Getting over it and getting politically active
"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is
to be ruled by evil men." - Plato
by Carolyn Chase
have spent the last few years trying to figure out how
a community member can participate in politics. As part of this, I've managed
to volunteer for or get appointed to serve on a few local boards and committees.
Depending on how you look at it, these committees are either the front lines
of community participation or the backwaters of local democracies. Actually,
they are both.
There is a lot of lip service about "the people"
and how the participation of "the people" is the key component
that keeps a democracy healthy. As one of "the people," it's not
really difficult to participate, but few do. And if everyone is too busy,
running just to survive, "the people" will fall by the wayside.
Then, only crisis or special interests force action.
One thing I've noticed about politics is that when I
bring it up, many people get uncomfortable, don't know what to do or feel
misplaced guilt about not doing something. All of this is disempowering
and not useful for them or anyone else. So, in an effort at enlightenment,
I've put together my list of useless reasons why people don't "do politics."
I say "useless," because underneath all these excuses and justifications
lies the fiber of the status quo. If you can find it in yourself to recognize
and give up some of these excuses, you might just find the time and motivation
to start doing politics in a way that works for you.
Carolyn Chase is chairperson of the City of San Diego Waste Management
Advisory Board, a member of the Peñasquitos Canyon Citizens Advisory
Council, a founder of San Diego Earth Day and recipient of the mayor's 1994
Spirit of San Diego Award for the Environment.
The Get Over It! List: Top ten self-fulfilling reasons why people don't
I don't care enough about this one to explain it.
It won't matter? Well, it definitely won't matter if you don't do anything.
3. Don't have enough power
What difference can one person make, really? This assessment keeps you from
deploying whatever power you have. And how do you know until you try? However
much power you've got multiplies when added to that of others.
4. Don't know what to say.
Say what you feel is important. Letting your concern for knowing all the
answers or information about any issues only gets in the way of expressing
yourself and ends up disempowering you. Nobody knows all the answers, least
of all politicians and bureaucrats. Their job is to be accountable to us.
5. Don't have time
Everyone has the same 24 hours each day. It's the choice of what you do
with your time that shapes your life. One or two minutes for a phone call,
5-10 minutes for a letter. Brevity is the order of the day for "citizen
politics." Believe me, they aren't waiting to chat with you at length
in Washington D.C. or City Hall. When you call, they won't try to keep you
on the line to discover you innermost thoughts - which, by the way, you
probably don't have time for anyway.
6. Don't know what to do. There are so many issues. I can't do them
all, so I do nothing.
Right now there is a major opportunity to simply take a stand to support
environmental health, protection and well-being. This is another version
of #7. Pick an issue and get at it.
7. It's confusing. The issues are so complicated.
After seeing testimony in person and on cable-TV, I would say that the people
are more complicated than the issues. If you're calling or contacting an
elected representative for the first time, just communicate what's important
to you in simple terms. Clean air standards, clean water standards, protected
habitat. Just start there. You can keep it simple and only get as complicated
as you want.
8. Too busy trying to survive, have a life, etc.
While you're busy doing that the culture and quality of life are steadily
eroding. With the consequences of non-participation, what kind of a life
will you end up with?
9. Politics is just too darn unpleasant, conflict-ridden, boring, depressing
and definitely not fun!
True. The system can tend to wear people down - it's designed that way.
Most people who are participating are playing for the big money stakes that
make it worth their trouble. The more difficult and complicated it is for
someone to participate, the more the system selects for only those who are
there to get money or power, and away from the majority of people working
for a living.
That's why its so important for more and more people
to participate in the ways they can. Even if you can only vote, or call,
doing that helps breathe new life into the process.
10. I'd rather be entertained
This about sums it up, doesn't it? Who wouldn't rather watch TV, go to a
game or concert, play golf, surf - you name it - rather than go to meetings
with uncomfortable chairs to listen and mostly wait while the wheels of
government grind on and almost everyone there is getting paid for it while
you're just trying to support your community. This is one of real blessings
of CSPAN and local cable coverage of government: at least you get some real
work done, follow the process, and see some of what's really going on.
Frankly, I think the use of electronic mail by more
and more educated citizens is going to transform politics as we know it
in the next ten years.
Why am I politically active? Bottom line is because
I care that my desires to live in a better world get translated into reality
rather than just meditated over or regretted in later years. When you can
look ahead and see a future that holds a continued declining environment
and quality-of-life, you can either ignore it, deny it, or do something
about it. If you can get over some of your reasons, maybe you can do somethings
to be part of the solutions instead of denial and ignorance and then remaining
part of the problem.