Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What are you going to do?

The United States is in a terrible mess. We're just as involved in the Middle East as we've ever been. We have over two hundred potential terrorists in Guantanamo Bay that we need to deal with, except no one in America seems to want to deal with them. We have a national debt that has doubled in the last half-year alone, and the federal government seems like it can't stop spending money. Our health care system has been broken for years, with practically no movement from either of the major parties in Washington. Unemployment has done nothing but rise in this country in recent months. We're facing the first very real threat of nuclear attack since the end of the Cold War.

Did you make it to the end of that paragraph? Good. It means that you actually care what's happening in America. The question now is, what are you going to do?

So you hate politics. You hate politicans. You hate the political system, and the way it seems to do nothing but stand in everyone's way. What are you going to do about it, though? These aren't just political issues. They find their ways right into our homes, in some cases. And when it comes to forcing politicians to do their real jobs (i.e., protect our interests and not their own), we don't have that many options.

When it comes to actually fixing things in this country, there's what I call a "spectrum of action". In the case of politics, it ranges from doing nothing to running for office. I pick those two actions as the opposite ends of the spectrum because they seem to be the only options most people are willing to pick. There is, however, quite a bit that you can do to make a difference besides becoming a politician. The effectiveness of each of these methods is debatable, so I'm just going to put them in order of effort required.

First is voting. It's a fairly simple task, and yet so many people just don't do it. We may indeed have had a record turnout last November, but it still was just barely over half of the potential voters in the United States. Why wouldn't someone vote? Because they don't think it will make a difference? If everyone who didn't vote last November had gotten together and voted for a third candidate, any third candidate, then neither Barack Obama nor John McCain would be president right now. That is how many people don't vote.

After voting comes following up with the winner of the election. Whether it's the President of the United States, Governor of Virginia, or the head of the local neighborhood watch, every elected representative has one responsibility: to serve the public interest. Every day, with every issue, you need to let them know exactly what you want them to do, and remind them that if they don't do it, then you'll take from them the one thing they want from you: your vote. It may not sound like a serious threat to make, but not telling them what you expect certainly won't get them off their collective rears. Write letters, send faxes, call them on the phone, but don't let them forget who's in charge. Remember, if you forget about your country, then your country will forget about you.

To back up your threat, you need to pick someone who could replace them in the next election. Don't wait for the Republicans or the Democrats or even for some third-party to pick a replacement, because the odds are you won't be happy with the next field of candidates, either. Last year, by the time the GOP primaries reached my state of Virginia, I didn't have the chance to pick the candidate I wanted, because he had been forced out by the primaries and caucuses that had already been held. By the time I had the chance to vote in a primary, I basically had no choice. And when the general election came, the only thing left to do was vote between the lesser of evils, as they say.

So don't wait until the elections reach you. Long before they do, someone (or "someones") else will have decided what your choices are. If you're tired of not getting the candidate you want, then you need to get in there early and make sure that you get a candidate who actually excites you about the process. We've seen the idealized movies and TV shows where the lone political operative with a brain finds the one politician with a heart and they overcome all odds to win an election and "make a difference". Do we say to ourselves "That only happens on TV", or do we take the position of a certain underdog presidential candidate who ran on a campaign of "hope and change" and actually won? Whether you like him or not, he proved that one person can make a difference.

Once you've found that candidate, he or she will of course need your support. And so the next step is contributing to their campaign. Money keeps candidates in the race. Beyond that, though, campaigns need staffers, volunteers, callers, pollsters, people who make taco runs, and of course local representatives. There are any number of ways to volunteer for campaigns, especially in the age of the internet. I myself, at the risk of losing my impartiality, have become a "Blogger for McDonnell". I'm not a shill, mind you, and I'm not here to blindly support Bob McDonnell no matter what he does; but I do feel he is the best choice for governor of Virginia, and I have no problem using my blog to say so. I plan to do the same for other candidates in the future. Wherever you are, whoever your choices and potential choices are, I'm sure you can find some way to help.

So far, I've written about ways that you can help other people make a difference. What about you, though? Do you want to do something? Even if you don't want to become a candidate, you can still be a leader. It starts with letting people know how you feel. Speech is still free in this country. If you have an opinion, then share it. Politics has become a taboo subject over time, but in recent years, it has become something even worse: boring. The most important things often are, though; chores, homework, flossing, looking both ways before pulling out into the intersection, and so on, and so forth. That doesn't mean we can stop doing them, though. It's the same with politics. Our "leaders" have our futures in their hands; our health, our education, our privacy, our jobs, our safety, and in some cases, as in the military, even our lives or the lives of people we love. This is no time to stay silent.

You can become contributors at local papers, or other media outlets. Print, video, and even radio are all still very much capable of shaping public opinion. If you think those kind of organizations would be too stifling, though, then there are always independent methods of getting your opinion heard. YouTube, Twitter, podcasts, and of course blogs (*winks*) are great ways to gather followings. From there, you can engage more Americans in the business of fixing our country. As long as those peope are willing to give of themselves as well, that is.

Yes, it's a lot of work, and no, you may not have a lot of time and/or experience; but you don't need either of those things. This is our government. We elect these people. I remember a rather pithy response to a call for term limits in Congress: "We already have term limits; they're called elections". If you think that your representatives in Congress, the White House, your own state capital, and your home town are doing their jobs, and if you really trust them to solve your problems, then keep electing them. If you don't, though, then you'd better do something now, or you'll be stuck with them forever. You can't wait for someone else to do it for you. When our leaders stop doing their jobs, we replace them. That's the principle. Now let's put it into practice.


  1. Hi Stephen
    Why doesn't your 'comments' space accept copy/paste? As you can see from my site, I'm fairly busy trying to do my bit,so most of my comments are pre-prepared to save time. I hope you can fix the glitch.

  2. Don't ask me, Nelson. It's a Blogger thing. Or a Google thing. I have no idea what that's about.

  3. Stephen,
    I love this article. I myself have been frustrated by what I feel is a complete lack of representation from Congress and the insanity of their wasting of our tax money. I think that until enough of us can band together to start voting them out, they will continue to ignore us. Thank you for your efforts to get people involved - Citizen Zane