By Jasmine Turner, CVA at George Washington Memorial Parkway
According to the Merriam-Webster “participating” can mean “to have a part or share in something” and democracy can mean a “government by the people; especially : rule of the majority”, “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections”, “the common people especially when constituting the source of political authority”, and “the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges”.
In our early elementary history classes, we learn how the Founding Fathers established democracy in America, usually accompanied by some sort of classroom performance of music singing the national anthem or “America the Beautiful”. Depending on our local school district, in late elementary or middle school we learn a more complicated story about how the right to vote was limited at first to only landowning European American men.
Then we learn about the 13th Amendment which established that slavery would not be allowed to exist in the United States unless as punishment for crime, the 14th Amendment protected the citizenship of all males over the age of 21 years old except for Native Americans who are not taxed by the American government or participants in rebellion and the 15th Amendment protected the right of all males to vote and that they would not be denied or “abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
When I was in middle school in Minnesota, it was required that all eighth graders take Civics class in addition to the standard American history courses. I was actually sitting in my Civics class when we watched on live television the fall of the second tower on September 11th. Both sides of my family had military veterans and my grandfather was living in Hawaii during the Pearl Harbor attacks. I knew that war would soon follow. I hoped that my Muslim American friends would not experience internment and that America had learned from the experiences of Japanese Americans during World War II. I vowed that I would never take my right to vote and participation in democracy for granted.
In 10th grade, my family moved back to Florida. We had just experienced the election of 2004 and I was to visit Washington D.C. for the first time to experience the 2005 Inauguration with my honors history class. It was the first time that I would be experiencing and participating directly in our government. If I had told myself then that one day as an adult, I would be leading a team of volunteers at a Visitor Service tent at the 2017 Inauguration at the National Mall and then the next day witness the largest protest in American history to date in front of the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, I would have been incredulous.