By Amy Meuers, CEO
At NYLC, we envision a world where all young people become civically informed and engaged global citizens. We work with youths and educators, both in and out of school, to integrate service-learning as a strategy to meet learning objectives, including citizenship and 21stcentury skills, in order to inspire all young people to change the world.
As we celebrate America’s independence this 4th of July, it is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the state of civic engagement in our country. Young people have taken center stage this past year as engaged citizens through demonstration on issues such as gun control, education equity, mental health, and more. They have shown both courage and tenaciousness that demands respect from our leaders and from each of us.
Despite current civic actions by young people, as a nation our democracy is weakening. A new report released by the Democracy Project does not shed a positive light on the state of our Union. According to the report released on June 26, 2018:
Democracy is facing its most significant challenge of recent years. Worldwide, the uneven distribution of economic progress and unrelenting pace of change have tested the capacity of democratic institutions and their leaders to deliver. At the same time, authoritarian regimes and populist national movements have seized the opportunity to undermine democracy and the example of freedom it represents.
The phenomenon has not spared the United States, where confidence in our governing institutions has been weakening over many years and key pillars of our democracy, including the rule of law and freedom of the press, are under strain. These trends have raised questions about whether the public has begun to lose faith in basic democratic concepts and what can be done to strengthen popular support.
The report finds that 55 percent of respondents believe our democracy is weak and 68 percent believe it is getting weaker. This lack of faith in our government and the continuous attacks on media – historically the watchdogs of government – does not bode well for future generations.
Leaders from across the world have often heralded young people as the instigators of positive change in government. In a 2012 address at the National Service-Learning Conference in Minneapolis, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “Young people – it was them exclusively organizing youth for change. They helped bring about change on the viciousness of apartheid.”
I recently had the opportunity to hear from the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize winner and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. One of his quotes continues to inspire me and the work of NYLC: “No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth. A society that cuts off from its youth severs its lifeline.”
As we celebrate the birth of our nation, perhaps we can also celebrate that young people are engaging as active, informed citizens. Whether you agree with their platform or not, we should all be inspired by their commitment to participate in the democratic process and follow suit.
This commitment to civic engagement by young people gives me hope that the state of democracy in our country will improve. We must all commit to support and strengthen the state of civic learning for all our children. Our freedom, our democracy, depends on it.
Happy Independence Day, America.