How to overthrow the status quo.
The disenfranchised Occupy Wail Street protesters and the citizens of Main Street have united in untold numbers. Across the nation, people have taken to the streets to overthrow the greed and politics they say have hijacked the American dream. No longer can you work hard and get ahead, they claim--the system is rigged to promote the rich, powerful, and greedy.
Time magazine names "The Protester" its 2011 Person of the Year. However, the young people who turned out in droves to vote in 2008 now are abandoning the political process. Seeing hope in neither the Republicans nor the Democrats, they are disengaging out of disillusionment.
Former TV news anchor and reporter Mary Jane McKittrick, author of Boomer and Halley--Election Day: A Town Votes for Civic Responsibility, declares it is time to remind people that civic duty is not solely the responsibility of elected officials. "It's easy to blame Wail Street, the White House, Congress, the pundits, and everyone in between, but we fail to see the role we've all played in the fiasco. We voted for these people. We abdicated our responsibilities to them. We let them have the power. Now we, the people, are powerless. No wonder our kids think the system is broken and they don't need to participate."
This problem is why she wrote Boomer and Halley, part of a series designed to help parents teach four- to eight-year-olds civic values, including lifelong civic involvement. A successful democracy depends on civic-minded citizens, but people do not get that way overnight, McKittrick points out. It is a value instilled in children from a very young age. That is not happening.
"We're the 99% complacent; people have stopped being involved. America has stopped voting," admonishes McKittrick, citing a Project Vote analysis of the November 2010 elections, in which a majority of registered voters did not go to the polls.
A study of American teenagers' civic participation has found a general decline, according to the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood. The high point for conventional participation, like writing to a public official, came in 1978, but even then, only 27% of 17- to 19-year-olds declared such intentions. Even alternative forms of engagement--such as boycotting and demonstrating--declined among high school seniors during the 1980s, reaching a low of 17% in 1986. That number settled at around 20% during the late 1990s.
The "Yes we can!" campaign of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008 inspired record numbers of young people to get involved but, two years later, they have dropped out of sight. Young Americans, blacks, and lower-income citizens participated in the election in historic numbers but, by 2010, 23% of 18- to 29-year-olds were "civically alienated," a Tufts University study found, and they mostly stayed home during the midterm elections.
People age 65 and older--who have a rich history of civic involvement--constitute 21% of voters though they make up only 13%) of the population. "For the first time in quite awhile, we're seeing Americans in the streets, but no one's talking to the kids about the protests," observes McKittrick. "Children should be taught what they mean and shown how the situation can be turned around. This is a very teachable moment."