One Nation Under Apathy

"Hey, mister, can ya spare me a signature?"

by Robert T. Nanninga

here is a petition being circulated here in San Diego County that could help put the brakes on runaway development if that's even possible. The Rural Heritage and Watershed Initiative is a grass-roots effort by concerned citizens who want to let the County Board of Supervisors know that they can not run rampant over what little open space remains. Bringing the issue to a vote of the people on the November ballot will promote a dialogue regarding our future. Imagine that, Supervisor Horn.

As part of the effort to gather signatures, my mother and I took our turn in front of the Trader Joe's in Oceanside's Fire Mountain Center. I've always liked this chain, mainly because of the vegan pot stickers they sell. I have also thought that their clientele more educated than your usual lot. Let's just say I was half right. The few people who signed the petition were quite aware of our decreasing quality of life. These folks were of all ages, from 18 to 80, and voiced concerns that ran the gamut between dwindling water supplies, redundant development and an inadequate infrastructure. This column is not about them.

A second group of people were the pro-development camp we'll call them the "beautiful people" because they were well dressed, drove very nice cars and were, as a rule, just a little too smug. In this category, only one of them could be considered young, mid-thirties, and boy did he think he was funny. Let's hear it for an audience of one. I also appreciate honesty in people, regardless of political bent. One woman said, "Oh, I could never sign that, I work in land use." A man said "I sell carpets for a living, why would I want to limit development?" Another said, "People should be free to develop whatever they want." An elderly man just muttered "environmental crap" under his breath as he hurried his wife into the store. But this column is not about them, either.

Who this column is about is all the busy people rushing about as if constant movement would somehow protect them from whatever they are running from. I'm sorry, but if you're not to busy to buy a case of wine at 9am on a Sunday morning, you are not too busy to write your name and address on a piece of paper, or express a political opinion. Out of the 200 people we approached, the majority said they had no time. No time? If I'm not mistaken, that's all we have. If one doesn't have time to participate in the democratic process, maybe it's time to slow down. There are people dying all over the world attempting to achieve half of the representation that Americans take for granted.

This exercise in grass-roots activism put faces to the statistic that only 33 percent of eligible voters turn out on election day. Person after person said, "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm not registered," as if that was O.K. I'm sure that if I had had a registration form their reply would have changed to, "Sorry, no time."

The question is: am I preaching to the choir? I would guess that the people who take the time to read this column and concern themselves with issues that affect their day to day living are the same people who make it a point to vote. I was going to say their duty to vote, but it is not our duty, it's our privilege. The people of the Soviet Union had no vote and the Chinese still have no voice, and just check out the environmental mess they are in. Currently, the American government is being run by Big Business for Big Business, till death do they part. Majority hasn't ruled for a very long time simply because the majority of Americans can't be bothered to vote.

Now, I would agree that an individual vote means nothing in national electorial politics. The system was set up to keep rich white men in power. On the local level, however, one vote can make a difference, as can a single signature. Trust me, I know. A couple of years ago I tried to run for a seat on the Green County Council and one of my signatures was invalid hence, the reason I am not serving on the County Council. This is just an example of how every signature matters. The Rural Heritage and Watershed Initiative is a chance to put sound environmental policy on the ballot, and hopefully make sure the mistakes that were made here on the coast are not repeated in East County.

So, if you haven't signed the petition yet there is still time. You have until the end of May to do so. If you would like to volunteer some time and circulate petitions, that is also still possible. In either case call, Eric Bowlby at (619) 284-9399; he can send you a petition by mail. Let the County Board of Supervisors know that they are not the only game in town. Otherwise, just go back to your busy little lives, and enjoy our one nation under apathy, with Walmarts and gridlock for all.

  Robert Nanninga is an independent video producer, actor, vegan and an active member of the Green and environmental communities. His writings appear weekly in the Coast Times.