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Gary Younge
It's the taking part that counts

Many criticisms are made about American political culture, and many of them are valid. But one thing rarely acknowledged is the depth and intensity of popular civic engagement.

We are not talking about turnout here - although this election will probably see US turnout surpass the UK's for the first time in decades - but involvement: writing letters, calling congressmen and women, donating money, attending rallies, signing petitions, standing for school boards, and so on.

As Jonathan Freedland points out in Bring Home the Revolution, Americans are far more fully engaged in their political life than most Europeans. And this election is no exception.

Viewing figures for the debates have been high, with the vice-presidential showdown the most watched in 16 years. Meanwhile, public interest in campaign news remains extremely high.

That doesn't necessarily mean the decision the American people will make will be enlightened. But it will at least be informed and the product of active participation.

All this energy was on display at Roanoke's Fork in the Alley pub, where local Republicans and Democrats debated recently. I doubt any minds were changed. Indeed, the two things I noticed from it were that the Republicans had no female speakers at all, and neither side had any African-Americans.

Given the historic candidacies on both tickets, that does not bode well for trickledown potential. But the fact that it took place at all shows a vibrancy in public discourse from which we could learn a great deal.

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Stranger in a Strange Land – Encounters in the Disunited States
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