- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2008


Many people believe honesty and patriotism are among the most important civic virtues an American can possess. Such traits certainly have shaped our nation.

But these virtues are nothing if they are not given a voice. Without “activism,” we only have beliefs. Activism is the stage from which all other virtues spring. If people are unwilling to act upon their convictions, their virtues are invisible.

America is the great country it is today because of individuals who acted upon their convictions. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged racial discrimination. Susan B. Anthony dedicated her life to women’s rights. The Founding Fathers created a nation premised on the ideas of liberty and justice for all. Our nation needs more people like these who will stand up for our rights, safeguard us against governmental abuses, and improve our nation.

I have received my education from the public school system and am thankful for this. Great as the system is, I know it has flaws — the administration doesn’t listen to students as much as they probably should, certain rules aren’t quite fair, and maybe the food could be better. For a number of years I complained bitterly about these perceived injustices.

Then I grew up. I realized complaining didn’t change anything. I resolved to actually do something and organized a Student Interest Group. We have increased communication and are improving policies — down to the last bit of overcooked broccoli. The group also is engaging with our community. That’s what activism is about: being a functioning member of society.

The principle about which our founding documents speak loudest is the idea of the power of the people. The Declaration of Independence reads that “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The people derive their rights to freedom of speech and expression not because the government exists, but because the government is a creation of ours and America’s Founders meant for us to be active.

This idea is ingrained in more than just our founding documents; it is displayed in the actions of the Founding Fathers — from Alexander Hamilton to John Adams. Had they not engaged their community, had they not been active members of their society, the United States never would have been formed.

According to Professor Max Farrand’s three-volume “Records of the Federal Convention of 1787,” after the convention concluded a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” “A republic,” replied Franklin, “if you can keep it.”

And keep it we must. Americans must not divorce themselves from their country out of disinterest or despair, but must ever apply themselves toward their nation’s maintenance and improvement. Because activism is so fundamental to the United States, it is the most essential civic virtue an American can possess.

Barbara Walkowiak, a junior at Lincoln East High School, Lincoln, Neb., was a first-place prize winner in the 2007-08 “Being an American” essay contest (www.beinganamerican.org) sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute, Arlington, Va. This article was adapted from her winning essay.

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