It’s a spirited exchange. Perhaps it’s worth taking a step back and re-examining what we mean when we talk about political engagement; at the core, I’d submit, are principles that apply regardless of age or demographic.
I’d argue that the most basic element of civic engagement is participation in the civic life of your community. Such participation is informed by
- a recognition that there’s something bigger than atomized individualism
- the value of acting collectively for the greater good
- and the most most fundamental thing of all: critical thinking.
It’s the ability to engage in critical thought that makes us “citizens,” rather than mere “consumers” or “taxpayers.” It’s the ability to follow a line of reasoning, to view an argument analytically, to evaluate the evidence on which it’s based and determine whether it makes sense. It’s the capacity to separate the useful information from the bullshit. It’s the ability to see underlying assumptions, to recognize analogies, and to unpack the way issues are framed.
In short, it’s the very foundation of civil discourse, whether in person or via social media. And civil discourse — the words we use to talk to one another, the language we use to express ourselves and define the things we value — is the most basic currency of engaged citizenship. Everything else flows from that.
Voting is important too, but let’s not pretend it’s what distinguishes engagement from non-engagement, and let’s not subject it to condescending caricatures. Our choices are defined for us long before we mark our ballots. And frankly, the more we talk about “tired shopping list” issues like reproductive freedom, climate change, the inequality gap, the more they become part of the public conversation, regardless of how many royal-pregnancy stories the corporate media may run.
Our political institutions may not do a terrific job of reflecting and responding to our values, but that applies regardless of whether we characterize ourselves as millennials, Gen-X, boomers or whatever. Using social media to talk to one another doesn’t make us any better or worse than anyone else; ultimately, it’s what we talk about that matters. And if we’re talking about changing things for the better, that’s a start.
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