In the 21st century, the democratic principles of equality, freedom, and civic engagement could be more actively integrated into society. If Americans work together to strengthen these basic principles and attitudes and beliefs that support them, a healthier democracy and national community can be created.
The Continental Congress signed the United States Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Since then, this document has been an important piece of the nation's history and continues to be a renowned statement about the rights of U.S. citizens. One often cited quotation is most revered: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
The democratic ideals of freedom and equality expressed through the Declaration of Independence have inspired a number of political and social movements, ranging from the French Revolution in the 18th century to the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s-1960s. Despite the impact that these democratic ideals have made on key historical events, many have questioned the practical power of these ideals, often pointing to the abhorrent institution of slavery as a historical example.
Today, racism and the widening income gap are just two signs of a divided and fractured national community. Entire population groups refrain from participating in the formal electoral process. Research shows that minorities, the poor, and the young tend not to vote. According to The Atlantic, millennials—young people, ages 18-33—represent the country's biggest voting group and could wield great political power, but choose not to vote.* As we head into the 2016 election year, these groups make a significant impact on the health of our democracy.
Parker Palmer's article, "Five Habits to Heal the Heart of Democracy," explores attitudes and efforts he thinks are needed within individuals and communities to strengthen American democracy. Palmer suggests that together we must value our differences, draw inspiration and greater understanding from contradictions, honor the voice and will of the individual, and celebrate the power of community building in order to restore our democratic society.
Connections to National Standards
Common Core English Language Arts. SL.11-12.1.c. Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.
Common Core English Language Arts. W.9-10.2 and W.11-12.2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies. D2.His.3.9-12. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to assess how the significance of their actions changes over time and is shaped by the historical context.
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies. D2.Civ.7.9-12. Apply civic virtues and democratic principles when working with others.