By now, everyone is familiar with the largest mass shooting in United States history that occurred at a LGBTQ night club in Orlando Florida early Sunday morning. This latest act of terrorism is yet another addition in the never ending list of mass shootings in the United States. It is beyond comprehension, tragic, and disturbing that a U.S. citizen could walk into a crowded nightclub and open fire with a semi-automatic weapon.
This post will not attempt to tackle the gun control issue (which a good friend of mine wrote on earlier) or the issue of hatred for LGBTQ folks. Instead, I will attempt to tackle the issue of the current state of political activism in this country.
In the wake of almost every shooting (in particular the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary) a rise in gun control activism takes place. Elected officials (particularly Democrats) call for increasing gun control measures, while (mostly) Republicans discuss the 2nd amendment and gun rights. A few citizens get riled up enough to add their perspective on the issue, and within six months the nation is back to being fixated on the latest reality TV show or Netflix Original.
That disinterest in activism is not exclusive to gun control. The average United States citizen is more interested in anything but political activism. Why? Early on after the adoption of the United States Constitution, Founding Father and Framer, James Madison, introduced a series of amendments to the newly adopted Constitution. One of them, the First Amendment, enumerated six civil rights.
A Constitutional Interlude
The First Amendment states:
Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging freedom of speech, or of the press; or the rights of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The rights contained in the First Amendment are crucial to a healthy civil society. The Framers of the Constitution believed it to be crucial to enumerate rights to better guide the nation in what rights were necessary for the new nation. Additionally, it is important that these rights are listed first in the Bill of Rights, as they are the most essential in the eyes of the Framers. The colonial history of the United States is all about religious freedom, the free exercise thereof, freedom of speech, press, and the rights to assemble and petition. Hence, their inclusion in the First Amendment. For the purposes of this post, the last rights listed, assembly and petition, are what we are focusing on.
Recently, with the rise of Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ rights movement, you would not be criticized if you thought activism was alive and well in civil society. And yes, those two movements are great examples of political activism and the role activism plays in policy making. Yet, those seem to be the exception rather than the rule.
Citizens do not seem all too concerned with activism. Citizens across the nation seem to act as if activism plays no role in civil society. To be clear, I am not talking about joining large scale social movements, rather I am talking about being active in civil society. As an example, my parents live on a dirt road in a township with some of the largest reserves in the county. My parents have hoped for the last 21 years that the road will be paved. Yet, not once have they contacted their township board, attended a township meeting, or any of the other myriad of things that could be done to have their voice heard. This story is being played out across the country while everyone is complaining more and more about how government does not work.
The Framers truly believed that for a successful republic (we are not a democracy) the citizenry needed to be involved in the civil society; they needed to do more than vote every two years.
And so, with the recent events in Orlando, many on social media will be quick to post, tweet, or snap their opinion on gun control, LGBTQ rights, immigration, or any other issue embedded in this latest tragedy. Yet, how many citizens will write a letter, be involved in a protest, or call their state representative with their opinion on gun control? I would be surprised if more than 10% of the United States do anything to express their opinion in civil society.
The attack in Orlando on Sunday is tragic. Senseless violence has occurred far too often in our country as of late. Everyone has an opinion on the issues embedded in the tragedy, yet hardly anyone actually takes part in civil society and attempts to make change.
As a republic, we cannot continue to look to our elected officials to craft good policy. We cannot sit back and trust that the country will be run effectively. We are not doing our civil duty when all we do to participate in civil society is vote in the Presidential and Congressional elections. Citizens need to be involved and take their role in governance. The Constitution, after all, begins with “We the People…” not “We, the Elected Officials…“