Proposed Pulpit editorial topic, to deliver at First U of Abq this summer:
"One of my pet peeves is the lack of knowledge our citizenry has of the basic operations of our government (not UUs, of course)...do you have a take on what is needed to ensure that your generation knows such things as how many branches of government we have, their functions, what is contained in the bill of rights, what federalism is, etc., etc.? How can we hope to engender equal rights for all in all circumstances in the face of...well...ignorance concerning what "equal rights" means? Do we need to start remedial Civics classes?"
Rough shape from which the editorial will be carved:
It's fast becoming time for me to step back as the voice of youth. After all, I'm legally an adult, and I've legally been an adult for over two years now, which is half the total time one really gets to be a "youth". This is, then, almost overstepping. I hope you'll indulge me - I have just a little left to say about youth, and at least in this congregation, I've been a bit of a mouthpiece for my generation. Consider this, then, my swan song. Fittingly, it shall be a song of politics - I am nothing if not political. Perhaps more meaningfully, it is about the very edges of politics, that periphery so unfamiliar to talking heads and so prevalent for everyone else.
I'm a theory junky. I love the big picture - it's why I care about politics in the specific, and not justice as a broad category. My mind delights at the machinations across the macro level. I am, you could say, a bit of a wonk. Which is well and fine for me. But it places a tremendous amount of distance between myself and what I'm actually studying. Decisions about politics happen on the macro level, but politics is experienced every day in very personal ways. There are some easy examples of this - Raise your hand if you've ever been to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Okay, you can stop your grumbling and put your hands down. Yeah, I know, right? Awful place. But that, right there, is the end result of about a century of politics figuring out how to combine people and cars. Heck, there's even a school of thought out there which says the government can't make that decision; of course, that's taking me straight back to wonky. And this is about the very, very personal. Going to the DMV is easily one of the most benignly unpleasant experiences of a person's life, and that's the first place youth go to be confirmed in the eyes of the government as having adult competency. The policy, the deliberations, the behind-the-door decisions: "well, okay, we need to do it, but it'll be very expensive. Unless we pay poorly, and then we guarantee our public gets generally mediocre service. Still, I'd rather do that than ask them to pay more taxes - oh, let's just make it suck", that is all irrelevant to the person waiting in an interminable line to fill out lots and lots of forms.
Let's try a different one. Raise your hands if you attended public school. Now keep your hands in the air you ever broke a school rule. Okay, great - some of you are honest. Now, keep your hands in the air if, when you broke a school rule, you were escorted to the principals office by an armed police officer? Ah - so you're the post-columbine generation. Glad to see a few of you here this Sunday.
So that, that's where politics happens. I'll go ahead and say that I think armed cops in schools are a sign of a police state. And I'll make that even creepier by saying it's not all that bad, once you get used to it. I mean, I know it's wrong, but it's something bad that one outgrows. So long as adulthood is less policed than childhood, temporary injustices and inhumanities are tolerated. Of course, it's important to emphasize that "tolerated" and "accepted" aren't synonymous. People can tolerate a lot of bad, but people will accept very little of it as permanent and irreversible.
Last big question - hands up for anyone here who here as ever made something and put it online? Well, congrats yo you all. Any of you used music in a video and had it legally threatened? No? Well, I guess the RIAA is busy these days, so it might have slipped through. I'll speak for myself, then - I'm a little annoyed at all the transfers of rights that happen to me when I put my creative content online. And more than that, I'm kind of terrified at the places where government can take art and hold it up as a threat to commerce. And if you're afraid I'm getting a bit too wonky on this one, it's because the issue necessitates it.
If a youth, in regular civilian life, runs into government-created obstacles, the youth will then do one of a few things. First, circumvent it - the easiest way to interact with the government is to break rules and then be really clever about it. This works out great for the youth, but it undermines the whole "rule of law" principle upon which society is based. The other thing the youth could do is figure out how to make the law work on the periphery. My blog is creative commons licensed, which was a whole area of wonk-i-ness that I had no idea existed until I started caring about internet culture.
And that's what's fascinating about this generation. Yes, we may not inherently know everything we need about our government, but we are, in the words of an anonymous commenter online, "of a generation that values knowing where to find the answer over how to find the answer". We have all the knowledge available to understand our society at our fingertips, and as soon as it becomes useful to us, we'll make great use of it.
And right at our fingertips are where we have the remedial civics classes. No, everyone won't go out of there way to learn even the full set of basics. But on that edge of politics and daily life, that bleeding edge where the two run into each other, people will figure it out. Problems will be found, hypocrisies exposed, and laws either subverted, ignored, or challenged. Where government doesn't make sense, laws will be improvised and new social arrangements will be found until law catches up with society. There's no need for a new, sweeping re-education about what it means to be a citizen in this nation. So long as we treat people, and especially youth, as citizens, they'll figure out what rights are their's. More importantly than that, though, they'll figure out that wonderful little bit about the social contract - we are the mandate of heaven. If our government doesn't act in our best interest, we have both the power and the obligation to
change that. And, and I firmly believe this as almost an article of faith, that so long as the knowledge is out there, we will find it, and so long as we can find it, we will use it.
It is a Unitarian cliche to quote Marget mead and say "Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." There is a lot of truth in that statement - but it overlooks the seachange made possible by an untold number of interested, casually motivated citizens, for whom politics is part of the game, but it is just a part. We are living the civics courses we need. Raised in this church, in the tradition of youth empowerment, there was never any doubt in my mind that politics was a part of life that one is allowed to partake in. Much as I love to pile praise upon this church, last summer's election campaign was the clearest indicator that we aren't the only group that takes youth empowerment and turns it directly into political action.
For all the doubt and skepticism about my generation that abounds today, we're a surprisingly capable bunch. We came of age after a national tragedy, were handed a dead-end war, witnessed the failure of apathy about politics in the form of a little thing named Katrina, and we're faced with "the great recession". And what have we done? Hard to say anything less than rise to the task. We've learned the civics lessons we need, and we are ready for an era of great reforms. I think, to understate the matter, that this bodes well for our nation. The kids today? The kids are alright.