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Many consider voting to be the civic duty of every citizen, but it is also the absolute least we can do to engage in the civic process.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but – as a parent – I’m not fond of the idea of teaching my son to do the bare minimum.
Now some of you might take offense to a picture of my kid with a Gary Johnson sign.
“Oh, this guy is probably trying to brainwash his kid!”
I freely admit that using my utterly adorable son in conjunction with my candidate of choice this election season is emotionally manipulative and exploitative. So sue me!
Yes, I am active supporter of Gary Johnson, Bill Weld, and the Libertarian Party.
And when I say “active supporter,” I don’t mean I just plan on voting for the LP ticket. My free time is inundated with this campaign and the issues raised by Johnson’s platform. I write an inordinate amount on the subject via letters-to-the-editor, op-eds, and social media. I help distribute Johnson’s campaign materials in my community (yard signs, door hangers, etc.). I organize community events that not only promote the Presidential ticket, but also showcase down-ticket candidates. I’ve donated to the campaign. A significant part of my daily life lately involves me conversing with others about the merits of this particular third-party candidate.
I’m not fond of the idea of teaching my son to do the bare minimum.
But this article isn’t about Gary Johnson; this about teachable moments for my son on how engage in woefully political world.
Rest assured, I’m not raising my son to grow up to become a libertarian. For good measure, I’m also not raising him to be a socialist, a Christian conservative, a Keynesian progressive, or a Molotov-cocktail-wielding anarchist either. Instead, we’re raising my son to be a free, independent, and critical thinker. Of course, my wife and I will help shape my son’s core values and principles, but he needs to arrive at his worldview on his own volition.
If anything, I sincerely hope that he casts his first vote in opposition to mine 17 years from now. The nihilistic joy that I felt when I first cancelled out my dad’s vote is something that all young people should feel. I’d like for my son to enjoy that same feeling of relevance.
But that vote can only go so far. If voting ever changed anything, to borrow from the lovely Emma Goldman, the powers-that-be would make it illegal. Voting is merely one tool in a garage of available options for politically-minded individuals. If my son inherits his father’s unfortunate belligerency toward the world of politics, then he needs to learn how to engage in the civic process beyond the ballot box.
He needs to read in excess. And not just the words of those who confirm his biases. Right next to my copy of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom is my copy of Marx’s Das Kapital. Often times, it best to know your opponent’s worldview better than they do.
And he’ll be encouraged to read fiction as well. The lessons captured in the stories Animal Farm, Heart of Darkness, Brave New World, Invisible Man, Song of Solomon, and countless other classics are just as valuable, if not more, than the work of political thinkers.
There comes a time when an engaged citizen must become a leader.
He’ll learn to debate in an informed and civil manner. The game of persuasion is one that is best achieved with conversation, not ruthlessly fighting to have the last word. In a world defined by brutal tribal identities, cooler heads need to prevail if progress is to be made. In addition, there is the pedagogical perk of strengthening writing and public speaking skills while making the case to abolish the War on Drugs, end domestic surveillance, or whatever issue he champions.
He needs to learn how to network with other like-minded individuals and organize into something bigger than himself. And, while in the midst of this flurry of action, he needs to learn how to avoid groupthink and maintain his unique voice. His individuality cannot and should not be victim of mob mentality. Sometimes, learning when the right time to step away from a group is as important as learning when to join it.
He will learn how to petition those in positions of influence. Staying in communication with elected officials, regularly attending local government hearings, conveying grievances against a governing body – these are all necessary and easily-achievable steps to being an engaged citizen.
There comes a time when an engaged citizen must become a leader. Whether it is heading up an action committee or running for office, those who really want to inspire change need to get off the sidelines.
My son will learn that the world isn’t changed by his opinions; it’s changed by his actions.
And hopefully, someday, he’ll have a child of his own to inspire him to do the same.
Jay Stooksberry is a freelance writer whose work has been published in Newsweek Magazine, Foundation for Economic Education, Independent Voter Network, and many other publications. He writes about his with passions for liberty, skepticism, humor, and parenting. When he’s not writing, he splits his time between marketing consultation and spending time with his wife and son. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.