Labor Day is the traditional start of the election season in an election year. Every two years, we wrap up this weekend, and finally start to pay attention to the candidates, their backgrounds, their records, and what they propose to do to solve our problems.
What often follows are town halls and debates, candidate coffees, and position documents. The state blue book on ballot questions comes out, the elections offices ramp up, volunteer election judges and poll watchers get trained and in Colorado, our mail ballots arrive so we can mail them back, drop them off, or go vote in person.
At least that is how it is supposed to work. But something insidious is underway, and it appears to be impacting our ability to agree to disagree, to treat candidates running for election respectfully, regardless of our personal decision of whether or not to vote for them, or even to conduct ourselves as adults when it comes to those hard-working government employees who run our elections.
In Colorado, voters have historically had high confidence in our elections, and we have been proud of our election process, which has been heralded nationwide as “the gold standard election process.”
This year as never before, I find myself mourning the absence of civics education — not just recently, but over the past few decades. and I am gladdened by the small revivals that are beginning to appear.
Sometimes called “citizenship education”, civics is the study of the rights and responsibilities of citizens and the functioning of government in society. The purpose of civics education is to prepare students to be informed and engaged citizens, with an understanding of how democratic processes work, as well as how to engage in these processes. I believe that schools should help young people acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that create an informed society.
The term “civics” derives from the Latin word “civicus”, meaning “relating to a citizen”. The term relates to all the processes that affect people’s beliefs, commitments, capabilities, and actions as members or prospective members of communities and how that behavior affects other citizens.
In a classroom, instruction in civics can include government, history, law, economics, and geography, as well as helping students learn how to discuss current events. But civic education actually isn’t always intentional or deliberate. Institutions and communities transmit values and norms sometimes without meaning to — what we value comes out in how we live, how we work, and how we act toward others.
But, did we really think that democracy can be sustained without an active effort to educate our children and ourselves in the responsibilities inherent to being a contributing member of this (for now) democratic society?
There is a rising tide of those who for years have claimed that the word “government” is a dirty word — who blame the government for the ills they perceive (real or imaginary), who attempt to assign values to our Constitution that were not there in the minds of our founding fathers. That tide now includes people who run as candidates or who support candidates who refuse to lose.
A CBS news poll this past weekend revealed that 60 percent of Republican candidates are election deniers. They claim the right to “rerun the 2020 election”. There is no Constitutional basis to “rerun” an election. There is no Constitutional authority for the U.S. military to be sent out to seize voting machines. There is no place in American democracy for political violence. These are all marks of a fascist system of dictatorship.
The government of the United States of America was formed as a government “of the people, by the people and for the people”. NOT for corporations, not for whiny complainers, not for greedy rich power mongers, and surely not for the benefit of our foreign adversaries. It was created as the result of a compromise over slavery and civil rights that has haunted us ever since, but it has also, at least until now, survived as one of the best civics examples the world has ever had. This country was built by us — the middle class, with hard-won and back-breaking belief that with opportunity comes responsibility.
As Benjamin Franklin said when he walked out of Independence Hall after the Constitution had been approved and was asked what kind of government had been approved, he replied “A Republic, if we can keep it.”
Featured image: Fundamental transformation can happen in civics classes where students learn how to listen to each others opinions. Photo by John Fonte for www.hudson.org
Note: Our Voice is the editorial section of Ark Valley Voice. The opinions expressed are those of the Publisher/Managing Editor, and not Ark Valley Voice.