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October 23, 2014

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WHERE I STAND:

Government responds only when people take action

Some of the brightest students from around Southern Nevada attended the Sun Youth Forum. Facts, figures and quotations were commonly voiced in my group, and extensive knowledge of geography and geo-political history was constantly echoed.

Our moderator began our discussion by asking if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will ever come to an end. Going around the room, one student said that President Barack Obama has announced a 2011 deadline for the withdrawal of troops in Iraq. In response, a student claimed Obama cannot put a deadline on the war in Iraq that has continued with unpredictable changes, and that Iraq lacks a solid and legitimate government.

As we began to talk about the war in Afghanistan, a student who has dual citizenship between the United States and Pakistan said the U.S. government must invest in education. From living in Pakistan and visiting Afghanistan, she contended that the population is heavily illiterate and uneducated, allowing for Islamic fundamentalism and regression.

Many other students at the Sun Youth Forum agreed that a troop increase will not solve the root of conflict in Afghanistan and acknowledged that the U.S. must also heavily invest in the Afghan economy and infrastructure.

After 30 minutes of discussion on this issue, a student asserted that whatever our perspective is on the war, it will not affect Obama’s policy regarding the Middle East. He continued to state that by looking at poll results, the majority of Americans favor withdrawal from Afghanistan, but Obama has discounted this perspective.

We moved on to address the question: If standardized health care is successful in other industrialized democratic countries, why don’t we have it in the United States? The most prominent answer was that health insurance lobbyists have in the past blocked legislation from the Truman period to the Clinton presidency and have been trying to block legislation more recently.

Yet no student identified the American people as responsible for not taking action in the past 50 years, nor point to the fact that the American people’s actions and opinions are what actually move Congress to act.

A recent CBS poll showed that 49 percent of Americans think the U.S. government should cover all medical expenses, while in 1979 only 28 percent of Americans agreed with this position. Thirty years ago there was little debate over this issue and there was not a strong movement from the American people. In the present day there is popular support for health insurance reform, suggesting that the American people are responsible for the prospect of health insurance reform.

It is an undeniable fact of history that only when the people act on their wishes and assemble to push the government does the government respond to the governed. The women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement illustrate this truth.

Through these two topics, and many others, students generally placed the responsibility of America’s problems in the hands of those with money or position.

I walked away from the Sun Youth Forum not with new political knowledge but rather the impression that if these brilliant students do not see that their actions have an affect on their government, then any discussion of politics is meaningless. I may be part of one of the smartest generations of Americans, but this nation will not be changed by our insights unless we take action and acknowledge that we have an effect on our world.

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