Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Apathy - The seed of discontent (first published in 2000)

If you are reading this, it can only mean one thing; we have survived Y2K and the millennium bug, the world did not end and it is now safe for all of us who remain to get on with the business of life.

Let us begin this great adventure with an experiment in time travel.

We only need to go back in time 200 years or so. Our nation is so young, barely a toddler as nations go. We have thrown off the yoke of oppression and find ourselves struggling to establish a government. Much of the North American continent remains unexplored. We have carved out a foothold on the eastern shoreline and coastal inland. Every day is a struggle for survival and yet, we persist and endure the hardships of taming a wild land. Life is so hard, but the hearts of men burn with hope and enthusiasm. This is the land of opportunity, a place where dreams, some of them nightmares, come true.

Can't you feel it? There is freedom here. It is man versus wilderness, and determination against obstacle. You can have what you are strong enough to take and hold against all odds. The odds are so great, only the fittest of the species has any hope of success.

At first, growth is slow, painfully slow. Ships arrive at establish ports, unloading their cargoes of hopeful souls. Whole families come now, not just the adventurous explorer. A family or group of families makes their way along well traveled dirt roads until the roads end and then they take to animal trails, hardly more than shallow depressions in the virgin soil. At some point, they stop and using whatever criteria is required for selecting a homestead, they begin to build shelters and pens to protect themselves and their beasts of burden. If they have chosen well, others will come here too and settle close by.

Time passes and homesteads become communities and communities become villages and villages become towns and cities. There are certain basic needs that any group of people must have to survive and grow; some of them are civil structure, law and order, authority and government. Someone needs to be in charge and make decisions for the good of all concerned, someone dedicated, someone responsible, some knowledgeable, wise, honorable individual. You may have noticed; I didn't mention educated in that list of attributes. If a person could read, that gave them a leg up on many others.

At first, the only authority figures available were Military ones. In some areas, settlements sprang up around Military Forts, in others; the settlement was a fort of sorts. There were ferocious Indians and animals roaming the forests of this wild land, so some measure of substantial protection was called for. But at some point in time, all growing communities had to establish their own civil authority as Military units were called away to fend off other serious threats to their young nation.

They saw themselves as a democratic republic, and that meant there was a selection process to be observed in appointing civil authority. Who can say how this was actually done back then? Could it have been as simple as having the Military Commander of the central Fort appointing his choice of individuals to fill the needed offices during his absence?

For my own purpose and due to a lack of historical fact to base an opinion on, I envision a gathering of major citizens from the surrounding homesteads. The heads of families assembling themselves together in an official meeting, discussing the immediate needs of the community and someone nominating one or several individuals for consideration. Of course, that individual had to be available and willing to accept such responsibility for that office should the people elect him. What kind of offices do you see them trying to fill? Constable (local police), Magistrate (local judge), or possibly Mayor? It's actually difficult for we of today to relate to such a loose civil structure and organization.

I feel I need to present one last scenario in order to make a point. I know it is difficult for us to place ourselves in such crude surroundings, but please do try. If you were to find yourself in such an assembly, a meeting that was called to select community officials; how would it be determined who could vote on the matter? What were the criteria used? We know that women didn't get a vote, neither did children or young men under a certain age. So who was allowed to cast a vote, even if it was something as simple as raising one's hand in agreement? I would venture to say that it was only the male head of household or any resident male over 21 years of age. He had to have a vested interest in the proceedings. This selection would affect himself and his family, if he had one. So think about this: how important was any man's single vote at that time?

Have you ever wondered about how an individual became a civil servant during such times? I don't believe it was anything like most of us would think. A man didn't throw his hat into the ring and make it known that he was interested in running for office. More than likely, a person would be approached by a group of their neighbors. They would explain to that person how a dispatch had been received from the national government informing their community that because of the growth and expansion of our young nation, a representative was needed to come to the capital and serve as a Congressman. Let's face it folks; there were not many politicians around at that time.

If you were one of that group, how would you decide whom to ask to represent your community? I believe that the last person you would ask is one who is anything like what we have come to know as a politician today. They would be someone you probably know pretty well. They would probably be a family man. They would know how to read and write and they would have what you recognized as leadership qualities. You may have worked and fought along side them from the very beginning of your community. They would be honest and God fearing and for whatever your reasons, you would respect them. You would also realize that you were asking a lot of them at the time.

They would need to leave their family and homestead for a period of two years, getting back home for a visit only on rare occasions. Who would take care of their family and the crops and livestock? That was the deal. He would agree to represent all of his community and the community, in turn, would take care of his family and homestead. I'm not sure how they worked out the details between them, but they did. The community would provide for his upkeep too while he was serving in the capital as their representative and if he got a little spending money as wages all the better for everyone concerned. One thing for sure, he wouldn't get rich from the experience. When his two years were up, he would return home and once again assume his role as male head of household, husband, and father. Knowing he would be going back home at the end of his term in office, can you imagine how motivated that man would be to do his very best on behalf of those he represented?

January 2000, not only is it a new year, it is also an election year. How things have changed since the era we visited above. People have become so complacent and comfortable; it seems that we have lost sight of the value of personal involvement in the running of our own country. The realization struck home with me last November. Some states were electing Governors, Kentucky being one of them. Getting into the community building and casting my vote was no problem at all. The only cars in the parking lot belonged to the Police Department. I commented on how sparse voters were and was informed that it had been that way all day. It was a beautiful day, so I knew that it wasn't the weather keeping people away.

The next day I made a point of checking the local news station for the election results. It shouldn't have come as a surprise to me when they revealed that only twenty percent of the registered voters had turned out. Okay, so it was only an election for Governor, but twenty percent turn out! My goodness folks, what is going on?

I became more agitated as I pondered the situation. I came up with this idea. I would take a poll within my own household to see if I could get some clues. There are four adults here, all of them registered voters. I asked, "Who made it to cast their vote today?" There was only silence in reply. I went on an information gathering foray about then. "Who can tell me who the present Governor of Kentucky is? More silence and an obvious expression on their faces which said they knew where I was going with this line of questioning.

My wife came up to my writing room, where I sat hunched over in my chair, face in hands, starring blankly out the window. I think she could hear the gears grinding in my head. "What's come over you?" I began to explain and she sat down, realizing somehow that this would take a spell. When I was done, she came back with, "I can remember not too long ago when you held the opinion that your one vote wasn't worth very much." She had me, for she was correct. But, I have had a change of attitude since then. Isn't that what a person should do when they realize they had been wrong about something?

Now, I find myself with this perfect soapbox to stand on. How do I go about changing the attitudes of others? I felt this growing concern mounting within myself. I thought about Ross Perot, the man who stirred so much hope in our nation not so long ago. What a disappointment he turned out to be. I can't put my finger on the reason, but actually, I have never felt like part of the majority of voters in this country. Every time I thought I had an election's results all figured out, the people would speak with their votes and I would find myself standing out there alone, or at least it felt that way to me. I told myself in the last election, "There is no way the people of the United States will re-elect Bill Clinton." Wrong again.

In all the time I talked with coworkers prior to the time to cast my one vote, I don't think I found five people who said they were going to vote for him this time. When it was all over, I was talking to myself. "Who voted that man in?" Needless to say, I felt vindicated by the time they were trying to impeach him. I suppose we all know what happened; don't we?

Guess what I've learned since then? One cannot assume that people know what should be obvious. First, people have to care enough to pay attention to what is going on around them. I hope you don't mind if I ask everyone some personal questions. How informed are you really? When you do take the time to turn out to vote, how thoroughly do you know the candidate you intend to vote for? When you step into that voting booth and close the curtain behind you and look at the list of names presented for you to choose from, how many of them do you actually recognize? Are most of the names familiar? Is that because you have seen countless signs along the roads you drive home on? I think most of us would be amazed to discover the process that leads up to pressing a button or throwing a lever or however it goes where you vote.

Do you vote strictly along party lines? Would you even consider voting for a person who was running on an independent ticket? What do you know about that top rated Republican or Democrat candidate? Where do they stand on the issues that are most important to you? When you have made your choices and end the process by pushing that VOTE button, do you feel like you are making a difference in the outcome of things?

Believe me, I do understand. If you comprehend the numbers and think about it, there are over 250 million people in this country and the majority of those are of voting age. How insignificant is my one little vote? All I can say is this; if someone doesn't find some way to inject some enthusiasm into the voting process in this country, nothing is ever going to change for the better. You ask, "What's wrong with the way things are now? Why do they need to be changed?"

Yes! I know, the economy is strong, the stock market continues to climb, our present government is right on top of things all around the world. I have a good job, we have enough to eat, and a roof over our heads and all is right in my world. If it isn't broke, don't try to fix it.

I'm not about to attempt composing a list of all the things that I believe could be made better. You and I may not agree, but we should at least have some valid information upon which we form our opinions. Most of us have heard the story about the frog that was placed in a pot of cold water under which a fire was burning. The temperature increase was so gradual, the frog didn't know anything was wrong until it was too late and someone was having it for lunch.

What I am trying to say here is that it may be a good idea to swim over and take a peek over the side of the pot once in a while.

There are not many ways for John Doe, American citizen to be heard and have influence in the way his own country is run. If John becomes complacent and apathetic about the value of his vote, he, more or less is giving up his rights to contribute to the outcome of elections and essentially leaving the decision making up to others who believe they have more invested in it than most. If you believe that those others have your best interest at heart, by all means, keep going the way you are and live with the consequences.

With today's technology and all the ways made available for us to gather information so easily, there really is no excuse for any voter to go to the polls uninformed.

Recently, I came across a web site called "SelectSmart." I was highly impressed with my first visit and have returned several times since then. At that time, there were sixteen active candidates running for the office of President of the United States. Did you know there was that many? I didn't, but I quickly found out.

On this site, each candidate was furnished with 14 issues that were indicated to be of the most interest to the average voter. They were asked to state their position on each one. When you visit the first time, you are given the opportunity to take a poll on those same issues, selecting your own position or opinions. Then you can ask for a list of all of the candidates representative of the one who most closely matches your own views, continuing on in a descending order to the one who is most in opposition to your views. Each candidate's position is clearly stated and provided at length and in detail, in their own words, as supplied to the site's operators.

The site is very informative and must be experienced to be appreciated for its depth and detail. Yes! It will require one to sacrifice some of his or her valuable time and effort, but I believe it will be worth it to everyone. Is the information reliable? It should be, it came right from the horse's mouth. Now, of course, we must all realize going in that these men are politicians. It is a place to start and I do hope that you will take the time to be informed in any and all ways possible.

Remember that our government is OF, FOR, and BY the people, but it only works the way it was intended if we do our part and our duty as citizens. BE AN INFORMED VOTER IN OUR NEXT ELECTION.
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