Participating for Change

Understanding how citizen participation in politics has changed American society, and its impact on current American issues.

By Ella S. from Royal Oak High School in Michigan

America has been facing inequality since the start of our country, many groups and individuals have stepped up to bring equality to those who were mistreated by others. These groups and individuals are the role models for participating in politics, leading the way for making changes. The most important idea our government is built on is that the people having a say in laws, who our leaders are, and what changes need to be made. We exercise these rights in our American rituals, and it comes in the form of political participation. Americans must make use out of their rights by utilizing the aspects of our government and constitution that allow Americans to make change and have an impact on American society.

As Americans we use democracy to define our country and values. To many of us democracy means voting for someone to represent us and the things we think are most important. Our country prides itself on having equality for all in , but how could Americans be proud of that when an entire gender couldn’t participate in politics in one of the most basics ways for 144 years. Women wanted the right to vote so they used the aspects of our government to participate in different ways and make a change. Americans are still facing inequality today but it is apart of our history to make change by utilizing our government. This is exactly what the women’s suffrage movement did. The first amendment states, “congress shall make no law...prohibiting...the right of the people peacefully to assemble.” The women used this to their advantage. According to Time magazine the largest protest in suffrage history took place the day before President Wilson was inaugurated. It took place on Pennsylvania Ave, where hundreds of strong women walked passed the White House with one thing in mind, change. The time and place of the protest showed the intensity of the movement and made other Americans see the changes that needed to be made. Problems regarding inequality are still prominent in America, citizens must participate in politics to correct these social injustices. Today women face inequality in the workplace. Many face or have been victims of sexual assault in work environments. Women also face unequal wages and opportunities between themselves and their male coworkers. A movement was started by women who experienced these things and an wanted to make a difference for themselves and the next generation. This movement is called the Time’s Up Movement. According to Time Magazine the movements focus is on, “getting legislation passed and policies changed.” The group wants to change our country’s laws to bring equality and safety into work environments. By presenting laws as solutions to this problem the movement is utilizing the government and its abilities to make impactful change. The Time’s Up movement has a huge amount of support and dedicated people who organize the movement. However, to pass laws and make these changes our legislators must know how important it is and how many people care. Therefore, Americans need to get involved with politics to make change in our society. By getting more people involved in movements, like the Times Up movement, our country can be a better place for its citizens and accurately reflect its values.

One of America's worst acts was enslaving African Americans until the Civil War. America wasn’t done oppressing African Americans after that and they still face racism and inequality today. The Civil Rights Movement made change with political participation. They used the judicial branch to change laws and prove that they were unconstitutional. According to an article by History, the NAACP was, “working hard to challenge segregation laws in public schools, and had filed lawsuits on behalf of plaintiffs.” Their plaintiffs were African Americans being discriminated against in public places where there should've been equality. Inequality within public schools was the main concern of the Civil Rights Movement. They made progress by using the judicial branch with Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that, “separate wasn’t equal,” and prohibited all white schools. The court ruling and proves that our court system will work towards equality but needed a push from citizens. By utilizing the judicial branch and our constitutional rights we can make impactful change. MLK Jr.’s speeches went against the government, but he was protected by the First Amendment. At Riverside Church in 1967, during the Vietnam War, MLK Jr. said, “We are taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem." A group that is helping to fight for equality is The Black Lives Matter Movement. Frank Leon Roberts, an activist, said the Black Lives Matter Movement, “helped incite the release of four unprecedented U.S. Department of Justice reports that confirm the widespread presence of police corruption.” This shows that they can make changes in our criminal justice system. Changes that stop firing bullets, and reduces the bad news we see on TV. Changes in our criminal justice system will, hopefully, lead to less police brutality and an America where everyone can feel safe. Americans need to get involved with groups like the Black Lives Matter Movement because the more Americans that show support for the changes this movement wants, the more likely the changes will be made.

Participation in politics comes in many forms and all Americans can do it. However, not all of us are. According to Pew Research Center, Millennials are quickly growing in the amount of them that are eligible to vote, almost as many as the Baby Boomers. Not all of these new, young voters are voting though. This isn’t a new trend in America, young voter turnout has almost always been low. According to a study done at Tufts University focused on why young voters aren’t voting, the study found, “that nearly 20 percent of young people said they don't think they know enough to be able to vote…(and) a majority of young people don't think voting is an effective way to change society.” This isn’t true, actually, voting is one of the most effective ways to make change. Our elected officials make changes based on what voters vote for, the more votes means more change. What young voters need to understand is that they make up one of the largest demographics, therefore, as a population, their votes are very impactful in our elections. One example of how impactful they are is by looking at Obama’s election, the article states, “66% of those under age 30 voted for Barack Obama making the disparity between young voters and other age groups larger than in any presidential election since exit polling began in 1972.” This huge amount of votes for Obama helped him win the election. The votes that helped him win were from younger voters, this shows that when more young voters participate in politics they can influence the outcomes of the most important elections. When Obama gave his speech saying he would be running for the 2008 election he said this, “...each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what's needed to be done…in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.” In this part of the speech Obama is saying that the next generation is being called on to make change, and take charge of their responsibilities. It is our responsibility, as the young voters and soon to be young voters, to become involved in politics because our country needs us to run properly, and we can utilize it to make the changes we think are important. As a young American the right to vote seems like one of the best ways for my voice to be heard, but it isn’t the only way. After the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February 2018 a student organized rally called March for Our Lives was formed. In March 2018 students across America marched together to show their want for reform of America’s gun laws. I participated in this march along with many other students from my school and schools around us. During that time young voters were coming together for a common cause, to make change. Obama said that young Americans would have responsibilities and we did. We took care of our responsibility to show our view to those that are capable of making changes. The responsibility is now with Americans that can vote, not just young voters but Americans of all ages. For the future voters of America it’s important to realize our voices are impactful in many different ways but that for them to be hear we must participate in politics now and later in our lives.

America has changed a lot since 1776. Changes from wars, economic status, culture, influence from other countries, but some of the most impactful changes have come from Americans utilizing their rights. It’s seen throughout history that participation in politics is the best way to make meaningful change in American society. Groups like the Woman’s Suffrage movement, and the Civil Rights movement have brought not only changes to our political world but also to our society. These movements show that participating in politics can make the most impactful changes on American society that will last forever. Important issues still need to be fixed and Americans are being called on to utilize the rights given to them in our constitution to make these changes. Americans should be using the rights won for them by past movements to make new changes for future generations. 

Royal Oak High School

AP Lang 2019

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Writing Our Future: American Creed is part of the National Writing Project’s family of youth publishing projects, all gathered under the Writing Our Future initiative.

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