Americans have been lulled into falsely believing that in politics, we vote, and then the rest of the time we just sit back and watch. Unfortunately for some, that’s not how politics works. Instead of frowning upon activists or unions or people fighting for a better life, we must fight for our own causes and our own ideas.

This country was not built solely by intellectually-minded founding fathers. It was built by people coming together with a common goal, to create the best place to live. From the people who threw tea into Boston Harbor in protest of unfair laws to the people who battled in Lexington and Concord and every war since then that has reaffirmed our freedom. These people made America the beacon of progress that it has become. These are the people who faced the challenges of the world head on and prevailed. We face many challenges today, a polarized electorate, a national discourse afraid of any sort of compromise or cooperation and a flood of special interests that capitalize on our inaction. The American people can tackle these too.

One of the greatest misgivings I had about the Bush administration was its message to the American people with regard to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With all the issues Republicans of today take with spending and deficits, it was the Bush administration who started two unfunded wars and cut taxes for the American people. In doing this, the President sent the message that America is not a land of shared sacrifice at exactly the time when we needed it to be. Shared sacrifice, in terms of taxation and in terms of providing for our military and our veterans, was ignored. That translates into mountains of failure in terms of our discourse today.

We almost failed to work together to solve a fiscal crisis that could have plunged us back into recession. We almost failed to pass a bill that would provide health care to the many first responders who risked their lives during 9/11, even then it was nine years too late for many. We still fall short on benefits for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Where is the America that passed the GI Bill? Where is the America that told veterans that we would repay them forever? Where is the America of shared sacrifice? These are existential questions we have to answer.

Instead of looking at a labor protest and scoffing, instead of looking at our foreign wars and refusing to raise taxes and pay for them, instead of looking at those who disagree with us as “a threat to the gene pool,” as former Tea Party Congressman Allen West (R-Fla.) called Obama supporters, why don’t we stand together as a nation? Why do we instead engage in the bickering and vitriol that divides our country to the point that we are the most polarized since Reconstruction?

When we remain silent is when everyone out to get us or out to best us wins. Those special interests we fear will get ahold of us as long as we don’t remain vigilant. Foreign countries will surpass us in innovation, healthcare and economic progress. Our pride and resolve will diminish and what will remain is fatigue.

Great empires fall because they get too cocky. Let’s not be them. Let’s always know we can do better. Let’s always know that as long as every American is engaged, involved and open-minded, we will always find the best solution and always come out on top. End the bickering in Washington. End the polarization of the country. Only then can we have serious conversations, in context, about the problems that face us. Only then can we be the America that has historically been the greatest country in the world.

We are our own undoing. This is a democracy. It’s time we started acting like it.

Vijay Reddy is a College senior from Fayetteville, Ga.