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America's dwindling renewable resource: participation.

A number of indicators suggest that there has been a sharp decline in social capital in the United States since the mid-1960s. After rising for most of the first two thirds of the 19TH century, formal membership and participation in civic organizations, levels of trust, and charitable giving have all seen sharp declines. There is a strong relationship, across American states, between measures of social capital and educational performance, health, tax evasion and self-assessed welfare. Although this pattern still needs far more detailed analysis, it is pronounced enough to justify further attention to social capital and its potentially powerful implications for a range of public policy issues.

The author of Bowling Alone has written an eerily accurate statistical analysis of citizen participation in communities, here in the states; he uses the phrase "social capital".  It's frightening, if you think about it: the next generation will participate even less than the previous one, by the current trend, and that's a scary thought.  We're already having problems with voter turnout, for instance (40% turnout at the last presidential election, if I trust these numbers).  If 80 million people voted, that's another 150 million who didn't.

150 million people who aren't participating in the democracy.  Of those, I suspect that the highest demographic would be people from my generation: 18-24.  If I stir in Roger's observations, that the younger you are these days, the less likely you are to participate, it becomes clear why Bush had a chance of being elected in the first place.

60% of Americans registered to vote, didn't.  Who are those 60%?

If you're reading this post, and you didn't vote, I'd like to know why not.  Anonymous posting is enabled, so you don't have to provide fake or unreal information.  You can email me, if you like; anonymity presumed unless otherwise stated.

I'm also welcome to ideas as to why 60% of the voters didn't vote, so if you voted and have an insight, or even if you're not a citizen here, I'd like to hear ideas.

How much could the 18-24 generation swing the vote if it participated at the levels that people were seeing in the 1960's?  What if MoveOn.org swarmed the capital once a day, five days a week, for a month? We aren't powerless to change this country, so why does everyone think that?

If you can answer these questions, you can change the world — starting with America.

Comments

I didn't vote because I am a lazy, jaded bastard who didn't think it would matter.

I have since changed my mind, and plan on voting next time around. Not because I think my one vote will sway elections, but rather because I cannot complain about the current state of government if I do not do my part to participate in it. Voting is the first and critical step in that direction.

Pretty darn ironic that you decry a perceived lack of civic participation given that you admit elsewhere that you don't know how to "participate meaningfully" when your fellow citizens make the pledge of allegiance. I suggest you start there.

My fellow citizens pledge allegiance to an institution; I pledge allegian to my fellow Americans. The difference is subtle, and perhaps all in my head, but it is regardless what I feel. America's a great country, it's just that there are some things wrong with it -- and simply the need for such a pledge is enough to drive me away.

My unwillingness to participate in such a manner excludes me from many, many things. Boy scouts, for instance, lost my attention after my personal morals and the morals of the organization began to differ; I feel the same is happening now.

Does this make me any less of a patriot? Perhaps not. My intent is true, and I'm following my heart; anything less would be letting the world down. I see a lot less people along the way, but in the end I find they mean more to me than those I see traipsing along in crowds.

Recently, I visited a school board meeting" (the "elsewhere" you mentioned above); after the pledge of allegiance (which I, indeed, did not participate in), I remained to take down, as best I could, my opinion of what was happening, and a log of what was said; succeeded somewhat in both goals. (As well, during the span of the evening, I found something to participate in and a colleague to talk to.)

Your comments contain a curious lack of detail as to the connection between "civic participation" and the pledge of allegiance; I'd like to understand more as to why you feel that's important to participation.

As an aside, I am also somewhat bemused at your unwillingness to commit your identity to your comments — but participation is possible anonymously, too, and I remain respectful of anonymous participation. Please be aware that, though anonymous posting remains enabled, the system has been and will continue to log your IP address and the date/time. There are services such as the Anonymizer that can hide your IP address from the logs, if desired.

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