Indianapolis Star (Op-Ed): Jan. 6 insurrection ‘startling’ but catalyst to continue to fight for democracy
Indianapolis Star (Op-Ed): Jan. 6 insurrection 'startling' but catalyst to continue to fight for democracy
When a traumatic event occurs, a person often remembers exactly where they were at that time. On Jan. 6, 2021, I was a senior in high school. I remember being first alerted through a notification on my phone. The whispers filled the school’s hallways instantly, as I watched videos and photos of that horrible day flood through my social media timeline.
At first, it didn’t seem real. The hours during the insurrection were jumbled, and information from our leaders didn’t feel swift or measured. House members were forced to evacuate, and photos of insurrectionists taking over the U.S. Capitol were all over the news. I went to bed confused, concerned and unsure of what to do.
Following the events of Jan. 6, many Americans feel as if democracy is on the verge of collapse. Americans haven’t witnessed anything like this since 1814, and for most of us, it was startling. For many young people like me, Jan. 6 was a clear attack and an obvious sign that too many Americans can be persuaded to distrust the democratic process in our country.
In the following days and weeks after the insurrection, I’ve observed apathy toward startling events such as this. From birth, Gen. Zers have been exposed to violence, turmoil and isolation. And with a lack of bipartisan urgency to respond to these events, many young people feel detached from those in political office. With this detachment, comes a lack of voter participation and civic engagement.
In April 2022, Harvard’s Institute of Politics found that a majority of youth believed “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing.” A plurality also believed that politics didn’t bring about tangible results. That same survey also found a majority of young voters believing the GOP works for the elite, while on the other side of the aisle, Democratic President Joe Biden has a 52% disapproval rating among voters ages 18 to 29.
But not every member of my generation has given up on democracy. Motivated by the turmoil of present day American politics, we have taken to political activism. Protests are a peaceful way to express concern or disagreement. However, activism can only push the political agenda so far. While protests bring attention to issues, they don’t always force politicians to enact the change citizens want. We’ve got to follow up our protests with informed voting in every election and persuade our peers to do the same.
As we’ve all experienced, the political divide is wider than ever. Politicians have weaponized citizens in order to make political gain. And while that may lead to devastating actions in some cases, it also means citizens hold the power to create great change. We have the ability to demand transparency and honesty in legislation, as well as hold our leaders accountable. Whether it’s voting, grassroots organizing, building support for the Youth Voting Rights Act, protesting, keeping your peers informed or contacting your local officials, young people have a full toolbox at their disposal to make their voices heard. Democracy is not purely held in a statehouse or the U.S. Capitol. It’s not held in the hands of legislators as they procure the electoral votes. Rather, democracy is an idea, and ideas are not able to be destroyed by a physical attack such as Jan. 6. Democracy is something to be demanded of by our legislators. However, our legislators do not hold that power from the people. Democracy is created by casting our votes, being engaged civically and holding power accountable. If you believe that your vote doesn’t matter, please reconsider. If you are passionate about an issue, exercise your constitutional right to peacefully protest and continue to be active in your community. If you feel hopeless about the state of our country, remember that you as a citizen hold the power to demand democracy. Jan. 6 was a landmark day in American history, but it’s every day after that will shape how our country moves forward.
Paige Benner is an intern at Common Cause Indiana.