There has been much discussion of late about whether our democracy is in decline. It is a valid and pressing question. Battered by discord, distrust, and disaffection, our collective faith and common bonds have been put to the test. Recent developments and disinformation have raised doubts about the fairness, integrity, and effectiveness of our democratic institutions. These concerns are heightened by those who fan the flames of polarization for political gain; who shamelessly sow unfounded doubts about the reliability of our electoral processes; and who, in the grip of a pandemic and an existential climate crisis, choose to weaponize science fiction over science—all to our great peril. These fraught and fractious times might tempt some to turn their backs on “the system” as corrupt or dysfunctional or broken beyond repair. Just the opposite reaction is required, however.

Thomas Jefferson famously observed in 1787 that “[t]he tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants” The Tree of Liberty… (Quotation), Perhaps, over 200 years later, Jefferson’s statement needs updating: The tree of democracy—which safeguards our liberty—must be nurtured by the shared sacrifice and commitment of fellow citizens; bloodshed is not required. It is clear that today, more than ever, the tree of democracy which sustains us requires our citizens to become more involved in our public institutions and government, to feel genuinely engaged in the political process and concerned about the wellbeing of others. The roots of our tree are strengthened through selflessness, service to those less fortunate, and shared experiences. To that end, I join with many others who advocate for a large-scale expansion of civilian national service opportunities for young Americans.