Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On Being a Citizen

Back in 2004, I helped with a survey designed to find out how many people were intending to vote in the presidential election. I worked specifically in a 6 block area of my neighborhood, going door-to-door or calling people. I didn't tell them who to vote for, just asked if they were going to vote, and if they knew where the polling place was.

When I called one house on Freedley Street., the woman who answered replied in distaste, "Oh, we don't do that." I asked, "Don't do what?" Her answer was that she and her husband didn't vote, nor apparently did they ever mention politics or government in their house. As if they'd made a conscious decision not to. As if being a citizen were some sort of deviant lifestyle choice and they were keeping themselves pure.

Today is Constitution Day--the anniversary of the day the US Constitution was signed. No one gets off work for it, you won't hear about any town having parades or other observances, and no stores have special sales. No one ever remembers this day at all. But because of it, we've got a government in which we're allowed to participate. It's not mandatory, though, like voting is in Australia. So, while most Americans don't make a conscious decision to avoid participation, like the couple on Freedley, we get busy with our kids, our elderly parents, our jobs, trying to pay bills, trying to keep our houses in decent repair, and all the rest. If we even think about attending something like a Council meeting, at the end of the day, we're tired. It's too tempting to think "Someone else will go. I don't have to."

I know we have good citizens in Norristown. At that 2004 election, we did an exit poll, too. District 3-1 and 3-3 had a 70% turnout rate. The national average that year was about 57%.

So on this Constitution Day, think about honoring it by coming to Municipal Hall tonight at 7:30 to see how your local government is or isn't functioning. Bring your neighbors. You don't have to say anything. Just your presence will improve government. I guarantee, if Council starts seeing a bigger crowd keeping an eye on them, they'll be more careful about how they proceed.

I'll leave with two quotes on being a citizen, the first from a comment on yesterday's blog:

"I need to dedicate my time to stay in the loop and in the know, and actively watch and participate in what is going on down there from here on out. It doesn't stop at this project. This could and most likely will happen in other sections of Norristown."

And one by journalist Bill Moyers:

"Constitutional democracy, you see, is no romantic notion. It's our defense against ourselves, the one foe who might defeat us."

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