On President’s Day, a Pause for Civic Engagement

Did you know, the President’s Day holiday is actually called “Washington’s Birthday” occurring on the third Monday in February, to honor the first American president, George Washington. The date for the annual federal holiday was established by Congress with the Monday Holidays Act, which went into effect in 1971. While many will chose to see the federal holiday as an extra day off or possibly a day to get a deal on the purchase of a new car or other retail items, I would challenge you to see this as an occasion to revisit our civic duties.

I recognize that in trying times it may be hard to appreciate the systems that are country is run by and to take pause to recognize the leaders that have setup the way our country runs. However, I would challenge each and every one of us to take a moment of pause to reflect on the freedoms that have been afforded to us and how we can be active participants in shaping our country.

As student affairs practitioners and active citizens we have the ability to be equal partners in shaping our democracy; better yet, in shaping the democracy we want not just the one we have. We have the civil capacities to provide voice in our political structures. We can exercise our right to vote in national, state, and local elections. We can also be good stewards of our democracy by encouraging our students, colleagues, and neighbors to vote themselves. Furthermore, we can be active in our communities by contributing to the conversations and actions that remove the barriers that inhibits other persons from being able to exercise their voice, their right to vote; voter ID laws, gerrymandering, long waits on election days, etcetera.

On this day, you may be asking yourself, but how can I make a difference? What action can I take today?

Here’s a few thoughts on how you can make a difference today:

  • Call your local and state representatives and ask them about voter rights in your state. Ask them what they are doing to limit voter ID law restrictions or what their thoughts are on the Automatic Voter Registration Act.
  • Learn about our past in an effort to shape our tomorrow. Read about the lives and legacies of our Presidents.
  • Show up for your community. Volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about. Connect with your neighbors.
  • Teach your students the skills, knowledge, and disposition to be an active citizen.

President Obama once said, “We choose hope over fear. We see the future not as something out of our control, but as something we can shape for the better through concerted and collective effort.” (UN General Assembly speech, 2014).  While our systems aren’t perfect, and they continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of our populations, I would still consider us fortunate to have voice in shaping how our government and communities operate.  

Each and every one of our presidents was first a citizen, a person without obvious power, a person without an obvious voice. We too, have this same voice and I’d encourage us all to find it. I’d challenge us to remember the hope that President Obama reminded us of in 2014 and to carry this with you as you think of what action you can take today.

Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (CLDE) means promoting the education of students for engaged citizenship through democratic participation in their communities, respect and appreciation of diversity, applied learning and social responsibility. The CLDE focus area supports discussion, educational programming, and professional development to help student affairs professionals provide students with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to make a difference in their communities. To enhance and develop your understanding of CLDE, this focus area shares information from NASPA’s Lead Initiative, knowledge communities, NASPA conferences and events, and research and publications. Learn more about CLDE.