Friday, June 02, 2006

Our Part of the Bargain: My View

What is our part of the bargain with our elected officials? I haven’t read any of the other responses to this question yet, so these are solely my thoughts (with some input from the family). Being more of a Roman (roads, bridges, aqueducts, and manuals) than a Greek (theatre, arts, sculpture, and epics), I’m sticking to practical suggestions as opposed to theory.

What is our part of the bargain during elections?

Research the candidates, their stance on the issues, their past, their character, their record (for incumbents). Read interviews, attend debates where possible. If you support a candidate do so on the candidate’s merits instead of solely party affiliation, though they aren’t mutually exclusive.

Contribute to the campaign in some way. Money is good. Money is very good. Some people, however, are uncomfortable writing a check. Fine. Find another way. I’ve never seen a campaign turn away stamps. If you don’t want to write a check, take or send the campaign office 100 stamps. See if they would want a case of small water bottles for volunteers to take when going door to door. A ream of copy paper. Something. Find something you can give in support of the candidate. (Ask first if they need what you have or are thinking of). Volunteer. This can be knocking on doors or calling people. It can also be folding and stuffing. There are all sorts of things you can do, depending on your talents and comfort level. Remember, if you don’t provide money or supplies the campaign will get them somewhere else. And you may not like the option they choose.

Vote. I don’t understand people who purposefully do not vote. I just don’t.

What is our part of the bargain between elections?

Be informed. Keep track of what elected officials are doing.

Read at least one local paper on a regular basis (blogs are good, but they are in addition to, not instead of, a local paper).

Support your officials. Don’t just complain when they mess up, tell them when they’ve done something good. Want to see an elected official’s jaw drop? Mention a specific vote or stance they have taken that you like. They seldom hear this sort of thing. If someone on their staff has been helpful be sure to praise that person to the official.

Attend townhall meetings or open houses or other non-fundraiser events often enough to see each elected official at least once a year. You don’t have to ask them anything or talk to them but they need to see you and every other voter at least once a year. If they don’t have or attend such events, vote them out of office.

Be involved in at least one community-based effort or group – a religious group, a model train club, a garden club, school-based groups, the friends of the library, neighborhood watch, political party, bowling league, Drinking Liberally, something. This will weave you into the social fabric and you can hear what others in the community have to say about your elected officials and what their experiences are. If nothing else, talk with your neighbors about elected officials and see what they think.

Look beyond the edges of your neighborhood. An official who brings home a lot of money for local projects but whose votes are devastating the state or country is not a good official. Bite the bullet and vote them out. (This one comes from Mr. J.)

What is effect does this have?

Elected officials see that you and other voters are interested in what they are doing. That helps keep them honest. If you leave me alone in a room with a bowl of M&Ms and ask me not to eat any of them, the odds that I will comply are directly related to my perception of your knowledge of how many M&Ms are in the bowl. It’s human nature. If you want your elected officials to represent you and not special interests, they have to know what you want and if you are happy with them. Don’t let this information come to them solely through expensive polls at election time.

Maintenance is always more expensive and time consuming than acquisition. Anyone who has owned a house or car has learned this. Same with elected officials. Once we have them in office we have to support them. This is where community organizations can come in handy -- they can provide the hands and feet of an official’s community efforts. We can’t expect an official to accomplish everything single-handedly. We can expect them to lead, to help procure funding, to pass the laws we need, but they need our help to make where we live better, or just to keep it on track.

Democracy is not a spectator sport. This doesn’t just apply to taking jabs at the “other guy” during campaigns. It means being an active participant in the process all the time.


Ellen said...

"Don’t just complain when they mess up, tell them when they’ve done something good."

I've become a convert in the past 10 years or so to the Tao of the Explicit in this way - especially professionally. Not only in this, but in such things as using the "low priority" option on emails (yes, I know people for whom every outgoing email is HIGH PRIORITY), and telling support staff that a support request isn't ASAP and to feel free to get to it when it's most convenient to them. I find it makes people feel a lot more at ease realizing you don't expect to implicitly be their highest priority and can keep all aspects of their juggling act in perspective (as well as making them more responsive the times you DO have an ASAP)

eRobin said...

I'm with Ellen. Telling them something positive is always a good idea. I'm a teacher though so I come by that naturally. Always lead and end with the postives!

As for the other suggestions, they're all great. I think it's too much for most people but it would be wonderful if even more people carved out the time it would take to half the things you suggest. I can't even imagine the difference it would make if people on our side of the fence would do that.