‘Of the people, by the people, for the people’
“Of course it is not fair, but that’s just business.””This town/county is going to change, you can’t stop it.””Might makes right, it will always be that way.””If we don’t allow it in our town some other town will.”
“You can’t fight city hall.””I don’t have time to get involved.” Those are just some of the excuses that we all use to make ourselves feel better about not getting connected to the public process. It is both reassuring and convenient to think that the path of politics and opinion is predetermined; allowing us to feel better about remaining a spectator and not a participant. Plato said, “Those too intelligent to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are not.” I’m one of those elected officials who Plato is warning about. I’m in my second of a four-year term on the Breckenridge Town Council. I feel my lack of education and my Attention Deficit Disorder is compensated by my habit of taking public transportation to town hall, thus saving a needed parking space. Certainly on the level of public service that I am involved, I have seen no corruption, hypocrisy nor self-serving motivation by public officials. That said, I have seen a wide range of opinions, many of them wrong, many of them mine. Debate can shed light on reason and open the doors of discussion. I’ve always compared arguing my opinions to communicating with someone who doesn’t speak my language – you need to talk slowly and extremely loud. To sway dissenters over to your side of a dispute, it helps to arm yourself with irrefutable facts. Because of that reality, I often feel like I’m entering a knife fight armed with a Q-tip.
Often is the case when I think to myself, “Am I crazy, or does everyone else hear these voices?” We all seek reaffirmation; that is where public input is such a necessary part of the process. It would boggle the mind of the average citizen to realize the power they have simply by writing a letter or showing up at a meeting. So often, I’ll attend a public forum and the only ones in the audience are those who stand to benefit by the decision on the table. It is as if those in the crowd were there as a professional rather than a concerned citizen.If the reason for apathy on a local level is a lack of time, the reason to remain silent nationally is a sense of impotence. (Not that I have ever personally experienced that sensation.)Certainly one can get intimidated by the scope and size of national and international politics. I often find myself complaining in bars and coffee shops rather than letting anyone who can make a difference know my feelings. But with the simplicity and convenience of the web, you can tell an elected official that you think he or she is an idiot with the touch of a send button. And by writing a small check to them, or their opponents, you can double the pain or pleasure. WARNING: If you decide to e-mail criticism to Dick Cheney, press “send” then duck. By far, the most powerful statement a person can make is to attend a meeting, work session or any public forum and look your elected officials in the eyes. Too often the wheels of government roll unobserved. Tuesday night, I attended a meeting locally where the room was full of passionate parents and overheated children.
These mothers and dads, after a long day, packed up their families and braved icy roads to attend a meeting and voice their opposition to a perceived injustice. They asked the government to exercise its considerable clout and stand up for them because they had nowhere else to turn. That night there was no mention of cliques or apathetic justifications to not get involved. In their place were impassioned requests for justice and consideration. As an elected official I walked home that night feeling both humbled and empowered. “Power to the people” is not a cliché – it is what’s best about America.Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN, heard on KOA radio and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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