“Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.”
By Amanda Clark, Intern, Minerva Strategies—
Like many Americans, I watched President Obama’s farewell address last week with a mixture of awe and sadness. While I am apprehensive of the proposed policies and rhetoric of the incoming administration, Obama encouraged the nation to embrace inclusive change and gave the upcoming generation of Americans his vote of confidence.
Obama’s optimistic tone was accompanied with a challenge for all of us to become more active citizens. He warned that, “our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” With post-election reports concluding that voter turnout in the 2016 election was at a 20-year low, his statement couldn’t be more timely.
Obama’s call to action urges us to turn our distrust in political institutions into change by actively engaging as a citizen.
What does it means to authentically step up to our role as citizens? I came up with a laundry list of important actionable steps that I can take, such as being an informed voter, encouraging friends and neighbors to learn about the issues, and attending town hall meetings. While those are important, Obama was alluding to the need for deeper citizenship. Obama urged Americans not to see their citizenship as an opt-in episodic role, only participating during certain elections or engaged in certain issues. Instead, he spoke of the overarching need to be present in your role as citizen over the course of a lifetime.
Notably, Obama stated, “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life. If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office. Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.”
This statement forced me to take a harsh inventory of my political participation in the months leading up to the election. How much of my media consumption and social engagement is contributing to my personal “echo chamber?” When is the last time I engaged in a political discourse with a human being face-to-face whose political opinions differ significantly from my own? Obama’s challenge isn’t just to show up at the polls, but to be informed, engaged, and fight for American ideals and constitutional rights. Obama was reminding us of President Lincoln’s words that democracy is a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” You and I are those people. It is time for us to step up to our role as active citizens if we want to influence our nation’s trajectory.
Obama also helped to lessen anxiety over what is to come by giving his seal of approval, a “shout-out,” to America’s youth. Obama stated, “Let me tell you, this generation coming up—unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic—I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair and just and inclusive America. You know that constant change has been America’s hallmark; that it’s not something to fear but to embrace. You are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber all of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.”
I’m with Obama. Millennials embrace inclusivity, are less resistant to change, and are ready to adapt to the forces of globalization. As I watch my fellow millennial friends plunge into diverse roles as social worker, Army officer, ballet dancer, lawyer, opera singer, and computer scientist, I know we are being placed in positions which, if properly utilized, can be a force for good. These roles can have tremendous impact in fostering inclusive change in our country if they are accompanied with active political participation.
On Friday, I choose not to wallow in sadness like a sore loser. Instead, I am going to celebrate democracy by reflecting on how I can contribute to positive change by being an active citizen. I considered Obama’s farewell address a personal invitation to my role as citizen, and I encourage you to do the same.
Obama said it best, “Show up. Dive In. Stay at it.”