Besides Voting, What Else Can I Do?
By John D. Turner
7 January 2002

While it is true that an informed, responsible voter is essential to the maintenance of a free, democratic society, this is, in reality, the lowest common denominator of civic responsibility. In a properly functioning society, based upon the principles established in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, and with a just Government composed of men and women devoted to those same principles, it would be safe for us to remain comfortably within the confines of this lowest common denominator.

Keeping ourselves informed, selecting the best person for the job when it came time to vote, and holding our elected officialís feet to the fire should they stray from the path would be a sufficient response if all was truly well in Zion. Unfortunately we live in a society where most are either content to go with the flow, or are "too busy" to bother with such things as informing themselves of the issues, checking out the candidates, or even voting at all. Most are blissfully unaware of what the Constitution actually says, allowing the Government to usurp the rights they do have listed there, while imagining all sorts of other "rights" they think they have that donít actually exist. There are many symptoms pointing to the fact that our society is in trouble, and beginning a downward slide; symptoms that have presaged the demise of many other great societies in history. There is no reason to believe that just because this is America and itís the 21st century that we are immune to the same forces that have brought down great civilizations and empires before us.

The sad fact is that the majority of us in this country fall below the lowest common denominator of civic responsibility. Balancing this will require more of us to rise above the lowest common denominator and become more involved in the political process. Such involvement can take many forms. It can take the form of trying to inform our friends, families, and neighbors and at least bring them up to the LCD (lowest common denominator) standard. Getting people to care again what is going on in their Government, and to understand the principles our freedom is based on is a desperate necessity if the United States is to survive as a free country. This is also likely to be an extremely difficult task. The rot has penetrated deep over many years; it will take a large amount of effort by dedicated individuals over an extended period to root it out.

It can also take the form of greater participation in the political process at the grass roots level by people willing to put in the time to make a difference. And you can make a difference. Some of you may remember ten years or so ago when there was a big story in the media about how the "Christian Right" had "taken over" the Republican Party of Texas. They made it sound like some sort of an illegal coup. (Or if it wasnít illegal, it probably should have been.) How do you suppose they did that?

Have you ever heard of a "Precinct Convention"? How about a "Senatorial Convention"? State Convention? National Convention? Most of us are probably at least passingly familiar with the National Democratic or Republican Conventions. These are held during the Presidential election year, and are televised by the major media, who typically give us their opinions on everything instead of letting us hear what is going on so we can form our own opinions. Some of us may be familiar with the State conventions as well, which are held every two years. I bet most of us however are unaware of the Senatorial Conventions or Precinct Conventions, or the parts we can play in all of these (yes, even the National Conventions if we wish to). I know I was, up until about ten years ago. Four years of high school, seven years of college, and no one had ever taught me the basics of how our political system really works at the grass roots level.

In school, we are taught about the National Government, its branches, its functions, and its history. We memorize the names of past presidents and their accomplishments. We learn of important laws that were passed, scandals of past administrations, Supreme Court decisions, and other things deemed of importance by educators. We also learn similar things concerning State governmental bodies. What we donít learn is how the politicians got where they ended up. We learn that there are two major political parties, and that they have something called a "party platform" which is supposed to be the guiding set of principles for which they stand, but we donít learn exactly where that party platform comes from. Or how we can have any impact on what it says. Everything that we learn tends to reinforce the belief that government is a black box run by powerful forces which are beyond our power to influence, let alone control.

This is simply not the case. Remember, our system of government was established from the beginning to derive its just powers from the consent of the governed. Thatís us. The governed. This is not a Monarchy. We have no "noble" class. Anyone can be President in this country, even an actor, a peanut farmer, or a Governor from the state of Arkansas.

And anyone can become involved in the political process, from being an election worker, to running for office. Itís easy to have a voice. All you have to do is have the desire. The fact is, there are more jobs than there are people to fill them. Election campaigns and political parties are always looking for volunteers. I can tell you from experience that if you want to be a delegate at your senatorial convention, or even at the state level, your chances of doing so are extremely good; there are typically more delegate positions available than there are people willing to fill them.

To be sure, at the start your voice may be small. We all have to learn the ropes when we first start out. Ultimately however, your voice can be as big as you want it to be. It all begins with the Precinct convention, which is the foundation stone of the entire political process. From this tiny acorn come mighty oaks, whose lumber is eventually hewn into the planks that make up the political platforms of the two major parties.

This being the start of the new political season for the off-year elections, I will attempt to get this site back on track with discussions of these and other topics of interest to the voter in the coming months, interspersed I am sure with topics of the day, when events conspire to irritate me enough to write a column in response.