This November, I voted in my very first election. Years of waiting for my turn to participate in our democracy finally paid off. The moment was like every July 4th fireworks show I ever witnessed crammed into five minutes; I have never felt more American.
However, it is a sad and dangerous reality that, as a voter, I am a minority in my peer group and the country at large.
This nation is founded on a struggle for suffrage. From the Declaration of Independence to the march across the Edmund Pettus bridge, our collective history is pockmarked with battles for fair and equal representation. However, in a country whose history is interwoven with demands for the right to vote, we are faced with a stark reality: rarely do even half of Americans vote in midterms elections, few citizens know the name of their state or federal representatives, and hatred poisons our national dialogue with bigotry.
Apathy, ignorance, and partisanship keep people away from the polls. Corruption, real and perceived, has convinced our citizens that their vote doesn’t matter. A failing public school system leaves many people blind to the workings of our government. Finally, dishonest policymakers shut down polling stations, draw unfair districts, and purge voter rolls to influence elections. I firmly believe this country stands at a crossroads.
One path leads to a betrayal of our dearest values. It is where Turkey, Russia, and China all appear to march. Perhaps this great nation may be rehabilitated. The other path is what our founding fathers dreamed of. The hope we have of justice, and liberty for all has not yet slipped away. In the coming years, we must fight to reclaim it.
I have hope.
Through the work of passionate, educated people who must stand frustrations beyond measure, this country can make a change. We need daily dedication to a new culture of patriotism. There can be no more excuses for sitting on the sideline while our country suffers. Every American must use their democratic power to vote often and responsibly.
We need ceaseless petitioning for voter reform measures like automatic voter registration, the abolition of gerrymandering, and a national holiday for elections. Schools must teach students the responsibility we all have to this nation.
Abraham Lincoln once asked “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? ... It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
In a democratic society, we take our fate into our own hands. Whatever destiny we weave, good or bad, is the one we chose. While the present may be bleak, we have the power to change.
Thousands of capable, motivated young people believe in the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. JSA’s mission of inspiring people to act on their beliefs is key to building a better future. Together, we can take the right path.