Holding a public office isn’t for everyone. It shouldn’t be. But, that doesn’t mean that government isn’t for everyone. As a matter of fact, we live in a nation in which the government is for everyone, one in which you are the government.
The United States of America is, in this regard, unique amongst all societies past and present. No nation before us had ever been run under the principles of self-rule. Even in the most democratic of societies there was always a ruling class that earned its ranks not from the interests of the people but rather from lineage, ownership, or spilled blood. Our nation is quite unlike that, founded on the basis that our government is of, by, and for the people.
Because of this charge to take responsibility for our collective actions and well-being, our nation is only as good as what we put into it. Each of us, whether in office or not, has a series of duties to assume.
Upfront that may sound like an enormous task. That is expected when one realizes that we control our own destiny.
But, meaningful self-governance is not really that difficult. As a matter of fact, it’s easily accomplished through something I call the “four “E”s of good civics”.
The first “E” is: Educate yourself.
The old maxim is true. Knowledge is power. To be the most powerful citizen you can, it is imperative that you learn about the world around you. Exercising your right to vote and paying your taxes requires more than just going to the polls and writing checks, respectively. You should know exactly why you are voting for an individual and exactly where your hard-earned dollars are going. This requires an understanding of government itself, as well as an awareness of social and economic issues. They’re all related and they all affect one another. Open your mind to that domino effect of public policy -- what you can and will learn by reading the newspaper, listening to news radio, browsing the blogs, or taking college courses might shock you. Freely range in your pursuit of knowledge, too. None of us are expected to be experts; it’s best to possess a little bit of knowledge in a little bit of everything.
The second “E” is: Educate others.
Take what you learn, and the conclusions you draw, and share them everyone you know. Never assume that your family and friends know what you do about certain issues. Not everyone makes a concerted effort to educate themselves on the issues. If you do it for them you might be that much-needed spark that gets their fire started. Give them the facts. Warm them up to your opinion. You can even agree to disagree. There is no more powerful a tool in getting the voting population out than educating them on the issues and framing that education in a way they understand, highlighting that what their government does affects them. And, please, do not fall into the trap of using memes and spreading and/or joining in conflict and divisiveness on social media – that’s not how you win friends and influence people. There’s a reason “civics” and “civil” are spelled so closely.
The third “E” is: Engage your elected officials.
Just as you educate other voters on the issues, do the same to your representatives. They are your voice in your town, county, state, or country. As one of their constituents, your best interests are supposed to be their best interests. Let them know how proposed legislation will hurt or help you. Let them know how specific laws stifle your freedoms or what bills could better society or the economy. Be yourself, pick up that phone or write a real letter. You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll be responded to. It’s rare a politician who won’t engage us in conversation, whether by phone or print.
The fourth “E” is: Elect the very best.
If you find that your elected official isn’t game to the third “E” and, therefore, doesn’t meet your needs or those of the community around you, let him go. We have a very powerful term limit in our possession -- it’s called an election. If you’re dissatisfied, focus on the first two “E”s and get others to vote lock-step with you. If the incumbent is facing someone who’s a great candidate in terms of what she can bring to the table, elect her. Ignore party lines or the false power of seniority. Similarly, if you think your elected official is the best there is, keep her in office. This is an extremely important “E”, for that person could be your voice for years at a time.
Once you’ve completed the four “E”s, repeat them. It’s a never-ending cycle, one that when it’s made a habit is one you will cherish. When executed properly, good citizenship is rewarding and impactful – you can change what happens in our communities and in our country.
From the 24 September 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers