Democracy is not a spectator sport

Mike KnaakEditorial, Opinion, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. Joseph0 Comments

Recent local reaction to gun violence in schools has taught us being a citizen in a democracy is not a spectator sport.

Shaping the country’s response requires active participation and engagement in civic life.

The actions of two central Minnesota women showed two paths among many complicated solutions to the causes and means of gun violence. They both ask each of us take action with our fellow citizens.

After students at St. John’s Prep walked out of classes on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., shootings, Principal Pam McCarthy challenged students to “walk up” after walking out.

McCarthy challenged students to walk up to people they don’t normally interact with. McCarthy asked students to speak with them, sit with them at lunch, hang out with them in the halls and after school. She said the idea behind the “walk up” challenge is when people feel known and cared for they are less likely to violate the area.

It will be hard to measure if walk-up efforts prevent a future mass shooting. But short-circuiting the anger and alienation of a young person who may someday act on those feelings by grabbing a gun is certainly worth the effort.

Among about a million people who took part in 800 March for Out Lives events across the world, 300 people joined the march organized by Angie Trulson in Sartell.

Trulson and many marchers talked about the need for solidarity, listening to young people, acting with compassion and working to find solutions.

Solidarity – working together with mutual support for a common interest – means making a commitment to stay involved, to encourage action, to vote.

Both these actions are really about changing minds one person at a time. In other words, be a participant, not a spectator.

The estimated 500,000 people who marched on the national mall looked impressive on television. But most members of Congress left town the day before and missed the moment except for a few members who joined the march in Washington, D.C., such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar. During the rally’s climactic moment, Donald Trump was enjoying a round of golf at his resort about 30 miles from Parkland instead of participating in democracy.

Those political leaders missed articulate, passionate speeches in democracy by young participants. No one should be surprised by them because they were trained for this moment by their school.

While many schools have cut arts, civics and extracurriculars, Marjory Stoneman Douglas boasts a system-wide debate and public-speaking program, drama, journalism and civic-activism classes.

Congress has pretty much finished with the gun issue. The recent budget bill includes minimal efforts to improve the background-check system, lifting limits on gun-safety research and money for improving school security.

The Department of Justice plans to regulate “bump-stocks,” but that effort probably won’t survive a court challenge because it’s outside the scope of gun laws.

So to make change many people support such as assault weapons and high-capacity magazine bans and universal background checks, participation needs to continue. That means walking up, reaching out to those with common cause and most importantly voting out the politicians who choose to go on vacation instead of participating in the debate.

Author: Mike Knaak

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