Our future depends on a generation that is anything but silent

In a time when our teenagers are often labeled as addicted to the digital world and unwilling to engage beyond the confines of social media, I find it inspiring and hopeful to see the contrary as our students take it upon themselves to get involved in civic responsibility.

At the same time, I find it disheartening to see so many who are willing to criticize students for doing so, with much of this criticism taking place on social media and spewed from the same fingertips of those who routinely bemoan how the “younger generation” is too busy texting and tweeting to do anything productive.

Whether you support tougher gun legislation or see it as a threat to the Second Amendment; whether you believe it’s their First Amendment right as students to voice their opinion or merely see it as a political ploy urged on by a liberal agenda: Discouraging our youth from exercising their civic duty fosters the kind of apathy and disengagement that led us to where we are in the first place.

The one common denominator among the majority of Americans regardless of political affiliation, right or left, or racist or humanitarian, is a frustration with Congressional leaders and their apparent inability to govern beyond special interests and self-preservation.

Since 1972, according to a study by the Bipartisan Policy Center, voter participation went from nearly 61 percent in 1968, to hovering around an average of 53 percent, including a low of just 49 percent in 1996 — the lowest since records began being kept in 1828.

Without Americans willing to voice their opinions on issues, and then vote on those issues as well as for those who they believe will best represent them, means we have no one but ourselves to blame for the current state of government — because saying nothing says it all: We are willing to let those elected to represent us operate unchecked.

Back in 2008, my wife and I  took our four children to a small, family-friendly political rally in our community.

Our oldest was 12.

As they made finger-printed signs and headed toward the sidewalk overlooking the highway, I was proud of them for participating in a fundamental right established centuries ago by our forefathers through the U.S. Constitution.

I was glad to know that we were doing what we could, as parents, to raise our children to be aware of their responsibility, as citizens, to engage in civic dialogue that ensures everyone has a voice in our democracy.

I will never forget the looks on their faces as they stood there, excitedly waving their signs — and then watching that excitement fade as passers-by began yelling disparaging remarks and obscenities from their cars.

These children, along with dozens of others, were 8 to 10 years away from voting. Yet the individuals passing by that day felt it was more important to squelch the enthusiasm of these young Americans than it was to foster the notion of being engaged in one of our country’s most important rights.

As we begin the long and what expect to be an arduous approach to the 2020 elections, I hope we will remember, as Americans, that disparaging the next generation into silence would be a tragedy for our nation’s future.