Monday, July 14, 2008

Active Citizenship

I have written before about “active citizenship.” But, what is it? What does it require? Why is it necessary?

Considering that the July 4th anniversary (U.S. Independence Day) has just passed once again, there has been clamor once again over the idea of self governance. Americans are in love with themselves every July 4th, and the idea that we are self governing; that we have our destiny within our own hands. But, beyond 9th grade Civics, if we investigate deeper, we end up realizing that our idea of self-governance is really just a farce. Self-governance is merely the veil over our eyes to disguise us from the truth that we are not in control.

You need not look very far for the ideas against where we stand as voters. Those who vote often have absurd and diluted ideas of proper remedy to our nation’s concerns. Not only that, but voting is not in itself active citizenship. If I didn’t know any better, I could have sworn that I actually saw a farm animal in the voting booth in 2004.

Every election cycle I have constantly asked my own friends to abstain from voting. The idea being that my vote would count for more; as if I were the elected representative for our group of friends. But this does not even count as a dent; or any voting anomaly.

Active citizenship, sadly to me only, means that all citizens are informed and educated regarding the policies that are currently enacted, the goals they have for themselves, and the consequences of changing current policies and/or adding or deleting them. While I can write the instructions for such active citizenship in a sentence, the actual “doing” involves a generous amount of time spent reading and asking questions about what is going on in our nation and, maybe even more importantly, state.

Unfortunately, what most people consider active citizenship is devolved into what many people call, “hot button” issues. Or, as I like to refer them to, “Issues which will mean less and less over time.” Gay marriage is a perfect example. The more time goes on, the more people do not care. Yet, even though more and more people do not care, interest groups against gay marriage get louder and louder.

What about foreign policy? Taxes? Why can’t voters ever organize large enough for those items? Well, this is where active citizenship comes into play. You see, in areas such as foreign policy and taxes, we defer to so called, “experts.” This term, expert, I love.

A few times now I have hear Noam Chomsky give an example when people want to know about “doing more” and what it requires. He, and subsequently I, queried as to why people have the time to memorize a plethora of minutia on sport statistics while not bothering to know any real important history that could give context to our current political-global climate.

And sadly - because most everyone in the U.S. hates Noam Chomsky - he is right. Why don’t we know that the 1812 Overture, which is played every 4th of July, is actually about the defeat of Napoleon, and nothing to do with America? I mean this kind of ignorance smacks of the humor that was in an episode of The Simpsons where at an air show, the announcer says, “Now, the pride of the United States Air Force, the British made Harrier jet.”

Apart from the effort of memorizing sports statistics, the fervor that people have in order to call in the morning sport shows and combat these experts is barely palpable. You see the difference now? Sports: YES! Politics: Why would I waste my time with that?

Once we can get past the idea that we can divert more energy into our political discourse for the everyday man, we then have to ask why it is necessary. The answer is actually quite simple really. We should act and care about our politics so that if we do complain, we’ll know why, and we’ll know that we’re doing something about it.

Look no further than our incumbency rates in the United States (95% if I remember correctly). Sure, the system is broken, but the apathy of our body politic does not help. And the numbers only show that if you’re complaining about how things are going, then we all need to ask why keep sending the same people back. Is there ability to blame others that good?

I’m not going to make a stance here, although I’m sure it sounds like I have. But what I have tried to do is give the idea some exposure. This is about asking yourself if you actually feel like you are governing yourself. And if you don’t think you are, then maybe we need to change some of the wording that we use to describe our political system.

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