Our Lives, Our Fortunes, Our Sacred Honor. And Free Beer!!

by Robert Pondiscio
August 21st, 2012

“It strikes me as funny that we call our political organizations ‘parties,” writes Ann Beeson. “Elections and political parties are the antithesis of fun. It’s no wonder that many young people avoid them.”

A lecturer at the University of Texas and former national associate legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Beeson observes in a New York Times op-ed that young people “are some of the most active and committed people I know” yet stay away from the polls in droves.  “Three causes are worth exploring,” she writes.

“First of all, many young people just don’t see the connection between voting and their commitment to improve their communities, advocate for a cause, or change the world. Secondly, there are very real grounds for political cynicism. And finally, let’s face it, civic engagement can be a snore.”

Civic engagement, Beeson writes, lacks “the fun factor.”  It conjures up “images of neighborhood meetings that plod along in rooms with stained carpets, cheap paneling and fluorescent lighting.”

Bummer, dude.

Sure, Beeson want young people “scared straight into voting” by emphasizing the price of their inaction.  But most of all, she says, “it should be terrific fun to vote and to stay involved after election day.”

“What if the average civic gathering – whether it’s a political rally, grassroots group, school task force, or city council – involved cook-offs, improv or gaming? What if we devised clever ways to scale up what’s working, instead of whining for a living? What if we banned Robert’s Rules of Order and actually got to know one another?”

We’ve heard this before in education.  If we want kids to care, we have to make it fun and engaging.  And while I agree with the impulse, there’s something to be said—both in education and in civic engagement—for also acknowledging the idea that we owe a debt to ourselves and history to stir ourselves from the couch and embrace mature responsibility.

“Has the nation become so self-indulgent that we are no longer motivated to act for the greater good or are the issues just less significant and less motivating than in the past?” a friend asked me this morning after reading Beeson’s piece.  It’s a good question.   I don’t have the answer, but I’m reasonably sure that a better grasp of our nation’s history wouldn’t hurt.  If we don’t understand and value the price that has been paid over generations to found, protect, and ensure the viability of our democracy, we can hardly be surprised if our children take its continuance as a given.

Cook-offs, improv and gaming?   The Freedom Riders were not lured onto luxury coaches with DVD players and giddy shouts of “road trip!”  The Greatest Generation won WWII and faced down communism.  D-Day was not, I suspect, positioned as a great way to meet French girls. Unless I’m very much mistaken, the Declaration of Independence did not include the Founders’ pledge to each other of “our Lives, our Fortunes, our sacred Honor…and free beer!”

I’m being churlish, I know.  Forgive me.  But if making voting and civic engagement “fun” is what it takes to stir young people to take act in their own self-interest, perhaps we will be no poorer if we let grownups decide things.

8 Comments »

  1. Maybe they should understand that the largest generational transfer of wealth ever is going to take place in the next 25 years and its not going to work in their favor? Maybe they might want to know that that the education system, roads, bridges rail systems, ports, utilities are all under invested and outdated and they get the bill. The idea of fun sort of reminds me of Brave New World consume, play, don’t worry it is all under control.

    Comment by DC Parent — August 21, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

  2. @DC Parent Well put, and a perspective I hadn’t fully considered. No wonder young people don’t think the “parties” are fun. They’re throwing ‘em.

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — August 21, 2012 @ 4:19 pm

  3. Actually, when popular democracy in this country was at its most vibrant, the years between the Revolution and the Civil War, you certainly did wash down your politics with beer. In New England the privilege of hosting the annual town meeting, the one that elected town and state representatives, was put out to bid. In return for providing the shelter and seating, etc., the winner was granted an exclusive, town-wide license that day to sell alcoholic beverages. Thus, direct democracy proceeded swimmingly you might say. It was the temperance movement that spoiled the party. First, they forced the exclusion sales on site; you had to set up your liquor table down the road or over in the field. Next, no-drinking was allowed during deliberations. Finally, the exclusive license was dropped and many towns went dry completely or at least dry on the day of town meeting as the movement reached its peak in the 40′s and 50′s. The Civil War then blew up all the old political arrangements nationally, but bequeathed us permanently with the politics of moral crusade—,perpetual “School Reform,” the subject of this blog, being one instance.

    Now, as a veteran teacher having been beaten, stomped on and crushed daily by this particular monster, I am all for bringing beer back into
    politics! I have absolutely had it with the phony rectitude of the “Onward Post-Christian Soldiers” crowd who purport to lead me into their visionary green pastures. Lead me rather unto the foamy waters than the still.

    Comment by bill eccleston — August 22, 2012 @ 10:11 am

  4. Doing is work. Accomplishment is fun. The prerequisite for accomplishment is a great deal of work. The idea that everything should be fun breeds laziness and failure.

    Comment by Obi-Wandreas — August 22, 2012 @ 10:19 am

  5. Ahh! You need a beer, my good man!

    Comment by bill eccleston — August 22, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

  6. Corrections:
    • The parties ARE fun for the party members … they’re doing their thing.
    • Yes, the rest of us are footing the bills.
    • The goal of a party member is to win for their side … public welfare is a bonus when it happens.
    • “Educators” can often be placed in the same league.

    Comment by Ewaldoh — August 22, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

  7. But only after the work is done!

    Comment by Broeck Oder — August 22, 2012 @ 5:23 pm

  8. America has a lot of very creative IT people- why isn’t there an app that allows citizens to cast absentee ballots via their smartphones? In the June primary, my hubby did not receive his absentee ballot in the mail and we didn’t realize it until it was too late so he had to go in person to vote. Getting him to the polling place by the 7 P.M. close on a Tuesday was really difficult because of his work schedule and lengthy commute. If we want to increase voting participation, we need to make it a lot more convenient for them to fit into their hectic lives.

    Comment by Crimson Wife — August 27, 2012 @ 6:54 pm

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