Dr. David J. Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University
The nature of a democratic government it is political system that is not ruled by just one person (Monarchy) or a small elite group (Oligarchy), but is ostensibly ruled by “The people.” For more details on the nature of our US democracy please see our article entitled A Democratic Republic: What is That??? In order for democracy to be successful in the US for best results average citizens and not just the wealthy should be involved in the political process and be civically engaged. When many citizens of the US think of the political process and the individuals that hold the power and have the greatest influence they think of those in political offices on the city, county, state and national levels such city council members, mayors, county auditors, governors, presidents and senators. However, in theory the true power of a democratic republic is in the hands of the average citizen. We have written on the topic in the past would like to republish it again below.
Originally Published July 4, 2010
How Average Citizens Can Participate in the Democratic Process
Many people in the United States express apathy, disinterest and disillusionment with the political process. This mindset translates to the ballot box on election day. Voter turnout usually has never gone above 45% in presidential elections. Many citizens have the mindset of “What is the use?” and “My vote doesn’t count anyway?” or “Why should I waste my time, those politicians do not care about me anyway?” However, these responses are often rooted in the fact that many people do not understand the power that they have as individual citizens in a democracy to bring about change. This can often be attributed to misunderstandings and some misinformation about the political process. Indeed, we have stated before that one of the hallmarks of a successful democracy is an educated citizenry.
Learning Resources on Citizenship and Civic Participation
In light of educating citizens, please go to a previous article we have written in terms of the importance of being involved in local elections and even participating in off-year elections. Also, here is a resource from I-Civics that teaches people about citizenship and participation. It is a group of lessons that educates people on “what it means to be a U.S. citizen and how citizenship is obtained. Learners will compare and contrast personal and political rights with social responsibilities and personal duties. Learners will explore global citizenship, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens in other countries. They will also learn about community engagement by selecting a problem of their own and creating a plan to solve it.” Also check out this great NPR article entitled “Can Teaching Civics Save Democracy?” that discusses the merits of using high school social studies classrooms to encourage civic engagement.
1. Often people think of youth under the age of eighteen as being too young to be involved in civic engagement and participation. How can teachers get their students in elementary, middle school or high school involved in civics and the political process before they are old enough to vote?
2. At what age were you when you were first involved in the political process? What factors encouraged or hindered you from voting and/or getting involved in other ways?
3. After going through some of the resources above, what are ways that you can be involved in the local political process? What are ways you can get involved that take place away from the ballot box?
I’m glad you talked about how we don’t take part in our country’s politics. In my opinion, we should be more politically informed and take a role in our community. I believe it’d be wise to take a moment and research our politicians and their campaigns, so I’ll be sure to spread the word. Thanks for the advice on how we could be more engaged in politics.
I think that creating activities about civic engagement will allow students to understand the influence that they will have once they are older. I also think that ir will teach the significance of being an informed voter.
I wish I would have gotten more into politics growing up. I am now having to go through my life with only a little amount of knowledge and hearing everyone talk about politics. I am getting older now though, and I am finding the significance in what really goes on in politics.
I was first involved in politics in high school, as a member of an all-girls club, we did volunteer work for the community. One of our ‘jobs’ was to work for a particular parties re-election campaign at a call center; even though we were not a political party affiliated club, and this decision was made by the administrator who sponsored the club. This experience did not encourage my civic engagement, but instead made me feel like people in power decide elections.
As an adult, I now realize getting involved in local politics, voting, do make a difference and that the only other option would be to concede to powers you may or may not agree with. This article helped me to remember the importance of that.