Political literacy vital to a healthy democracy

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Political literacy vital to a healthy democracy

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Bertolt Brecht once said, “The worst illiterate is the political illiterate.” The famous poet and playwright referred to those who ignore political events, those who know not that “the cost of life … depends on political decisions.” Because we live in a representative democracy, as citizens, we have the responsibility of making decisions about our country. A condition of that responsibility is maintaining political awareness.

With only one vote, making a difference might seem futile, especially because our officials are elected through a single-member district system. Also described as winner-take-all elections, a large portion of voters will not be represented; only the candidate with the most votes is elected. However, despair is not going to solve the problem.

Our government serves us: we the people. We finance them, and we should not relinquish our power to assemble en masse in favor of what we want as a country. By saying, “Oh, it doesn’t matter anyway,” we’re giving up any chance we ever have of engaging our constitutional rights. The political decisions we vote on reflect many facets of our day-to-day lives, and some of these decisions mean life and death to our citizens.

From the military, to education, to infrastructure, and to medical care, our country’s budget is under our scrutiny and willpower. This is a willpower we should care about, too, because we pay for it. Whether or not your opinion is an increase in the funding of one thing or the decrease of another, it’s important that we understand the problems that face our country, and the ways they can be fixed. By standing idly by, we act as bystanders to the issues we and our fellow citizens face.

From an individual standpoint, we can decide that we are going to pay attention to the issues and what’s going on in our country, and encourage others to do the same. We should hold each other accountable. Of course, one individual cannot shape society alone, not even a figure as eminent as the president. However, if we realize that we have the ability to cooperate, form groups and tackle the issues, we can accomplish our goals.

We must talk about these issues. Have a conversation about politics with a friend. It’s good to know where you stand. It might enlighten them. Sharing your opinions may seem scary, but we have the capacity to be rational in our conversations. It’s important that we listen to one another and explain our stance with civility. Make sure you look at the truth of situations. The amount of misinformation spread by word of mouth and through social-media outlets with their own agendas is rampant, so we should expose them as such. Tell your friends that you think their source is wrong if you think it is. You might just change their life.

People from all walks of life should discuss these issues because they affect us all. We cannot escape the reality that political decisions affect us, from the propositions our cities have about topics such as school funding or tobacco taxes to the President of the United States. To say, “I’m not going to vote because I don’t care about politics,” is to say you don’t care about how politics affect you. Everyone should make the effort to understand the issues. They do matter, and your efforts to get others to care about these issues can make a difference.