Point of View: Current generation does not understand power of democracy

By Stephen Strobbe

With the Egyptian Revolution leading to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year authoritarian rule and seeming unrest sweeping across Iran, Algeria, Bahrain and much of the rest the Middle East, democracy is becoming a cultural buzz word.

The idea of democracy is contagious, especially here in America. Americans love democracy. We love the idea of freedom, this thought that we are ultimately in charge of our lives. It may be important to note here that America does not function as a democracy in the simplest definition of the word, but is rather a constitutional republic with a representative democracy. But that doesn’t matter, because democracy to us means so much more than a form of government. It’s a way of life. When I was in third grade and I got annoyed with this kid for singing in the hallway, you know what his response was? “It’s a free country.” It doesn’t matter what it means because what matters is the spirit of freedom. The technical definitions of freedom or democracy don’t even have to come into the equation.

And still, whenever the term “democracy” enters the conversation, we tend to light up like kids on Christmas Eve. Yes, we seem to think, this is the way it should be! This is how we were made to live! Democracy is freedom and we are all born free. ‘I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul!’

Naturally then, some of the 2011 Egyptian revolution’s biggest supporters came from the West, where post-Enlightenment thinking is so deeply embedded into our minds that we hardly think anything could ever exist but these ideals of individual freedom. Anything contrary to that must simply be wrong.

Adding to our interest in the Egypt story is the fact that it serves as the classical archetype we Americans love: the tale of the underdog. We look over to the Middle East and see this scrappy group of people rising up against the once-unassailable state, and they’re winning. It’s Rocky IV, just on a grander scale and without Dolph Lungdren. Coming down from the high of seeing our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic taking their first active steps toward freedom in the span of a few weeks, American citizens are now perhaps looking inward and thinking about our own freedom.

Here I would like to provide a warning. This is not meant to be a solely political rant. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, a Libertarian or Green Party, Independent or Apathetic, the simple fact is this: we all stand on the same ground. We are all Americans and we all want what is best for ourselves and our country.

But I am speaking from my own experiences and my own life. The world to me is naturally then filtered through my lens of perception and understanding. And a fairly large part of that lens is constructed by my youth. Much of my generation often feels completely ignored by the political game. We maybe found out a while ago that, looking in from the outside, the whole thing appears to be rigged. Our voice was just not being heard, so why even play? But maybe it’s not their fault. Maybe the politicians realized a long time ago that if we were too busy being entertained then why would they waste their time worrying about us?

And so we, the disaffected youth, may have just as much reason to shoulder the blame for a generation of half way informed but somehow highly opinionated (and more often than not just plain uninterested) as the so-called Washington elites.

Still, we must have some way of exercising power. Everybody has a voice. But the power that we have does not have to come from the polling place. Every day we vote, whether or not we know it. Every day we cast a vote with our minds and with our wallets. We choose whether to watch “Jersey Shore” or read John Steinbeck. We choose whether to read PerezHilton or DemocracyNow. We choose who gets advertising dollars from us. We choose who in this world gets what has essentially become our daily tithes and offerings.

We choose what we hold valuable. Every day our voice can be heard, if only we realized that every choice we choose, every decision we decide reverberates well beyond the moment in which it happens. The power that every person holds is that they can influence change, no matter how small, by simply being conscious of the ramifications of their every action. You have the power to dictate culture and where it goes. We all do. And it is in this way we can carry the torch of democracy, echoing the spirit of those newly crowned champions of freedom marching across the Middle East.

Greg Mortenson, former climber, current humanitarian and director of the Central Asia Institute, has spent much of his life building schools for poverty-stricken children in Pakistan. He started on what became his life’s work with no one asking him to do so. When explaining why he did it, he paraphrased a quote from Mother Teresa, “What we are trying to do may be just a drop in the ocean, but the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

So when we vote with our time and our money and our mind, it may help to think of each choice as a drop in the ocean. Seemingly inconsequential, but each drop is adding something to this body of water that is our collective culture. We had better make certain, then, that those drops would make an ocean in which we would like to swim.

Stephen Strobbe is a senior journalism major from Richardson.