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“Decisions are made by those who show up.” Simple words uttered by Josiah Bartlet, the fictional president in NBC’s The West Wing. One of my favorite televisions shows of all time, The West Wing captured the essence of public service in America. With its witty dialogue and personable characters, we get to see the humanity inside of politics. We see the people behind the policies and how they work tirelessly to make things happen. We see the good, the bad, and the ugly of both sides of all arguments. We see what it means to be part - even if it is fictional - of this American democracy that our Founding Fathers envisioned.
We saw this firsthand in our recent midterm elections. Decisions were made by those who showed up. The GOP walked away with a majority of the contested seats for that very reason. Although the overall voter turnout rate was dismal (only 39.4% of those eligible actually voted), Democrats were amongst those not present.
Elections are a vital part of the democratic process but I find that people forget other ways of “showing up.”
Casting your ballot every two or four years is a great act of democracy, but what about things you can do in your own community to effect change a lot more quickly and more visibly?
“Don’t ever forget that you’re a citizen of the world.” Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing, said it perfectly. As citizens of our cities, states, countries, and the world, we each have rights and responsibilities. Even if you cannot (and do not want to) dedicate your entire life to public service, there are ways of getting involved and showing up to make decisions.
Take a look at where you live. There are so many opportunities to enact change right in your own backyard. Do you live in a city? You have your local government. Do your kids go to public school? You have your local school board. Do you have serious objections with how things are being run? Do something about them.
If you want Muslims be taken seriously in your communities, show them that you are serious. You’ve heard JFK’s quote many times: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” What are you doing for your country? Why should you have the privilege (and believe me, it is a privilege) to live in the United States of America? Why should our Muslim communities be respected if they are not contributing to the bigger communities?
We cannot, and should not, continue to perpetuate the inactivity of American Muslims in public affairs. We live in a society that is overcome by ideals that we may not necessarily believe in, but what are we doing to change that? Instead of the occasional angry Facebook status, what are we doing to enact change?
Here are easy three things you can do to get involved:
Get informed. Learn about your city or state government. Find out who your lawmakers are and what they stand for.
Attend a city council meeting. Check your city’s website for the date of its next council meeting. You can learn so much about your city and its priorities by attending one of these meetings. This is a great way to meet people and learn of opportunities to get involved.
Volunteer for something in your city. It’s great to see our Muslim community engaged in service projects that benefit our Muslim community, but by taking part in something for the wider community, you may learn more about the city in which you live. It may also help for your fellow citizens to see a Muslim taking part in something they care about. Perhaps there is a park clean-up project, or a local city festival they need help with --- do anything to show people that you do care about the city in which you live.
If you are unhappy with the way your country is being run, do something about it. Write a letter, make a phone call, join a council, run for office, or start a group. Do something.
“Don’t ever forget that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world...it’s the only thing that ever has.” - Aaron Sorkin
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