For instance, Women’s Suffrage was not brought about because men decided in their own circles to do what was right. Strong female leaders and much hard work over many years finally led to the change. The movements for Prohibition in our history were successful because of the ground game, not elected officials rationally discussing the change.
In fact, one of my best examples came out of a class discussion a couple of years ago in my spring Practical Politics class. The movie “Lincoln” had just been released, and I was using it as an example where the strong, creative leadership of the President had made it possible for the successful passage of the Emancipation Proclamation. An African American student respectfully, but with strong feeling, begged to differ. Without taking away any credit from Lincoln, this very bright student made it clear that without civic engagement in the strongest terms, there would have been no way the President could have been successful. It was another example that reinforced what I tell my students every semester: they won’t be the only ones in the classroom who are learning.
And then, in more contemporary times, the whole Civil Rights Movement was a citizen-led success story. Dr. Martin Luther King has his own holiday because of the progress he led, but it was the masses--the large number of women and men, of color and not--who persistently took action year after year that brought about the beginning of dramatic change that continues to this day.
Change is very difficult under any and almost all situations. My upcoming post will discuss some of the challenges faced by elected officials that make citizen involvement even more important today than in past decades. Whether it be the public support necessary to pass a local ballot initiative or a nationwide movement to bring comprehensive change, the role of the citizen is going to heavily determine our future.