2016 was an unusual and emotional election year. However, a presidential election should not be what defines how we as Americans connect. We have faced greater years of turmoil, starting with our fight for independence, through world wars, a Great Depression, and 9/11. Through it all, our resiliency is seen across generations. We are strong, and our nation will move forward because of our core values.
This past year, Americans voted for thousands of elected representatives at every level of government—from the President of the United States to local school board members. Across the nation, local elected officials have taken their oath to uphold the laws of our country. Although most state and local office holders transition into their new roles with little unrest, this election has showed how divided we feel as a nation.
Our views are shaped by our personal life experiences. For example, living in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, surrounded by clean air and well maintained, relatively unoccupied highways, I am not affected by smog and gridlock from millions of car engines idling on crumbling roads. This could be why roads and clean air policies are not at the forefront of issues for rural communities. Conversely, my urban friends, whose lives are daily affected by commutes, public safety concerns and expensive housing costs, are little concerned with grazing policies. However, where we choose to live should not prevent us from seeking to understand each other’s challenges.
Some of our differences are based on things outside of our control. Some of us grew up in loving, supportive families, while others were victims of domestic abuse and addiction. Some were born into families offering vast opportunities while others were born into turmoil and struggle.
These divergent backgrounds have yielded different beliefs, needs, personalities, anxieties, hopes and dreams. Yet at our core, all Americans—natural born and those who come here—share common values.
I believe that all Americans want to provide a decent living for their families, pursue their dreams, have safe neighborhoods, access to good education and healthcare, feel secure in our futures and practice our faith without persecution.
Being an American citizen is not simply about promoting our own individual values based on our own life experiences. It is also about fulfilling a responsibility as citizens to recognize and appreciate our differences–and working to understand one another. To do this, we must have a sense of caring, empathy and concern for others and be willing to listen to and respect other people’s realities.
I’m not talking about being “politically correct.” I’m talking about being respectful, decent and kind. We as citizens can achieve this mindset and behavior only by developing two traits: a self-awareness that challenges us to overcome our own biases, assumptions and stereotypes and an ability to engage in civil dialogue with those holding different views.
Working to resolve conflicting interests at the federal level takes time. Luckily, we live in America where our representative government is divided into smaller local governments. The people we elect to lead our local communities can more readily respond to our needs and bring us together to seek solutions. If something needs to change, it is our responsibility to communicate with our local leaders. We are all responsible for improving our communities for ourselves and others.
As our new president takes the oath of office on January 20, we must cultivate a civil, all-inclusive dialogue to forge our future nation. Together. And we must never forget that our government is made “of the people, by the people and for the people.”
So, if you want change for yourself, your community, and your nation, don’t stay on the sidelines. Get involved. Democracy may be messy, but communities which thrive rely on the active engagement and participation of its citizens. Together, let us build upon the foundation of our nation’s Republic and create a better tomorrow for ourselves and our future generations.
This is the America that I believe in.
“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of a democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt