As a rule, we get the government we deserve. Political institutions work well when citizens are engaged: following the news, electing good representatives and pitching in ourselves to address serious national problems like health care and national security. When people are detached, governments generally fail.
So, where are we going to get more active and responsible citizens?
Civic engagement that improves the world almost always has three characteristics. It is deliberative: Citizens talk and listen to fellow citizens who may disagree with them. It is collaborative: Citizens actually roll up their sleeves and work together, building or saving or producing goods. And it creates partnerships among people who want to improve the world together.
If you are not doing civic work, you should think about getting involved. Many thousands of college students are volunteers and activists. If you are already active, you should connect with other people who are also involved. Even if they work on different issues or come from different communities, they face the same challenges.
Why do schools and colleges offer so little civic education? Why is so little funding available for citizens’ groups? Why do the news and entertainment media rarely depict citizens working together to address problems?
You need to sit down with other active citizens to discuss how to change policies, laws, funding streams and media coverage so that citizen work can flourish and prosper again.
That will begin to build a movement of active citizens, which is the only thing that can improve our democracy.
This letter to the editor ran on page 7 on 12/3/2013 under the headline "Consider getting involved in civil work"