The problem, as I see it, facing this country today is a rampant disrespect and disregard for education and educated people. The phrase “liberal elitist” is bandied about by those types who believe that education is somehow a national curse. The reasons for this dislike of education are many, but what I want to focus on is how to be a good citizen. A good citizen is an educated citizen–educated about the issues from a myriad of sources, including reading the actual bills that are coming up in Congress, educated about governmental processes like how a bill becomes a law, who to contact to give your opinion about a particular bill, and educated about what your Congressional representative stands for–voting records, stances on issues and the like. Education is not a liberal or conservative venue–it should be every American’s concern, especially when it comes to every citizens’ right to take part in our representative republic. Back when civics education in high schools used to be required, every child was taught that it was their responsibility as a citizen–and nobody else’s–to direct where democracy goes. You don’t get out of responsibility just because you’re an adult and you’ve got “better things” to do.
Being a good citizen is about much more than listening to your news megaphone of choice–whether you be Democrat or Republican, or something in between. It is about reading and listening to all kinds of opinions, even ones you don’t agree with, to find out where people in positions of power are in their political stance. Some will portray themselves as centrist in theory, but in practice be far left or far right. A good look at the politicians’ voting record will usually let you know what concerns this person, and where they are on the political spectrum. This requires research, something that in our hurried and busy society a lot of people don’t like to engage in. We have become overfond of the quick news snack where we don’t have to engage, and don’t have to think, and this sort of thing is most dangerous in a free society. Letting other people tell you what your views are or should be is the lazy way out. You have a mind, so use it! Whoever you consider to be running amok in Washington DC today is doing so because certain people got up and voted, got up and spoke to their representatives and senators, and did the research you’re too lazy to do.
- Read a variety of news sources--foreign news reporting on American issues is often very enlightening, and tells you not only what other countries find important in American politics, but also what they think of us. Often foreign news sources are more objective about the news happening in the States, actually reporting news, not editorializing incessantly as has become the new trend in American news reporting. (Keep in mind that every news source will have a bias–ask the questions and take account of the biases that may be present). Read Fox News. Find out what thousands of people are reading and ingesting on a daily basis from their website and their television station. Ask yourself the following critical thinking questions–why do they report news the way they do? Who is their base? Who are they appealing to? Why? Read MSNBC. Watch the Daily Show, read the Wall Street Journal. Ask the questions I have enumerated above. And, if you can stomach it, listen to Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage. These are the people who appeal to a lot of people because they are considered “critical thinkers,” and the more outrageous the things they say, the more “critically minded” they appear to their listening audience. Why are they saying the things they are? What is motivating their behavior/stance on particular issues?
- Find out who your state representatives in Congress are. Research bills. If more of the American citizenry had stopped for a moment and pushed fear aside, and looked critically at the Patriot Act, they would have discovered how atrocious this bill is–it strips away citizens’ constitutional rights while posing as “protecting national security.” The only person who did not vote for this bill in the US Congress was Russ Feingold. I’m betting he actually read the thing before he participated in a vote. Scary fact: The members of the US Congress don’t actually read the bills that are put in front of them. People who are fond of criticizing the government and certain political figures without reading the bills that are passed on a daily basis without being read are part of the problem. If every US citizen of voting age would actually read the bills that are put in front of the US Congress, we would all play a part in keeping checks and balances on government. Government seems like a runaway train, but a little self-education, reading and research goes a long way to putting the citizenry back in control of their government. People have gotten lazy and self-absorbed and fond of blaming everyone but themselves when things happen in Washington they don’t like. To find what bills are upcoming in the Congress, who members of Congress are, what your voting district is and who your representative is, you can go to GovTrack.us. It’s as simple as that. If you are a frequent visitor to GovTrack.us, you won’t be surprised and taken aback when a bill is passed that you didn’t know about, because you will have been taking the time to educate yourself about the things being talked about in government. You will not generalize about political parties because you will be informed. You will not engage in ad hominem attacks against people who you don’t agree with or who don’t agree with you because YOU will be educated. Calling other people names when you can no longer refute their arguments is petty, childish and unbecoming to an adult, responsible citizen. And it happens far too often and worse, passes for “public discourse” in contemporary society.
- Call your representative about issues that matter to you! If you don’t like something coming up in Congress, call them on their toll-free number! It won’t take a minute, and you will have contributed your valuable opinion to the issues that could directly influence how the Congress votes on it! It’s NOT ENOUGH to vote. Anybody can vote, but how many people actively take part in the political process? Precious few. We all have the power to change that, and a lazy society leads to oligarchy or worse. Go to Who Is My Representative.com, put in your zip code, and presto chango, you’ll see your representative listed, complete with phone number, fax number and email, which you can use as often as you like to tell your representative what’s important to you and how YOU vote on certain bills! You’re not going to be bugging them if you call or email often. You’re going to be a great citizen who participates in their democratic republic!
- Further ways you can participate in governing our nation:
- looking for information in newspapers, magazines, and reference materials and judging its accuracy
- voting in local, state, and national elections
- participating in a political discussion
- trying to persuade someone to vote a certain way
- signing a petition
- wearing a button or putting a sticker on the car
- writing letters to elected representatives
- contributing money to a party or candidate
- attending meetings to gain information, discuss issues, or lend support
- campaigning for a candidate
- lobbying for laws that are of special interest
- demonstrating through marches, boycotts, sit-ins, or other forms of protest
- serving as a juror
- running for office
- holding public office
- serving the country through military or other service
- disobeying laws and taking the consequences to demonstrate that a law or policy is unjust
If you don’t participate in governing our nation except to turn out to vote, I’m sorry, but you’re a crappy citizen, and have no right to complain when things don’t go your way. Blaming Obama for your city’s bad weather is the lazy way out. If you want to influence policy, then get your dead butt up off the couch and do what I’ve outlined above. When you’ve done all you can, then TRY HARDER. Read more. Research more. When you really have done all you can at the end of the day and things still don’t go your way, THEN you can complain and speak on Facebook intelligently about the issue you tried to pass or stop.