My Side of the Fencepost

Opportunities to participate
By Jim Dickerson

Here we are in the week after election day with a new president-elect, a new state senator-elect and a new U.S. Senator.

New leaders are emerging, and all pundits are predicting that we’ll see “change” now that the voters have spoken.

Democracy is a wonderful system, but I don’t believe all of us practice it as much as we should by getting involved. These coming years represent yet another chance to participate, but how much do we Americans really participate beyond the voting booth?

In its purest form, a democracy like ours makes room for public participation. We can participate on the local, regional, state and national levels. We can attend open meetings, express our opinions at the designated time and attempt to have influence on the issues that we care about. We can write letters, join groups of like-minded citizens to get our point across and, if we’re willing to make the effort, we can lobby our office-holders directly and be part of our own solutions — at least that’s the intent.

Public participation. The whole system is built around it.

That’s why, for example, the Boone County Commissioners held public meetings on their plans for the courthouse expansion. It’s the reason the Boone Central School Board will include members of the public in its interview process for a new superintendent of schools. It’s also the reason the City of Albion will try to involve the public and hold public sessions during the coming months to formulate a new comprehensive plan.

In short, the public participation part of democracy requires a lot of time and hard work. It can be downright boring at times. I suspect that’s the reason lobbyists are so powerful in Washington, DC, and why money talks so loudly in national politics. It’s a whole lot easier and more practical for us, at least on the national level, to toss some money in the pot and hire a lobbyist than to do our own legwork.

BUT — we can all now see the influence that lobbyists and special interests have had on our American economy. We can see the flaws in national policy that paved the way for subprime mortgages and all the rest.

We can now look back and say: Were these policies really debated, really analyzed, before they were enacted? Did our representatives and the media do an adequate job of informing the American public at the critical time? Did we (the public) expend the time and effort to educate ourselves about the impact these decisions could have on our future?

I would have to answer “no,” and I suspect many others would have to answer the same.

In terms of economic policy on a national scale, we may have failed the public participation test.