideas and movements didn’t arise and take root with the Progressive Era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The founding of the republic itself was a liberal idea.. Once freed from the principle of hierarchal rule, liberal notions of personal freedom and social justice and equality increasingly spread and took root primarily because those early Americans didn’t take their citizenship for granted; instead, they robustly practiced it.
Our great changes and advances came about because of progressives fighting and standing for human dignity: women’s rights, abolition of slavery, workers’ rights, child labor repeal, public education, food and drug protection, Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, reproductive freedom, environmental protection, LGBTQ rights, and health care. Conservatives resisted those advances and today are actively working to roll back the clock on many of them.
When Barack Obama was elected, Republicans immediately announced they would resist his initiatives despite him receiving a mandate and then being reelected. Donald Trump was in the vanguard of those trying to delegitimize Obama with the birther movement. Rightists who would come to be called the Tea Party began marching around in silly Revolutionary War costumes touting the Second Amendment. Initially, progressives and even moderates didn’t take them seriously. Now they got their man in the White House.
Those opposed to Trumpism and horrified by Trump’s ascension to power earth need not follow that tact, but they need to get involved and become active like they’ve never done before. They can begin by taking a page from the green movement: Think nationally; act locally. Not just to resist the new order, but to advance the fight for progressive values, programs, and people.
An educated and engaged citizenry participating in local political parties and in community and fraternal organizations are vertebrae in the backbone of democracy. An interconnected and communicative network serves as a bulwark against autocracy.
There’s a plethora of opportunities to become involved and active through volunteerism and service: library, school board, EMS, fraternal organizations, veterans’ groups, discussion groups, and book clubs to name a few.
The right is confident it’s won. Eight years ago, it rallied around the Second Amendment. For progressives, it’s the First Amendment: speech, assembly, petition, and press.
Courageously speak truth to power, from public and corporate leaders to physical, social, and intellectual bullies. Gather and work together to show common purpose and community ideals. Fire off letters and petitions to government leaders and representatives. And keep in mind freedom of the press isn’t the sole domain of professional journalists; it’s an opportunity for every citizen to publicly express his/her opinion.
The concept voting is a birthright and needs to institutionalize by assuming at age 18, every American is already a registered voter in his/her community.
This election is done; 2018’s has begun. At the state level, we will elect a new governor. The legislature will once again be up for grabs. Locally, Commissioner Tim Mauck’s seat will be open. There will be Board of Education seats to fill.
In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton encouraged progressives not to give up.
“Fighting for what’s right is worth it,” she said.
Indeed, it is.