"Decisions are made by those who show up."
Student loan interest rates. Affordable, high-quality healthcare. Mortgage rates. Tax rates. With so many uncertainties facing our generation that immediately and directly affect all of our lives, one would think that we would be more committed and active in solidifying our future and ensuring our collective interests.
However, we are disengaged, disinterested, and apathetic. We see a dysfunctional government and accept that is just the way it is. Yet, we silence our voices and blindly hope that what we get from our elected officials lines up with what we really want and need. We see that our world is rapidly changing around us and wonder where our place is in it. Yet, we sit back and let the world dictate to us what we can and cannot do, what we can and cannot be, what we can and cannot think.
Our generation has the ability to make government work for us; we have the ability to stabilize and grow the economy, to alleviate poverty and preserve everyone's right to life, to protect our environment and stem the damage being inflicted, to defend the American Dream's survival and expansion, to leave a better world for our children and grandchildren than we found it.
Despite our collective potential, we choose to forfeit our seat at the table. We choose to leave the decisions to be made by others. We choose to forfeit our hope to change, hope for a better future. Because of these choices, because of our apathy, we face consequences and effects that we may not particularly appreciate or embrace, but must accept. We must accept that political stalemate and entrenchment will survive for another generation. We must accept that our voice and our interests will frequently be ignored and absent from policymaking. We must accept that the changes we wish to see in the world will most likely not happen. We must accept that we will most likely pass along a world to our children that is worse than what has been given to us.
Montesquieu, the French thinker of the Enlightenment, once said that "the tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy." We are hurting ourselves, our children, and our country. Not only that, we are doing an injustice to the founding principles of this democracy, undermining its ability to work for us, and condemning it to dysfunction, corruption, and inefficiency.
I accept that I am an idealist, and some may say that it is impossible to get everyone to take a more active role in the decision-making process. While I agree that total participation is unrealistic, it is closely within our grasp to become more engaged, and to exert a power that a generation has not employed in recent memory. This power, harnessed only if we all buy-in and erase our apathy, could change the course of our nation and our world.
This op-ed was originally published October 23, 2013 in The Dickinsonian, the student newspaper at Dickinson College.