My Point of View: To preserve democracy, need well educated voters

Published 9:59 pm Monday, July 2, 2018

My Point of View, By Robin Brown

I recently read an article in the American Educator magazine entitled “The power of active citizenship — A renewed focus on teaching civics education,” and I immediately thought of our local Save Our Hospital organization. What a wonderful example of civic-minded people working together to better their community.

Save Our Hospital started with a few impassioned citizens with a common goal — to ensure that Albert Lea citizens continue to receive comprehensive health care at their local full-service hospital. The group began meeting weekly, creating a mission, developing a plan of action and molding numerous individual voices into a single, clear message.

Robin Brown

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Save Our Hospital members understand their responsibility to their neighbors as well as the process necessary to empower change. Their work transcends party politics, engages like-minded neighbors, local boards, regional organizations and statewide legislators.

With so much work to be done, activists can volunteer for group activities that match each individual’s interest, availability and comfort level — from rallies, to “turnouts” on Bridge Avenue every Wednesday afternoon, to Lobby Day at the state Capitol, to letter-writing, to fundraising and so much more.

The group has received national recognition in Modern Healthcare, Politico and STAT magazines which may be an asset as SOH continues to work to improve health care for our neighbors here in southern Minnesota. And they will continue the fight. Even after a year, they still meet twice a month on a mission they believe is their civic responsibility.

Save Our Hospital is just one of many groups of civically minded individuals working together to improve our world. Consider the #MeToo movement —  a national example of citizens expressing the need for safe working environments where people can earn a living free from sexual harassment. Think about the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school and the national work they are doing to improve school safety through public forums and the registration of thousands of new voters. Women’s rights, civil rights and voting rights only came into fruition after a large active segment of our citizens demanded change.

In each example, the work started with citizens passionate about a cause and a desire for change that would help others. This is how our democracy was meant to work. To maintain and preserve our democracy, we need well educated voters who have full access to public information and have direct access to elected and appointed officials. And we need citizens to vote.

We are fortunate to live in a country where all eligible voters have a right to vote. And yet only about 56 percent of the U.S. voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election. When considering the 32 highly developed democratic countries, the U.S. placed 26th in voter participation. In comparison, Belgium with 87.2 percent turnout, Sweden at 82.6 percent and Denmark at 80.3 percent have the highest voter turnout.

Bob Graham suggests in his article “Teaching Civic Engagement” in American Educator magazine that teaching active citizenship includes five principles.

1. Help students recognize challenges … that can be addressed through … citizenship

2. Instruct students … the skills of effective citizenship

3. Provide students foundational knowledge of democratic institutions

4. Instill in students dispositions of democratic citizenship,  … respect for others

5. Encourage students to utilize their newly learned skills

Graham believes that “America needs a crash course in civics” as well as “an understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizens into our collective experience.” And where better to take on the task than in our public schools?

In Albert Lea, we are fortunate that our high school offers a course to juniors and seniors titled “Global Citizen.” If you read the description, it sounds like just the course all our students should take before they graduate. “There will be an emphasis on research, discussion, debate and action.”

Isn’t that what we want for our students? Our families? Our neighbors? Our fellow citizens? People respectfully acting together to make positive change for our community, state, nation and world.

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Let’s change the world together!

Robin Brown is a former DFL District 27A legislator.