It Is Up To Us

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This month, we will celebrate President’s Day. Most Americans don’t pay much attention to the holiday besides the bonus, for some, of a three-day weekend. A recent Pew Research poll (conducted in July 2023) asked Americans to use one word to describe the current state of politics in our country today. The bigger the word on the infographic, the more frequent its response. The top words, according to their results, were divisive, corrupt, messy, and bad (in order from most frequent). And honestly, Americans have a right to feel this way, but the truth is, this is our fault. We have failed at our role of being active and engaged citizens. It is time for us to take seriously the role of being an informed and active citizen.

For too long, Americans have relegated the responsibility placed on us by our system of government to others. In short, we’ve checked out, and we have failed at our jobs of being informed and engaged citizens. When we do tend to tap in, we find ourselves frustrated, overwhelmed, and feeling powerless to change anything. Our country was created to distribute power between multiple levels and branches to assuage fears of a return to monarchy. Therefore, knowing where to turn can be super tricky. The good news is you don’t have to become a government expert. Here are three practical tips to help you take seriously the role of being an informed and active citizen. 

Get Yourself Registered

Step one to becoming an informed and active citizen is registering to vote. There is an extremely long history of trying to control who can vote because voting means political power. Whether it’s an election for the local school board or the president, you do not have any way to use your constitutional right to vote, if you are not registered. It has become much easier to register to vote. You can do it by clicking here.

Some additional information: 

  • You must be registered to vote 29 days before an election.
  • Indiana has an open primary. This means you can decide at the polling place which primary you want to participate in (Republican or Democrat).
  • Polls in the state are open from 6 am-6 pm on voting days. Early voting is allowed but has been restricted in recent years. 
  • You can cast a ballot if you are in line when the polls close.
  • You can ask for a provisional ballot if there is a question about your eligibility to vote. This will allow your vote to be counted if they determine you are able to vote.
  • You need a valid government ID to vote.

Get Yourself Informed

Step Two to becoming an informed and active citizen is to get educated on some of the issues. This can be challenging because it can be hard to find solid, fact-based reporting. However, it can be easier than you think to become an informed and active citizen. I don’t recommend turning to your political-leaning cable news source to become informed. Here are some of my recommendations.

  • Tune into your local public radio. 90.1 FM is central Indiana’s public radio station, and throughout the day, they have a plethora of coverage from local to international headlines. When I am in my car, I’m almost always listening to 90.1 as a quick way to get some information. 
  • Listen to a quick morning podcast while getting ready. I am a big fan of Up First because it covers a few of the big news stories in around 10 minutes. It’s available wherever you get your podcasts!
  • Find reliable social media influencers. I would recommend Sharon McMahon and Mosheh Oinounou. Be skeptical of social media influencers until you can verify they spread actual facts. 
  • Get outside of your own echo chamber. It’s important to hear, read, and experience news and perspectives that don’t just reinforce what you already believe. 
  • If you have a local news publication that gets delivered to you, make it a habit to read it.
  • Listen to non-fiction books or historical fiction that can provide a fuller understanding of history and policy. 

Encourage Others

The final step to becoming an informed and active citizen is encouraging others to do the same. Our system is designed to be able to handle multiple viewpoints and perspectives. It is designed for compromise, debate, and consensus-driven policy. For too long, though, we as citizens have not been informed and active, and now special interests and those who do participate have an outsized role in our political system. 

I love our political system and have spent my entire adulthood studying it. Even I have not been immune to the cynicism, frustration, and exhaustion of the last decade. But as educational philosopher Robert M. Hutchins once noted, “the death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.”- Robert M. Hutchins. It really is up to us. 

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