The privilege of disconnection is one that is deeply seeded in the American psyche. It tells us that we have the right to leave whenever we want: Our families, our jobs, our towns, our lives… At any moment, we can strike out in strange new directions, and if we work hard enough we can make it wherever we end up. This mental positioning seems like it’s entrenched in everyone’s minds, as we struggle and strive with all that we can’t leave behind. For some of us this shows up in subtle ways throughout our lives, as we leave work early and show up to dinner late. For others, this privilege of disconnection shows up loudly, as we quit public schools or shun going to the library, vote against public bonds or want to repeal the children’s health insurance law. This is the United States today.
Earlier today I was talking with a youth empowerment worker in Nigeria about the tense elections in his country. Chukwuemeka Uzu is running an initiative in Lagos that is teaching young people in his country about democracy, elections, and voting. He explained to me, in very careful and unambiguous terms, that the work of the youth in his organization is central to the success of democracy in his country. According to Chukwuemeka, his youth are teaching the public about democracy and elections, protecting the voting boxes from tampering by thugs, and struggling for accountability and transparency in government. He explained that because long-term politicians and government officials in Nigeria have vested interests in keeping the voting public illiterate. Believing deeply in the power and possibilities of democracy to deeply change his country, Chukwuemeka is organizing young people to counter these painful realities. Chukwuemeka’s youth organizing efforts are impacting his country deeply, as are the youth themselves who are connected through his work.
This is the type of engagement Americans routinely severe and disconnect from.
It is an engagement that reflects the true meaning of the term: social, emotional, and intellectual ties that extend throughout our lives for all sorts of purposes. These are the ties that bond us to each other, to the places we live in and co-occupy, and that build and sustain roots of all sorts. If you get the sensation that the very survival of democracy in Nigeria would be threatened without the work of Chukwuemeka Uzu, then you are starting to get it: Engagement is a necessity; disconnection is a privilege.
This is the reason why I stay committed to public schools, despite their flaws. This is the reason why I continue to attend city hall meetings, despite the fact that I can’t vote (I’m not a US citizen). This is the reason why I believe there is so much more going on than any crass social abandonment advocate reveals. The forces trying to dismantle democracy in the United States are not nearly as overt as those Chukwuemeka Uzu faces in Nigeria; however, they’re just as real, and just as pressing.
Stay committed – democracy depends on YOU.