2001-07-04 / Editorials


On July 4, Answer Democracy's Call

Twenty-five years ago there were parades of tall ships, fireworks and festivals, concerts and parties. The United States was 200 years old and everyone was celebrating. We've come a long way, first from 1776 to 1976, and now from 1976 to 2001, into the first years of a new century. This year we'll mark the occasion with a little less fanfare and, appropriately, perhaps a little more reflection.

While some things have changed a great deal in the past 225 years, others have not. One of them is the steady decline in the willingness many people exhibit to participate in the necessary workings of a representative democracy.

It's been said, with some justification, we think, that everyone should go to at least one public hearing held by their local community board every two years. Sadly, many people don't even know such a thing as a community board exists, let alone where, when and how often it meets. The only time many inhabitants of a given neighborhood become aware of a community board is on the rare occasion when an issue comes up that affects them directly. The rest of the time the board might as well not exist for all the attention paid to it.

The same sad state of affairs holds true for the most well-known and fundamental element of the democratic process, elections, be they primary, general, school board or even to determine the next president. Numerous individuals of our acquaintance have never even registered to vote. "Why bother?" they say. "Nobody I'm for ever gets elected. The big guys always get what they want. It doesn't matter what I think."

A large portion of these nay-sayers are loud in criticizing those they perceive to be getting a free ride from "the system." Ironically, they fail to see that they themselves are freeloading to an astonishing degree. Freedom, as the Founding Fathers realized, carries a price. While we may not be required to pledge "our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor" as they did, we still have to pay for the privilege of living in the greatest country on earth. When one considers that all that's required is to spend a few minutes registering and a few more at a polling place on election day, neglecting to take part in the process, whatever the reason, amounts to a refusal to pay that price. We note, too, that a large part of the non-voting population is the most vociferous in expressing their objections. Their level of activity in addressing their supposed wrongs is inversely proportional to the amount of complaining in which they engage. This practice is hypocritical, to say the least.

Not everyone has an abiding and all-pervasive interest in politics, we grant. But just the same, if the act of voting requires so little time and effort, we fail to understand what keeps so many people out of a voting booth come election day. Anyone who can follow a sports team or a rock group is obviously capable of understanding the issues involved in a local or nationwide election, especially since a number of groups and organizations exist which make it their mission to provide all the voters they come across with all possible information. As for the argument that one vote is just that, only one vote, yes, one vote is one vote. Remember, though, "Great oaks from little acorns grow." Reform and betterment movements throughout all of history, not just in the United States, started with just one person .

The accepted rhetoric on the Fourth of July involves extolling the virtues of this great nation, looking to its past had heralding what, all the orators say, seems to be a bright future. May it be so. But that future will only be as bright as those of us who choose to acknowledge our obligations to those who fought and often died for our freedom are willing to participate in the democratic process that makes this country great.

Happy Fourth of July. If you're registered, take time to vote in the primary election Sept. 11. If you aren't registered, register now. One person alone is helpless. One person linked to many through the ballot box is part of the mightiest force ever unleashed on the face of the earth. The privilege is ours. All we have to do is use it.

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