Who better than our libraries and librarians to provide a platform for discussion on critical public issues in the 21st century? If you asked Lawrence DiCara, lawyer, author, political historian and educator, he’d say no one.
On July 21 at the Marion Music Hall, Tri-Town Library Directors Susan Pizzolato of Mattapoisett Free Public Library, Elisabeth O’Neill of Marion’s Elizabeth Tabor Library, and Gail Roberts of Rochester’s Joseph H. Plumb Memorial Library joined in hosting DiCara as he spoke on the importance of civic engagement in the 21st century.
This is the first in a series of three discussions that the Tri-Town libraries will jointly hold on civic engagement in government, and the role of civic engagement and climate change.
DiCara has been mentoring young people for many years through the Boys and Girls State program that first debuted in 1935. The program was founded on the principles of developing youths’ civic intellect and understanding of the responsibilities associated with living in a democratic society. Regarding politics in the technology age, DiCara believes engaging youths today is not only more important than ever before but vastly more difficult.
During his 30-minute talk, DiCara pointed to the communication pathway used by not only youths but most of society: the iPhone, “Today we shop, message, receive news, take pictures, do everything – no verbal contact needed.” And it is that void of personal contact that makes reaching younger generations so difficult, he stated. While newspapers have seen an increase in circulation, he said, it’s unclear if younger adults are subscribing.
DiCara said that the political system doesn’t work for Millennials, people born between 1982 and 2004. “Today, more people over the age of eighty are voting versus people under the age of twenty-five,” he shared. That age factor makes political change difficult.
One way to engage younger people, DiCara speculated, was through changing voting mechanics. “Voting needs not be so burdensome,” he said. He suggested that the U.S. look to the way other countries engage their citizens by allowing voting to take place during special holidays or on weekends or even electronically.
But a chilling reality, DiCara said, was that young people don’t understand U.S. history or how the government works. “Teaching of civics has to be done in the schools,” he insisted.
Several in the audience concurred, saying that MCAS and similar assessment testing tools have become all-consuming in public education, forcing teachers to “teach for the test.” And those tests do not include civics, they said.
To that point DiCara said, “Ten percent of kids think Judge Judy is a Supreme Court judge!”
On the bright side, Kris Eastman from the League of Women Voters said the organization has seen an increase in interest at the high school level where they encourage students to become registered voters.
Of the baby boomers DiCara said, “They’ve been in power for over twenty-five years,” adding, “…nearly every leader is on the other side of seventy.” He believes this age discrepancy is indicative of youths’ disengagement with the political process. “Will we see a burst of energy from our young people … will we see a new patriotism,” DiCara remains hopeful it can happen.
The next discussion will be hosted at the Mattapoisett Free Public Library on Sunday, September 17 at 2:00 pm when guest speakers Mindy Todd of WCAI/NPR radio and Cape Cod Times editor Paul Pronovost will share thoughts on the role of media in civic engagement. In Rochester during October (time and day pending), the Joseph H. Plumb Memorial Library will host Dr. Jennifer Francis who will discuss the role of civic engagement and climate change.
By Marilou Newell