Posted on the Red Dirt Report by NYLA ALI KHAN | MAY 15, 2017
Action Civics: To lead change, we must first teach it
EDMOND, Okla. – On May 12, I was invited to the Capitol, the seat of government in Oklahoma, to judge the Inaugural Civics Day, organized by Generation citizen. Generation Citizen has been assiduously working to engage young people in the United States in the processes of democracy, to acquire skills and knowledge that would enable students to effectively participate in decision-making and political processes, to recognize the importance of standing up and being counted as well as the value of the vote.In order to improve the election process for the people of the United states, particularly millennials, to engage and encourage them to be informed and to vote, it is imperative to identify issues that are important to voters to inspire them to want to make a significant difference by voting and participating. It is unfortunate that the average US citizen knows very little about how the local, state, or federal government works, which is why it is necessary to begin civic education in early grades, and this should press upon high school seniors the importance of registering to vote.
I reiterate that civil society and political institutions are closely interconnected. In order to create democracy, there must be a minimum of participation and adequate pluralism in a society. A consolidated democracy has to be open to diverse opinions; dissent and differences of opinion on policies is an important element of every democracy. This issue needs to be not addressed just in Oklahoma but across the nation as well.
As I’ve said elsewhere, the non-legislative reforms/ changes that we require are new efforts and new forums not just in the United States but in other parts of the world as well for the germination of new ideas, broad based coalition politics that transcends organizational divides, and give our citizenry the space and leeway to make important political decisions.
The students I interacted with on Civics Days were from Dimensions Academy, Harding Fine Arts Academy, Norman High School, Norman North High School, Southeast High School, and Southmoore High School. Each group of diligent, bright, and engaged millenials had chosen an issue in which they were invested; they had employed an effective strategy to successfully resolve the issue; they had garnered the courage to approach their representatives/ legislators/ decision-makers in order to implement their recommendations; and they reflected on their successes, challenges, the processes of negotiation, dialogue, and accommodation required to reach some kind of fruition. I was particularly struck by the self-reflexiveness of the students; their ability to recognize the clout that the local community can exercise, and to think constructively about structural change. Politics was no longer an abstract notion for these young people, but a concrete method to bring about long-term reforms, which younger generations could build on. While I enjoyed all the projects that the students had worked on, my interest was greatly piqued by the “Human Trafficking in High Schools” and “Pollution in Drinking Water” action projects. I asked the participants about their investment in the two projects, their main goals, and the long-and-short-term strategies and tactics they would deploy to accomplish those goals:
“To spread awareness for our community” -12th grader at Southeast High School, Enrique Sanchez
“I became really interested in focusing on human trafficking when I realized how close to my home and school it was occurring and how anyone can be affected by it.” -12th grader at Southeast High School, Hailey Holliman
“It’s important to me because I have nieces and nephews that can easily become a part of it and I don’t want to be worried if I’m going to see them again and to help the affected families.” -12th grader at Southeast High School, Ryan P.
“I was a part of the Generation Citizen group that focused on nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in Lake Thunderbird. The issue was caused by grass clippings and fertilizer going into the lake through the runoff. Our goal was to increase public awareness of the issue and make sure further pollution is diminished. I personally enjoyed the project because it gave me a unique way as a high school student to make an impact on the community I live in”—Jake Hulin, Norman North High School.
An engaged citizenry, civic/ voter engagement and reconstruction of society, and democracy in action can effectively cure those sections of the populace that are impacted by the lack of voter engagement.
Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.