Our democracy requires active participation

Another presidential election season has come and gone. Many people simply dismissed it as politics as usual, not believing that the two candidates offered significantly different visions or that their vote could help change the course of the country. However, as a first-time voter and a politically interested citizen, I could not help but feel as though I was helping to decide the future of our country.

It is a wonderful thing to live in a democracy and have the right to choose your own leaders, and it is a right that I believe all Americans are duty-bound to use. Our democracy only works well if all its citizens are invested in making the government work; voting is your way of doing this, to help to choose our direction. Especially in a world where millions of people would give all they had to have the chance to elect their own leaders, I believe it is the ultimate image of American entitlement that we take this right so for granted that many of us do not use it.

Accordingly, it is ridiculous for people who don’t vote to complain about our leaders. If people don’t vote in a presidential election, don’t try to make their voices heard in our process, they forfeit the right to comment on the results.

Active participation is how to make your voice heard. Active participation in our democracy is what makes our country great and has kept our government strong for more than 200 years. We must participate in our government for it to continue to be strong.

As exciting as this election was for me, there were still some very troubling things that I witnessed, things that I feel defeat the essential goals of our democracy. I have multiple peers who went out and got involved in the local Democratic Party to fight for the vision they believed in. When a story was published about them (Herald, Oct. 16) however, they received an incredibly negative reaction from some members of the community, who decried the “liberal education system” and suggested that these kids had been brainwashed and coerced into Democratic Party ideals.

Now, I have not been shy about my political beliefs. In the last couple of months, as a liberal, I was openly critical of J. Paul Brown and other candidates in the newspaper. But, as I rush to the defense of my classmates, it is not because of their political beliefs but rather because they got involved. I know all of these kids to be smart, thoughtful and independent, not the type of people who would parrot information they had been told without first checking its validity. Still though, even if they were, the personal attacks and harsh diatribes directed toward 16-year-olds were out of line. All these students had done was try to be civically responsible citizens of our country, committed to the vision that they believed was best.

My challenge to people is to think about what it is that you stand for, and stand for it. But, while you fervently defend your vision of the future and do whatever you can to create what you believe is our best future, remember that others are doing the same, and respect that they, like you, really do have the best interests of the country in mind.

Our political process can be disheartening, but it is, after all, a process. It is only strong when people are furthering their own views and promoting discussion of the issues, resulting in compromise and finding middle ground that combines the best aspects of every plan for the well-being of the country.

I encourage people to get involved. Please do! This is the foundation our country relies on. As you involve yourself in these activities, however, look to engage, not stifle, the views of others. We are at our strongest when healthy dialogue can take place about the issues, not the violent personal attacks that were so strongly aimed at my fellow students.

Ben Marvin-Vanderryn, is co-head editor at El Diablo, the Durango High School student newspaper. His parents are David Marvin and Judith Vanderryn of Durango.

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