Responding to Christian Smith: Community and Civic Participation

This is part 4 in a 5 part series responding to Christian Smith’s book Lost in Transition

This final chapter of the book was the shortest, only thirty pages, and covered three topics; politics, volunteering and donating money.

On Politics: The facts state that seventy percent of emerging adults are uninterested or have completely given up on politics.  Some twenty five percent are somewhat well informed via news sources, but only four percent (mostly male, very true in my own experience) truly identify with politics, being able to name multiple issues, substantive knowledge, and are civically engaged.  I would have said that I was uniformed, until I read excerpts from the interviews and found, to my own horror that I’m in the twenty five percent that are considered well informed.  Knowing that I am, in fact, only minutely interested in politics I felt a brief frisson of fear for the future of America.  I identify with a few issues (the environment, education, transportation (ie: public and biking), which is what puts me into this game.  It turns out GOOD magazine is spot on with it’s monthly challenge this February with specific daily goals to increase civic awareness.   I suspect, though, that their reader demographic may mostly include the 29 percent that makes up the well informed and very political.

PS: Interested in knowing how to vote in Massachusetts? The Answer is Right Here.

On Volunteering and Donating:

Nearly all assume that volunteering and financial giving are simply unrelated to their current existence but perhaps will become more important as some future time. Someday, when they have a lot more time and money than they do now, they may begin to volunteer and give money to good causes…. Any sense of their dependence on a larger social infrastructure or on shared institutional goods that cannot be taken for granted but must be actively sustained… is nonexistent.

However this is one case where I believe that Smith does not give credit to the larger sociological forces at pull in the lives of these young people.  Many are either attending full time college classes, or working irregular shifts at low-level occupations or possibly unpaid internships.  Leaving aside the monetary pieces of these two aspects (debt accrual, and poor wages) there are the strange hours kept by emerging adults in this period of their life.

So far, in my own research on volunteering there are numerous struggles to finding a place to volunteer.  Volunteering requires time commitments (often as long as a year, and preferably longer), reliable transportation and set hours, things many if not most emerging adults cannot guarantee.  This is before you can even assess goodness of fit at the place you want to volunteer.  I’m not saying it can’t be done, or that volunteer work can’t be found, however it can be daunting to even begin this search, particularly if you are expecting a change in your circumstances, something which many emerging adults anticipate on a yearly basis between 18-23.  Once you have a stable job (something that happens as life progresses) it is easier to manage your time, even if you do not seem to have any more of it. Time will never just “appear” for anyone.  So to this, I answer, it is easier to give money when you are young, or possibly just blood.

Christian Smith doesn’t mention another piece of a public life though, and that is community participation.  I’m not speaking of voting for the school board, but simply attendance at city events.  These events are wonderful, but most often, they are geared for families and seniors (in Salem, tourists too).  Although emerging adults in Salem may want to participate in Restaurant Week for example, perhaps $25 dollars is too steep for them, and there could more prix fixe courses in the $15 dollar range.

Movies on the Common are geared more toward families, and not toward young people.  I’m not saying that these activities are bad, just that most of them are not targeted toward engaging emerging adults.  The first time you attend an event that you think might be cool, and you are the only one there under 50 will cause you to think again about attending.  (For example, it appears the average age of membership in the Beverly Artists Guild is 65, with one or two outliers who happens to be in their thirties), even though there is an art college and artist studios in Beverly!  This is certainly an area that towns and cities could improve upon; simply capturing the interest of emerging adults in the life of the town and offering them opportunities to volunteer.  I would like to mention that Beverly is reaching out to young people hoping to solicit their involvement in town however.  Congratulations Beverly Main Streets.


Author: Beth M

I love new ideas & information, connecting people, and discovering New England adventures.

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