“American government works best when citizens are active participants
in the process at every level and branch of government.”
The Everything American Government Book by Nick Ragone
So here is my attempt to write about a somewhat newly regenerated interest of mine…politics. Why would someone like me steeped in hippie-dippy idealism and esoteric beliefs choose to mindfully wander into this subject? My Twitter bio reveals the answer. I am “balancing knowledge and spirituality to be a responsible participant in social, economic and political change.” It’s another facet of my self-journey that may shed light on where and how I may best serve; not in the sense of political office but as an advocate for social, economic and political change.
On my eighteenth birthday my grandmother who lived through the civil rights movement, presented me with my card and gift. Inside the card was a voter registration form. I registered with the same political party as my family, although I did not know why. During my early college years my grandmother and I would go together to the voting polls. I think she just wanted to make sure I voted; but regardless I hold it as a fond memory of an elder’s mentorship to show the importance of exercising a hard-earned civic obligation and right.
My interest in politics goes back to high school, but I must admit that through my early voting years, I never became sufficiently knowledgeable about politics and world news. Politics seemed so non-congruent and filled with mixed messages. As my years advanced, I just didn't have the energy to “stay informed” with at minimum an eight to five job and two and half hour commute. The result was that I became like so many, cynical about politics and adopted the opinion that political parties were nothing more than scenery that kept the masses occupied while the political agenda was already predetermined and unstoppable. I must confess even now I struggle with latent remnants of that confining meme locked in my internal dialogue.
Awhile ago a friend was explaining to me that her daughter was a Republican, but she wished her daughter understood what that meant. I have no idea what my friends political affiliation was and it really wasn't pertinent to the conversation. I began to wonder, what was the platform position and overall mission of “my” political party? But it was a fleeting thought, and never acted upon gathering more information.
A change in my working circumstances, about a year and a half ago, created a habit of watching what my husband calls “too much news.” There is usually some news channel playing as background noise in my home-office. My work day is still about eleven hours, because my attention is drawn to the latest news. I am no longer satisfied with superficial information, and watch endless reporting, commentaries and debates.
Like so many I watched the recent government shutdown and impeding debt ceiling drama during the first two weeks of October. I heard varying opinions and positions as our government leaders postured themselves to “stand their ground,” “draw lines,” and “see who would blink first.” I was annoyed and infuriated with the government at large, but perhaps this is all part of the political landscape. The strategic subtleties on the execution of the political process elude me, even though I know they exist.
As the initial stifling emotions subsided I tried to understand everyone’s point of view and to determine ideological political positions. During this time as I talked to friends and overheard conversations on the shutdown and debt ceiling, it was noticeable that most people did not know why the government shutdown, what the debt ceiling was, or all the other aspects that was inflaming the situation. They damned one side or other with auto playback rhetoric that evidenced their lack of information and understanding. I have a warped sense of humor so I was amused by what I heard. It’s not easy stuff, and I’d be in the same boat if I didn't watch so much political news. I wondered too, if like me they really understood the philosophy of their political party?
Finally, I visited websites to review the overall positions of the four political groups: Democrats, Libertarians, Republicans, and Tea Party. The two most popular American political parties where somewhat vague about an overall position and focused more their historical contributions in American politics, but through historical reference I could glean their political mission. A third party at first glance seemed more aligned with my core beliefs, especially when it wrote about “tolerance”; and I began to wonder if that wasn't a better party for me. The fourth had a few good points, but for me, any organization that has “non-negotiable core beliefs” is a definite aversion.
It was good exercise and I’m more comfortable about my affiliation. Of course that does not always mean I vote aligned with my political party; so perhaps I’m truly an Independent with the exception that my state requires me to vote along party lines during primary elections. My voting decision comes down to two things: (1) who is the best (qualified) person for the elected office and (2) can that person work in a bipartisan way to accomplish what is the best interest for their constituents including the town, state or country they represent. An adjunct is which candidate can effectively and honestly educate their constituents. Yeah even as I write this I’m musing at my word choice “honestly”; I am sure it will sound “Polly-Anna” and naive, but I still dare to dream of the best that can be.
As in any relationship I also have some responsibilities. The first and obvious one is to vote. As a recent politician seeking national office declared, “Your vote is your voice.” However, it doesn't stop there. My voice can be raised not only during election cycles, but in between, such as letters, emails and tweets to my local, state and national representatives (which I exercised during the recent government shut-down). Participation and attendance at meetings provide opportunities to learn more, ask questions, and express my opinion. It could certainly turn out to be a full-time job, but as with anything I have and continue to refine my balance. For me the most helpful insight into political controversies includes learning about opposing opinions. Following the debates of political issues helps me to (1) extract and expose the threads of “truth,” (2) reveal the systemic cause and impact of an issue and (3) what “common ground” there can be the basis for reconciliation and compromise. This knowledge is also beneficial when the next elections occur as I remember the performance and position of my elected politicians; and I have a long memory.
The political arena is not simple. The scenery is muddied and becomes more blurred by the undercurrents of highly financed special interest groups and their lobbyist; “spin” of political language by all leaders and political parties; and the spread of inaccurate information by sometimes well-intentioned but misinformed people. It is much easier to say, “What’s the use, it won’t do any good.” For me, this pattern of thought is not only limiting, but would be a resignation of my civic responsibility and is the least palatable and productive option. So I will continue to watch, learn, question and participate. After all, even the hippies of the 1960’s grew up.
Political Party Websites
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