We are barely a week after the horrific high school massacre that occurred in Parkland, Florida. In all reality, it’s too soon to determine if anything positive will come from this traumatic event. Emotions are still raw and rightfully so. Families, friendships and communities were torn apart in just minutes. It may be impossible to repair that kind of damage, let alone do it in such a short period of time.
Yet, perhaps we can see glimmers of hope on the horizon. For as evil as an event the Parkland massacre was, there are signs that our democracy is resilient enough to thrive among the chaos.
It was days after the shooting when an estimated 5,000 people — mostly high school students — had taken it upon themselves to be the change they wanted to see in this world. They packed bags and headed on buses for a six-and-a-half-hour drive to the U.S. capital to tell elected officials that they had enough.
The Miami Herald reported that the demonstration in the Florida Statehouse was the largest demonstration held there in at least two years and came together in just a few days.
The students were highly regarded by leaders of both political parties for blending both the passion that comes from surviving a traumatic event with the grace that is necessary to hear both sides of an argument. It is refreshing to see young people take the responsibility of civic leadership to such heights. They were the ones that organized the rallies and they are the ones that told their stories.
These high school students held meetings with high-level legislators and took their message to the places where it mattered the most. I can guarantee you that that lessons and experiences those students learned that day were worth more than anything that they could have learned in a classroom that day.
And even here at home, we were seeing democracy at work. At our last city council meeting here in Troy, we had our first public hearings of the year. These public hearings dealt with two ordinances, one creating a new zoning overlay district and the other rezoning a parcel of land.
Through these two public hearings, 12 residents came to share their thoughts and ideas on these ordinances, both for and against. As one of our council members, I can tell you that my heart burst with pride.
In our country, democracy only works when we make it work. We make it work when we go to the ballot box every year to elect our fellow citizens to public office. We make it work when we play an active role to improve our community, our state and our country. And we make it work by sharing our thoughts and feelings on those issues and those decisions that matter to us.
Each one of us has a stake in our community, our state and our country. We all have an ability and an opportunity to tell our leaders, our policy makers, and our fellow citizens, how we believe an issue impacts our communities.
Democracies are fragile beings. They truly depend on our better angels of our nature to create dialogue and frame decisions that help make our communities a better and stronger place. If we can’t access our leaders, if we can’t access information, we can’t take an active and responsible role in our democracy.
Don’t get me wrong, the object of our democracy is not to get our own way. The purpose isn’t even to make sure that the majority rules; we have seen many instances where the majority has been wrong.
No matter what the end result, I believe that the protests in Tallahassee will have a lasting impact. In the hearts and in the minds of 5,000 young people our democracy will either be strengthened or it will be weakened. I hope that these young people, after going through this experience, will learn that our decisionmakers are nothing more and nothing less than citizens. The power of our governments, from Washington to City Hall, depends on our citizens to be well-informed and active.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at [email protected]