Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Civic Duties Don't End With Elections

As I sat at the Knot in Durham, NH watching everyone celebrate last night like the world had just taken a turn for the better I began to reflect on what the next four years really might bring. 

Everyone seemed as if things would automatically be better if Democrats controlled everything and controlled more of everything.  This seems a little ridiculous to me as the system was designed for checks and balances in order to represent the constituents of the United States.  It was designed to represent that there are many ways to think about problems and because of freedom from religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition.

There is no one way to think about politics and people (not just politicians) on both sides need to start realizing this.  There are good reasons for many contradicting things and we need to start recognizing them and recognizing that we must begin to work together in order to make actual change in this country.

It concerns me that there is a complete democratic majority 56-40 in the Senate, and 252-173 in the House.  The last time this was the case on the Republican side weren't we disappointed? I dare to suggest that we may be again disappointed if we as individuals within the country are silent and expect that there be smooth sailing for the next 1461 days.

I got this article sent to me the other day:

And as I read it pre-election it dawned on me that this article was missing a huge piece of information - that it is not really the 545 humans in Washington (100 Senators + 435 Congressmen + 1 President + 9 Supreme Court Justices) that make change happen.  They are not responsible in the end if we have not written to them, spoke with them, and advocated for issues we felt passionate about.  

If we have not participated beyond casting a vote (a vote based on an understanding of the issues we care about, not just on personality, graphic artistry, or an encouraging tag line in ALL LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT), if we have not gone a step further to continue to care about issues to the point where we do more than complain at local bars - we are also to be responsible for the mess this country is in.  

As I sat there last night it dawned on me that probably less than 2 people in the entire bar had ever written one of their representatives in congress and that if those who had probably did it through an automated program or website.  They probably signed a postcard and had someone mail it in for them.  

I remembered a article from a newspaper I used to have in my bedroom where my mother (a young child at the time) was pictured holding a letter from the then president.  She wasn't old enough to vote - but wrote him anyway - probably as part of a school project - and actually received a response.

How come things like this aren't in the paper anymore?  Is it because elected officials no longer care?  I doubt it.  I firmly believe it is because we no longer care beyond casting a ballot.  We somehow have gotten the idea that just by casting a ballot they know what we stand for - and this is not the case.  

It is our responsibility to be involved beyond the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November.  It is our responsibility to care beyond the presidential race right down to the county clerk and town justices.

We care (or I care) about local food, local issues of poverty, local schools, etc.  so why don't we care about local politics?

I'm not saying you the reader is specifically responsible because I fully admit that in the past 21 years the only way I've contacted my officials is via produced efforts from websites, postcards, and petitions.  The only officials I've ever sat down and talked with were Senators from other states (which is better than nothing), but I've never written a letter crafted on my own.  I've never cared more than starting initiatives - which is a good thing - but not enough.  In a democracy if we want to see change in legislation we can't just expect that by doing something small in our own backyard will gain attention of 545 out of 300 billion people.  We need to do those things because they are important on  a personal level and a local level - and such things trickle up.  But before we point fingers at those individuals in power we need to be active members beyond November 4th.

If they don't listen to you then in 4 years vote them out.  But before we assume that it won't work we need to examine our own efforts and see what we did beyond voting.  Personally, I cannot say I've done enough in the last four years to not hold myself partly responsible for the current situation.  Can you?


Anna said...

Thank you so so so much for raising this point. So many people view voting as their only way to influence politics and our country. The election is over, so we all will go back to our lives of complaining about the opposite party and emphasizing their failures. If we see something wrong with our government, as a democracy there's something we can actually do about it. I think voting should make us even more aware of this ongoing civic responsibility. If I'm voting for a candidate that I don't agree 100% with (which I'm assuming is the case for most voters out there) it's my responsibility to follow up on those issues that he/she may be ignoring/contributing to, not just cast a ballot and complain for the next 4 years. Unfortunately saying that is so much easier than actually doing it. Maybe that will be my "Next Four Years Resolution" ^_^

- Frodigh

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