My Turn: Growing citizens for tomorrow

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2001

When the world is safe for democracy, will democracy itself be safe? Our security has been threatened and that has made us more aware than ever of the freedoms we often take for granted.

Flags are flying and the spirit of patriotism is strong, but do our young people have the knowledge and skills they need to assume the role of citizens in a democracy? The events of the last month have caused me to feel a new sense of urgency around an effort I initiated this summer, the Alaska Democracy Project.

The goal of the Alaska Democracy Project is to expand and improve civics education in grades K-12 and to increase youth participation in programs and experiences that will deepen their interest in and understanding of citizenship. The project follows on Let's Vote! Alaska, our successful effort that increased voter turnout among 18-24 year olds by 48 percent in the 2000 general election.

To call attention to the project, I asked Gov. Knowles to proclaim Alaska Democracy Week, Oct. 14-19. The week is organized around Alaska Day to help Alaskans celebrate, in a meaningful way, the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States. All Alaskans are encouraged to participate by getting involved in some way during this week to help young people understand better the rights, responsibilities and roles of individuals in our democracy.

Working with the Alaska Democracy Task Force, the Alaska Municipal League, Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency, and student leaders have coordinated a week of activities that will give young people the opportunity to learn more about government. Voter registration will be held on the University of Alaska campuses, Alaska Municipal League is sponsoring an "If I Were Mayor" essay contest, and elected local and state officials will visit classrooms to discuss issues with students.

We can all help to grow good citizens by modeling and sharing in positive civic behavior with children. Simple things work. Here are some tips developed by the League of Women Voters of Alaska. More ideas can be found on the Democracy Project web site at

* Read newspapers and watch TV news together and discuss what you read and see.

* Talk with children about the role of elected public officials.

* Volunteer in your community with your children and explain why this is important.

* Explain how you agree to disagree in a democracy and that majority rule is the law.

* Guide young people through conflict so that they can resolve it themselves.

* Encourage youth to read news and editorials and to write letters to the editor to express their opinions.

* Take a young person with you to a school board or local assembly, council or tribal meeting.

* Talk about caring, courage, forgiveness, justice and unity on a variety of issues and as they relate to personal interactions with other people.

* Help a teen register to vote and explain why people have died to protect the right to vote.

If you have suggestions for the Alaska Democracy Project, please write to me or e-mail them to me at

We can all help create opportunities for young people to exercise their power as citizens and prepare to become tomorrow's leaders. The events of Sept. 11 have reminded us that teaching children about our democracy and the American heritage of freedom under law is a responsibility of every Alaskan.

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