To be civically engaged

Like many of you, I’ve (Alisha) remained social-media-silent on all-things-political for the last several weeks. I’ve been a bit paralyzed by thoughts, not knowing what to say or how to say it. I’m sure many have wondered what I’m thinking, especially given my job as the director of a program that endorses civic engagement, a professor who teaches leadership, and a person who says she loves Jesus.

To be certain, I have a lot of thoughts on what’s been unfolding the last several weeks and, although these sentiments have not found their way to a public platform, they’ve been there in my home, in my workplace, and in my classroom. In case you’re wondering, I DO work REALLY hard to present both sides of the issues in fairness and always encourage people to see the pros and cons of every situation. I’m confident that students would tell you that I’ve remained pretty balanced and focused on helping them be independent thinkers, too.

Here are some sentiments I’ve been glad to share in person and now here, publicly, as well:
I believe in the value of our representative democracy, one in which we elect leaders to represent us and one in which we have the opportunity and constitutional right to stand up, speak out in public and march in opposition when they don’t. I’ve been in places where people do not have this right. I’ve watched what it looks like when a government shuts down social media to deter organized action, suppress voter information and more. It’s not the kind of government I want to live with and I hope you don’t either.

I’ve strongly encouraged my students to be cautious of their news feeds on their social media apps. We need be aware that if we gravitate toward “likes” for the same types of news, information, and posts over and over again then our news feeds will become biased (the systems are designed to give us “what we want to see”). This will set us up for being less objective, less informed, and less likely to be the free thinkers we really think we want to be. We should be noting that Fox News tends to report information one way and CNN another but we should read both (and a lot of other factual news as well). Being informed from multiple perspectives allows us to try to understand the “other” and we will not be able to make good decisions unless we are thinking about something from all sides of the issue. I hope we are encouraging our politicians and our president to do the same.

I’ve worked hard to challenge my students to be engaged and be courageous. Speak up when your friends say something you disagree with. Email your representative when you disagree with them AND when you agree. Pretending that what’s happening in Washington, or in our state legislatures, or in our local governments is not our problem… and when we don’t know how to respond so we don’t… is not the answer. People who crave power often hope that those they are in authority over disengage. It makes their job a lot easier when they can do “whatever they want” without having to be held accountable. So, even if you lack confidence and your words aren’t perfect, there is room for your voice to be heard. Send a two-sentence email. Leave a voicemail. Write a letter. Sign a petition. Tell a representative “thank you” for doing something you agree with. Don’t be intimidated. You have a lot more power than you think you do.

Other words I’ve left behind these weeks are to be kind. Persons whose leadership legacy is the most tarnished are typically those who are/were mean.

And, perhaps the most important sentiment shared in recent weeks and months is to actively listen and speak the truth. Respect diversities of opinions and ideas. Talk about differences and ask a lot of questions. Critically examine opinions and proclamations. Challenge yourself to verify that information is true and know that real facts are not relative. When we stop listening and don’t take the time to reflect on ideas we put ourselves at risk for being easily manipulated.

I have lots of opinions about what’s going on in our state and in our nation today. I’m emailing, calling, attending open forums, and talking to those in my circles about those things I really care about. I’m giving funds to support legal action against things I believe are injustices to my fellow Americans. I’m celebrating that people marched for women and people marched for life and that we can do these things in our democracy.

My parting words for today are these: Listen. Have courage. Be informed. Engage.