As Scouts, we commit ourselves to a certain way of living. This method is outlined in our Oath, Promise or Pledge. And with the year’s big voting event, the 2018 Midterm Elections, coming up on November 6th, it feels like a good time to discuss and define what it means to do our best to do our duty to our country.
When asked to describe typical “duties” that we fulfill as citizens, I’m sure that most Scouts would quickly list several activities: voting, paying taxes, attending jury duty, respecting the flag, and more. However, with this important election happening in less than a week, we want to focus on that first item, voting.
On Nov. 6, 2018, the United States will hold midterm elections. This is year especially, midterm elections are very important. Control of state houses, the US House of Representatives and the Senate are at stake. Political observers on both sides of the spectrum are calling on people to go out and vote. And whether you are old enough to vote or not, it is important to understand why being civically engaged is part of practicing your duty to country. It’s all part of being a good citizen — something the BSA has taught for more than a century.
Why We Vote
Citizenship has been defined and argued by many philosophers and writers through the ages. Most have suggested that being a citizen provides both rights and responsibilities. This balance helps assure an orderly society, and in the most basic terms, suggests that we should be willing to volunteer to help with issues and audiences that are larger than our own interests.
While voting may seem like a fairly common exercise we (hopefully) do every election, to a child, the idea of each adult having a say in our leadership is inspiring. Darby Kennedy, former government teacher and homeschooling mom to two, maintains, “I think it is important to help children understand that not everyone around the world has the same rights that we do.” By voting, we exercise our right to put people into office who we believe can allow us to maintain our rights and the rights of others.
It’s our civic duty as an American to vote and a precious American right. Remember that your vote always counts – not just in close elections, but in every election. You don’t have to be an expert on the issues to cast your vote. But with research and respect, you can become informed and vote confidently every election season.
Voting and Your Family
Even if you, your children, or your Scouts aren’t old enough to vote, it is important for all citizens to be aware and engaged during every election. You and your youth can practice duty to Country by learning about the different candidates, parties, and voting processes. By being actively engaged citizens, we are honoring our country and those who fought for it. It’s all part of what the BSA has taught for ages about being a good citizen.
If you are a parent, don’t underestimate the power of your child being with you when you mark your ballot, press a button, or pull a lever to vote. And of course, be sure to pick up an “I Voted!” sticker for you and your child on the way out of the polls. Not only will this set a good example for your children, but it also engages them in the process and becomes a regular part of their lives, one they will hopefully continue on their own.
Wittenberg University political science professor Ed Hasecke, father of three school-age children, shares, “We [take] the approach of explaining what we believe and acknowledging that others have different views.” Hasecke continues, “I think it is important to make sure that parents model that people can disagree about things like politics without hating those with different views. Showing that honest disagreement is a part of life … is an important civic lesson that is essential for a healthy democracy.” This is a great message that parents and leaders can share with their youth in everyday moments.
Voting is such a significant part of being a good citizen because it allows us to celebrate democracy, express our views respectfully, and take action about issues that we are passionate about.
Voting and Your Packs, Troops, and Crews
Being an active or “participating” citizen is one of the goals of the scouting movement and this is evident when you consider that no less than three of the eleven Eagle-required merit badges focus on citizenship.
The 1911 Handbook includes a letter from the honorary Vice President of Scouting, Teddy Roosevelt. Much of his letter reflects on citizenship as a duty or obligation and it seems quite passionate; “No one can be a good American unless he is a good citizen, and every boy ought to train himself so that as a man he will be able to do his full duty to the community. I want to see the Boy Scouts not merely utter fine sentiments, but act on them; not merely sing, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” but act in a way that will give them a country to be proud of. No man is a good citizen unless he so acts as to show that he actually uses the Ten Commandments, and translates the Golden Rule into his life conduct–and I don’t mean by this in exceptional cases under spectacular circumstances, but I mean applying the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule in the ordinary affairs of every-day life. I hope the Boy Scouts will practice truth and square dealing, and courage and honesty… Any boy is worth nothing if he has not got courage, courage to stand up against the forces of evil, and courage to stand up on the right path. Let him be unselfish and gentle, as well as strong and brave.”
While it’s not necessary to be a Christian to be a Scout, Teddy Roosevelt reminds Scouts to put their words into actions and to “act in a way that will give them a country to be proud of.”
This implies that Scouts should go a little further than what is minimally required of them. Take some time to learn about the voting process and educate yourself on the many different parties, platforms, and candidates. Help your youth understand that they can be prepared to vote when their time comes.
On being presented with the Distinguished Scouter Award in 1980, actor Jimmy Stewart reminded Scouts of the importance of one’s duty. “Duty–” he says, “that implies a moral or legal obligation to follow a certain code of conduct. Duty means playing by the rules, reaching deep into your own conscience for the meaning of these rules and giving just a little beyond and doing just a little bit more than is expected.”
A Scout should be confident that fulfilling his duty to country is a worthwhile experience, and the help that he provides could create ripples of goodwill and inspiration to others to follow his example.
Although adult leaders and Venturers over the age of 18 are able and encouraged to vote, the BSA is still non-partisan and does not endorse any one political party. You could say that rather than being pro-left or pro-right, the BSA is pro-America.
The same applies to your pack, troop, post, ship or crew. You and your Scouts should Do Your Duty to Country but not by endorsing any one candidate.
You can learn more about this policy and read some FAQs about how BSA packs, troops, or crews can participate in political rallies HERE.
To learn more about your voting rights, your candidates, or what’s on your local ballot, visit rockthevote.org, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to building the political power of young people, or vote411.org.