The end of 2016 came at us hard and fast as we the people elected a new President into office. With the inauguration of our 45th president coming up on January 20th, I thought I would get ahead of the political articles, whether positive or negative, that will soon flood your timelines. But instead of focusing on the inauguration, I want to highlight a few points Barack Obama made during his Farewell Address.
In case you missed it, last Tuesday, January 10th, Barack Obama gave his Farewell Address to the American people in Chicago where his political career began. He touched on many topics, some of which were all that America has accomplished in the last eight years, race, healthcare, and finding common ground as American people. In my opinion, his speech was powerful and there were so many wonderful points made, but I cannot cover them all in just one blog post. With that being said, I do want to echo his sentiments on democracy using his own words from the address, my thoughts, and the thoughts of Viola Davis, an American producer and actress.
My first time able to practice voting rights as an American citizen was during the 2016 Presidential Election. What an initiation to politics, am I right? With the election’s outcome, I am now more tuned into politics than ever. But more importantly, I am committed to spreading the truth about democracy.
Democracy (n.) – a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.
Now, I hate to state the obvious but, nothing about democracy says people do not have a voice. It actually states that the “whole population” does. So, while I wasn’t thrilled about our nation’s selection for president on Tuesday, November 8th, 2016, we, as the American people, did elect Trump. I think Viola Davis said it best when she was asked about Donald Trump backstage at the Golden Globes. She said, “I think that America in and of itself has been an affirmation, but I think we’ve fallen short a lot because there is no way that we can have anyone in office that is not an extension of our own belief system. So then, what does that say about us? And I think that, if you answer that question, I think that that says it all.”
Oftentimes, we feel as though we don’t have a say in our governance. But what you might not know is that “voting rates in America are some of the lowest among advanced democracy.” How embarrassing! It’s not that we don’t have a say, it’s that we don’t use our say. You can’t be upset about the outcome of the election if you didn’t vote because you willingly gave up your voice. It shows a lack of maturity and ownership to simply blame the elected for circumstances that took a nation to create. Put simply, “We weaken those ties (democracy)… When we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and when we sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.” As American citizens, we all played and continue to play a role in how we are governed, who is elected, and much more. We must accept “… the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power happens to be swinging.” We must always be involved and in tune with what is going on so that we can speak up on all issues, not just the ones that seem to directly affect us.
Being involved and in tune is necessary because every time we give up our power to speak through voting, writing to an elected official, protesting, or petitioning, we weaken our countries democracy. “George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but ‘from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken… to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth’.” George Washington was right. Whenever we feel as though we have no say in our governance, in our minds the conviction of the truth about democracy, the fact that democracy includes and encourages the voices of everyone, is weakened.
With that being said, when things in politics are not going your way instead of giving up on the system and calling it corrupt, it is important to realize that “democracy does not require uniformity. Democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity.” This means that if you want to see change the opportunity is there. Find a group of people who feel the same way about issues you’re passionate about, and take those concerns known to your elected officials. Better yet, if you feel so compelled, take steps to become an elected official, but do not mistake lack of action for freedom of expression. When it comes to democracy, action is the only way to express oneself. Silence does nothing.
I’ll end with my favorite quote from the night. “Change only happens when ordinary people get involved, and they get engaged and they come together to demand it.”
For eight years Barack Obama has led our nation in change, and if the inauguration on January 20th, 2017, sparks anything in you, I urge you to demand the change you want to see, because democracy is a powerful thing if used correctly.