Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bring Back The Draft!

We should bring back the draft. After all, if people felt that they were personally impacted by government decisions, they might be moved to participate. If we truly cherish our democracy, we will protect it where it matters most: at home. Maybe we need the shock of the return of the draft in order to realize that we are thisclose to losing our democracy. This is not the time for America to be ambivalent about its government. Each individual needs to do all that they can to make their voice heard. The leadership is supposed to represent the people, not the other way around.

Americans don’t care really about their country. Sure, they might take an interest in the things that directly affect them such as El NiƱo, Hannah Montana concerts, Major League Baseball, etc. But, overall, the interest of the citizenry in its government continues its steady decline into the 21st century.

Many people compare the current political environment to the Vietnam Era, but it’s obvious that people today prefer to distance themselves from any real involvement with the direction of the country. In one day in 1969, almost 500,000 people gathered in Washington, DC to protest the war in Vietnam. That’s half a million people who took leave from their schools and jobs to send a message to leaders. Protests today fall on deaf ears, both within the leadership and the citizenship. An ANSWER coalition protest permit in September 2007 estimated that 10,000 people would attend. At the time of the ANSWER coalition protest, polls showed that 70% of Americans did not approve of the handling of Iraq. It’s hard to believe that only 10,000 people care enough to actually do something about it.

Election trends are even more disheartening. In the 1968 Presidential election 60.6% of the eligible population cast a vote. In the equally volatile 2004 Presidential election, 55.3% of the entitled population made the trek to the polling booths. Interim elections (which have always suffered from poor participation) have also shown a steady decline. In 1970 the direction of the Vietnam War was on the line and 46.6% of American voters participated. However, in 2006, with the Iraq war in the spotlight, 36.8% of voters cast a vote. This is down from 2002 when 37.0% of people voted. You may not think this is a significant shift, but think about how much more media the media is involved in today’s election cycles, and how many more media outlets exist. It wouldn’t be outrageous to say that more people know about today’s elections and choose not to participate.

How can America be the world’s beacon of democracy when the American people don’t care about their own democracy? How can America fight wars in the name of democracy when America doesn’t even participate in her own democracy? I don’t understand how people can say they care about an issue or an idea, but then trust that other people will somehow take care of it. So many people have fought and died for my right to vote that I can’t fathom throwing that freedom away.

In addition to protesting the general principles of the Vietnam War, the draft was a contentious issue that fueled protests and riots. At the heart of the issue was the fact that people were being pressed to serve in a war in which they had no say. See, the draft age was 18, but the voting age was 21. The war and the draft affected almost every American in a very personal way. It spurred people to work together for change. Although it took time, on July 1, 1971 the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. While this wasn’t the end to the draft (that would come in 1973), it did prove that leaders listen when the people collect their voices.

So, what can we do to pump life into the flagging American Democracy? With support for the Iraq war at perpetual lows and the American military stretched thin, there seems to be two options: dramatically reduce American military participation in Iraq or re-instate the draft. The former is favored by a majority of the country and the latter is equally opposed, but we can’t continue burning the candle at both ends. Something has to give. Up to this point, there has been grumbling and mild dissention with the occasional protest, but we choose to ignore the fact that we aren’t doing enough to send a strong message to the leadership.

I don’t actually support the return of the draft, but I do believe that people won’t participate unless the feel personally obligated. At this point, it’s going to take something outrageous to get America’s attention. Our relationship with our government is not self-sustaining, and just like any relationship, we need to work to keep it progressing. Don’t let the people in Washington, DC get away with ignoring the desires of the people…Get involved!

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