” If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” ~Noam Chomsky
The American dream is something often touted by both political parties as they craft a vision for the future. The pursuit of happiness is ingrained in this country’s constitution. Idealistic freedom is the core tenet many politicians rely on as they speak out about their plans for moving this country forward if they are elected this November. In order to truly embrace these concepts we must have a population that is enfranchised to engage in upward mobility and engagement in their communities. Sadly, the rights of Americans are under attack on a variety of fronts, that if left unchecked, threaten the core of our Democracy.
The proposed amendment to the Minnesota constitution that would legally define marriage as between one man and one woman undermines the social freedoms that are necessary for a healthy society. Many proponents of this amendment would argue that by allowing same-sex partnerships the government is ignoring their rights to religious freedom. However, this is simply not true. Even if same-sex partners were allowed to receive the legal benefits of marriage, churches could still choose to refuse to officiate and/or recognize said partnerships. On the other hand, if this amendment were to pass it would be singling out a specific demographic of society and denying them fundamental rights that other citizens currently enjoy. A decidedly backward violation of civil liberties that should not be allowed to stand.
Sadly the marriage amendment is not the only disenfranchising attack being put into our constitution under false pretenses. The Voter Identification amendment (or perhaps more appropriately the Voter Restriction amendment) would require anyone interested in exercising their basic right to vote to show a government issued photo identification in order to vote. The supporters of such a requirement argue that anyone can easily get a government identification and the integrity of our election system necessitates such a law. What is ignored by such oversimplification of this proposal is many American’s do not have a photo ID and would have a great deal of difficulty obtaining one. For the millions of impoverished and homeless workers obtaining such an ID will either be impossible (homeless people have no address) or not important enough to justify the time and resources such an extra step would take. Not to mention the many college students and other young voters who are still learning the importance of electing their representatives that may be turned off from the process if they are turned away from voting where they live. Creating barriers to voting that unfairly target at-risk demographics under the guise of preserving voting integrity is simply unacceptable to a functioning democracy.
Perhaps the greatest danger to the future prosperity of America and health of the world at large is the continued disenfranchisement of the millennial generation. Graduating college with over $25,000 in debt on average, according to study by the Project on Student Debt, they are starting their professional lives at a disadvantage. Many state budgets look to higher education funding to deal with budget deficits, further increasing the burden placed on this generation. In addition, efforts at slashing programs meant to prepare this generation to compete in an ever-competitive world economy to reduce the national debt while ignoring those programs that are far more costly (e.g. medicare, social security) show a bias towards the older versus the young. Leaving many of this emerging generation to question whether their elected officials care about their future.
Between the efforts to prohibit same-sex couples from experiencing the same legal rights as their opposite-sex counterparts, making it more difficult to exercise one’s right to vote by requiring a government issued identification, and budget solutions placed on the back of younger generations so many groups in our society are falling victim to policies that are leaving them feeling disenfranchised. Unfortunately, many of these efforts seem to be by design. Both overtly, in the case of the marriage amendment, and covertly, in the case of the Voter ID amendment. It is vital, we do not allow these efforts to succeed if we truly believe in the principles that govern a prosperous democratic society.