As a firm believer in the local and decentralized, civic engagement and community involvement are a must for citizens. It seems Americans have entered a dark phase of existence, one wherein a single entity such as the Federal government or even just the president is expected to correct the ills America faces today.
Relief isn’t going to unfold in this manner, and for us to expect otherwise is not only naive, it is downright dangerous. As conditions in America continue to unravel, not just the economic but social and political conditions as well, the patience with our current political realities may indeed grow thin. Demanding more, we may find ourselves voting in a demagogue for president, who then quickly turns the opportunity into authoritarian rule. This is not wild speculation, as most political experts of the American political scene acknowledge the power of the U.S. executive branch has grown since Woodrow Wilson took office, and has grown precipitously over the past 30 years. The ability to seize control in a despotic manner is already in place.
As Americans, we need to stop this silly notion of dropping things off, then expecting a call when repaired. We can do this with our vehicles, but we cannot use such an approach when it comes to dropping off our children at the counselor’s office, dropping off our vote on election day, or dropping off our labor in return for a paycheck. We need to – must – get involved and start repairing the myriad of problems we face in America today… and indeed, around the world.
We need to get involved in local government, always a greenhouse for blooming corruption since so few Americans pay attention to local politics until the latest highway project threatens our backyard. We particularly need accountants who can track local government and school board spending, since large amounts of local tax dollars are often wasted in inept or corrupt ways.
We also need to get involved in economic engagement such as monitoring local business activities: track a company’s employment promises made in return for local tax abatements, test local pollution sources, or push back against the destruction of local businesses in the aftermath of a big-box retailer moving into town.
Then there is community involvement, from helping in homeless and food-pantry programs to assisting local parks and recreation departments in delivering the infrastructure that improves our lives in a community to volunteering in local arts programs, particularly when an arts organization seeks a larger outreach into a community – we are starved for beauty in an otherwise increasingly gray world.
With this in mind, from time to time I will post “Shout Outs,” calling attention to individuals and organizations that are demonstrating the kind of community involvement, or political/economic engagement, we need to start righting the wrongs. If you find yourself living in an area where such an individual lives or an organization operates, feel free to get involved. If you find an individual or organization that is not in your area but is offering the kind of activities or services your locale could use, don’t be shy about gathering advice and establishing your own efforts.
I firmly believe that when we move beyond ourselves, when we reach out, when we widen our worldviews and horizons, we suddenly find a larger, richer meaning for our lives, and quickly move beyond the trivial and monastic existences we live within our homes.
And should you feel the need to call my attention to an individual or organization engaged in such work – particularly the unsung heroes – don’t hesitate to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am always open to suggestions.
On the ugly side of reality, such Shout Outs do not constitute an endorsement on my part, as much as I could wish otherwise. I simply don’t have the resources to pursue the due diligence necessary to create a substantive endorsement. I rely mainly on an organization’s or individual’s information posted on websites. If I do uncover additional, independent information during a Google search that causes me to raise an eyebrow, I reserve the right to decline a Shout Out suggestion, although I will do so quietly. I’m here to create recognition, awareness and new ideas, not a regulatory agency.
That said, I will leave this topic on a note of challenge: We must get involved. Over the past 150 years in America, government officials and business leaders have increasingly wrested our governance, economic activity and society from the hands of citizens. With little left to do in terms of activities holding real meaning, we have relinquished our roles as citizens. We have become individuals, sequestered in our homes with little to do save for pursuing the trivial.
Out troubled times are now screaming at us to change this march of history, or accept the return to medieval times of lords and serfs. We have become highly partisan because we have not engaged. We have become highly narcissistic because we do not become involved. It is time we stopped this self-destructive behavior, and find a richer meaning for our lives by moving beyond ourselves and our comfort zones.
At the end of it all, we may find that Jefferson’s oft-criticized belief in the individual’s ability to self govern does indeed exist, that below those layers of callousness we can responsibly and knowledgeably engage and get involved… and in the aggregate slowly change the direction of our communities, nation and world. It won’t take millions to effect change, it will simply take thousands to make the choice and create a spark. Once we start to accept new measures of success in life, others will begin to understand and do likewise… or be left behind.
As the comic character Pogo once observed, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” We cannot control external enemies, but we sure as hell can control the enemies that are within us.
Add it to the list of New Year’s resolutions, find the “happy” in the new year, and keep me posted on the results.