As a teenager in the 1950s, I entered the contest called, “I Speak for Democracy,” which was sponsored by Veterans of Foreign Wars. At the time I was hoping to win a college scholarship, but now my priorities have changed. I am speaking for democracy again, but my motivations are quite different. I believe that the time has come for all decent people to make their voices heard.
In 1949, as a six-year-old child standing on the deck of a troop ship to view the country we had come to occupy, I was shocked by the complete destruction as the port city of Bremerhaven came into view. I asked the man standing next to me what the big black arrows pointing to basement windows meant, and he answered very casually that the arrows showed rescuers where to find the bomb shelter in which there might be survivors. Though a child, I was horrified — as any sane person would be. At that moment, I saw the results of years of saving tin foil from gum wrappers, growing our own vegetables, using ration cards, etc., to help the war effort, and I understood why the later years of carefully packing care packages for the survivors in Europe were so necessary. I could not fathom why so much suffering was necessary. However, after learning of the Nazi atrocities and seeing the the former concentration camps and the camps for displaced people, I knew that the war was unavoidable, and I am proud that many members of my extended family served during World War II. I reflected on all these things as I prepared my “I Speak for Democracy” speech to be delivered later at a high school assembly.
Today democracy is again at risk across the globe, with isolationism, nationalism, militarism, and xenophobia on the rise in many countries. Therefore, I believe that it is time for everyone to get involved in the effort to save our precious, endangered form of government. Our founding fathers designed our government as a democratic republic, meaning that decisions would be made by trusted representatives elected by the people. Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in part because he recognized the risks of an uneducated electorate choosing a demagogue along with unfit members of the legislature.
“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government;… whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price, 1789.
Allies betrayed, children in cages, doors slammed shut on refugees, foreign countries able to interfere in our elections, Nazis able to march in Charlottesville – things have surely gone so far wrong as to attract MY notice. This is not the world that I want my grandchildren to inherit. We, the people, need to “set them to rights.” We have a duty to educate ourselves in the ways of government and to speak for democracy so as to be heard across the globe.