Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Election Day

Today in America it is election day. I would imagine that this knowledge puts me in the minority. Sure there has been a huge increase in lawn posters and negative attack ads on tv, but I would bet that most people have no idea that the election is actually today. Of those who know, I would bet that only about 50% are actually planning on voting. This is the sad, but true fact of the American electoral process.

I want to address each of these points. Instead of separately talking about them, I'll do it at the same time since they are totally intertwined. They are tied quite obviously in the fact that most people don't care about voting (or the government) so they don't know (or care) when election day is.

Why don’t people care? That’s a huge question, but it’s easy to see the answer in broad strokes: people feel like no matter what they do they can’t change anything, people don’t care about the day to day of government and only the big ticket issues that they are fed by the media (I’m including church and friends as media messengers here), people like to complain because it’s easier than actually working for change, etc.

I believe that the real reason people don’t care is that they don’t understand how important their vote is. I don’t think they get that government will keep running the way it is if the people in it have no fear of retribution. We voters are the check against government that doesn’t go the way we want it to. When we see congress interfering with things and we complain, it’s too late. We put these people in office.

If you don’t vote you can’t complain. I vote so I can. In fact, every election I do something some would find quite odd. With a few small exceptions I vote out every incumbent and my vote goes to the least publicized and financed opponent. I do this because I’m sick of the everyday politician (democrat and republican). I do this in hopes that someone who isn’t a politician will get elected. My ultimate dream is that we as a people will elect a group of these idealist candidates into office and they will be able to make some changes in the way things work in our capitals.

Anyway, we need to instill upon the people in this country that their vote really counts. We need to educate them. This is our central problem: People just don’t know.

I suggest we do something that hasn’t been done in quite some time (if ever).

First we need to teach our children how the government works. We need to make sure that every child by the time they get to high school knows the following facts:

1) The 3 branches of government and how they check and balance each other
2) The fact that we live in a Republic and what that means in terms of representation
3) That as a citizen there is only a few ways that you can interact in the governing process and the most direct is by voting.
4) That you are part of a group, a community, a society and that if everyone were to vote, your vote would count (even though you may believe otherwise) since you would be representing your group and you will help them realize their voice.

Secondly, we need to educate the public on the same facts as Election Day nears. We need to make the poor and the disenfranchised see that they will always remain where they are if they don’t vote. We need to make the complaining middle class understand the same thing. The system can work if we all participate.

I would propose an FCC regulation that TV networks need to spend an equal amount of time promoting civics and the election as they spend airing political ads. Think how amazing an hour of election education on each network would be for our process. Think how many more activists we would generate. Think how much more power the people would have in deciding who governs them.

I do my part in trying to change the world. I am active as a citizen, as an educator and as someone who hopefully fosters debate on issues (both from this tiny blog). I urge you to do the same if you care about our country. I urge you to take some of what I’ve tried to say here and pass it on to others. We as a people need to improve our country and our American society and the only way to do it is by doing something yourself instead of just saying "yup, I agree".


Lingo Slinger said...

I know i'm not American, but a lot of my friends and readers are, so I wanted to pass on this message in my post today!

Ryan said...

What I find really (strangely) funny is that is exactly what the Committee of Seventy in Philadelphia is striving to do. (You remember them? I worked there for a year.) Anybody who reads your blog and lives in the Philadelphia region can benefit from their site: www.seventy.org. One of the last things I did before I left was help hire a new webmaster (who is now the Director of Civic Education) and she has completely revamped the site. Check it out!