A former graduate school classmate posted this today, and it is so much of what I have been thinking. Please read!!!
Recently, it has come to my attention that people are angry. As such, fringe groups on both sides of the "mainstream" aisle have made a number of inappropriate and appropriate claims about our elected officials, the system of governance, and the credibility of public service in this country. The rise of the republicans had less to do with any real anger and more to do with the politics that is played out every two years; thanks to sound bites and media coverage whipping the electorate into a frenzy of emotional passions that spill over at the polls or people choosing to stay home because our government "doesn't care" and even worse, there is no accountability for results. Face it, most of what voters discuss is directly linked to what they read or hear on the television.
If you watch msnbc you may quote Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, or Keith Olhbermann. If you watch fox, you may quote Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. If you are apathetic, you may quote what is in your local paper and op-ed pieces. But all of this information is coming from a 3rd party source, you haven't confirmed it, digested it, or really thought deeply about it. And what is the "it" for you?
I have a proposition for both sides. Turn off the television. Turn on your computer. Go online, find out who your elected officials are: city, county, state, and federal. Find out who your non-paid elected officials are (in the case of downstate NY - county committee members who represent your election district and your male/female district leaders). Then, once you have all those names, go and look up your elected official's voting record. Find out what they voted on, how they voted, or if they simply handed their vote over to the leadership (speaker, majority leader, minority leader, etc). Find out how often they missed their votes.
While you are at it, find out what pieces of legislation they co-signed, introduced, passed, or let go to the wayside. You don't necessarily have to read the whole thing, though I think its a good idea if you do, but since you are just starting out, just try reading the summary and impact (purpose) of said legislation.
And while you are researching and learning, find out about how and where your elected spent your tax dollars, these are called "Budget Appropriations" - you can google some of this too! And learn about "Member Items" while you are at it.
And if you are feeling really motivated, you can also find out who contributed to your elected official's campaign. Did they get their money from people such as yourself in the community in small amounts? The Unions? Businesses? Who contributed most often? Who contributed the highest amount?
See, as public servants, all this information is not only a matter of public record, you can actually access all of this; just takes a little time and some reading. The work of the voter starts the day after election day. We must hold ourselves accountable first for having the knowledge of who our candidates and elected officials are, what they stand for, and how they represent/wish to represent us. If we do not, then we cannot complain that they don't care. People do get the government they deserve and there is mutual accountability between those running for office and the ones who put them there.
In my opinion - voting in ignorance is equal to not voting at all. So if you really want to see changes in how your government works for you, make sure you are putting the right people in office.
Case in point: Election day was on November 2nd. The Republicans and Tea Party members were ushered into the House. On November 3rd, the US Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the newly elected stating that they wish to meet in January to discuss the concerns of their constituents. The US Chamber of Commerce supported republicans and tea party members alike (who were elected) because they were feeling the effects of the regulations that the Obama administration had begun to impose on them. That isn't something the voting public would feel. Within minutes of being announced Senator-elect, Rand Paul began the rhetoric of not taxing big businesses and rich people (find out how much the Chamber contributed to his campaign) - as I recall, these weren't the words coming out of most tea party supporters. Enough said. Rope a dope.
Don't get me wrong, there are corrupt politicians out there, we hear about them often. But there are some really hard working public servants who strive to do the right thing and public service is hard enough without having an ignorant voting public. We believe our elected officials owe us the best of themselves when representing us. That is correct. And in turn, we owe them the respect of providing (voting for) equally capable and competent colleagues to work with in doing the "people's business".
Voting in ignorance is equal to not voting at all. The electorate shares responsibility in this country's lack of accountability relative to governance. And yes, people really do get the government they deserve.
Akilah Rosado McQueen