Democracy: not something other people do

Foster Hall

Foster Hall with guitarist. Photograph by Bill Reitzel '80

Yesterday morning I attended the Marin Forum, a monthly meeting of business and political leaders, writers, and other community members. It’s a pleasure to be there as a representative of Marin Academy. Since we’re a relatively small school, I enjoy telling people who are not familiar with MA about our students, teachers, and mission. We’re not here to be just a school on a hill—we’re here to be part of the community and of the community.

Sitting at San Rafael Joe’s and listening to the discussion, I couldn’t help thinking of the expression “democracy is not a spectator sport.” Right now we’re warming up for a presidential election as well as several key local and national elections. After 20 years, San Rafael Mayor Albert Boro is retiring this November. In addition, several city council spots are open for election, and several of the candidates attended our Tuesday morning meeting.

The new CA-02

California's new 2nd congressional district includes parts of Del Norte, Humboldt, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Trinity Counties.

This Thursday and Friday, we’ll get our own taste of politics at the 8th annual Conference on Democracy: among the nine events is a talk by NPR Senior Washington Correspondent (and frequent guest on “The Political Junkie” segment) Ron Elving; a discussion of Indonesia, the world’s largest democracy, and the ban on Muslim veils in public spaces in France; and a forum with five candidates who are running for CA-02 after Lynn Woolsey retires next year: CA Assemblymember Jared Huffman, Norman Solomon, Supervisor Susan Adams, Petaluma City Councilperson Tiffany Reneé, and Stacey Lawson. It’s wonderful to have great guest speakers who will interact with our students, as well as student-run panels. Students in AP Environmental Science, World History, Journalism, and French IV have exercised critical thinking, reading, and writing in order to illuminate societal issues and/or present potential solutions.

One of my goals as Head of Marin Academy is for every graduate to register to vote as soon as he or she is able in order to take an active role in the democratic process. Unfortunately, in the last presidential election, only 62% of eligible voters turned out to vote—and this was a 40-year record high. This is a huge loss for everyone, though I am encouraged that this trend is changing. If we continue to engage young people in preparation for their 18th birthdays, perhaps every four years we’ll continue to have record-breaking turnouts.

voting buttonDemocracy is about grand ideas…and hard work. It requires a commitment to the process, and a commitment to participate. I encourage everyone to participate in this year’s Conference on Democracy, and to help us fulfill our goal of accepting the responsibilities posed by education in a democratic society.


About Travis

Head of School, Marin Academy.
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2 Responses to Democracy: not something other people do

  1. Bill Donahoe says:

    As much as I grouse about public officials — on both the right and the left — I can’t imagine not voting in any election when I have the opportunity (and responsibility). From a young age, I have made sure that our daughters (now a MA junior and freshman) have witnessed their parents return their ballots to the local polling station. I fully expect that both of them will not view their 18th birthdays as complete until they have returned their own voter registration cards.

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