Democracy is not a spectator sport

When Missouri Governor Jay Nixon vetoed the recent tax-cut bill, he was overridden by the legislature. Many people are blaming one person–State Rep. Keith English, a turncoat Democrat–for putting the veto override over the top. But they are wrong. In fact, it’s not just Keith English who is responsible. It is all of the Missouri voters and non-voters who don’t pay attention to what’s happening to our state and communities.

I am really sick of hearing people say they “don’t get involved in politics.” I’d like to push their face into some of the hard realities. They don’t make the connections between the sad state of affairs they experience all around them and who represents them in Jefferson City or D.C. Truthfully, I don’t know if the little bit of actual representative democracy we’ve had these past few decades is even worth saving.

I was going to write about something else this a.m., but I guess the two stories are really part of the same problem. On April 8th, 540 voters in the City of Pacific, Missouri elected a new mayor. That man has been a vocal critic of the past administrators for years. He owns a funeral home, and, from what I saw last night at his first official board of aldermen meeting, he has no qualifications to run a meeting, much less a city. As soon as he was sworn in two weeks ago, he fired all the department heads who know how to run the city’s business. There is currently no city administrator. The new mayor says he’ll take care of any work that needs to be done until he gets the board to approve his new staff.

Meanwhile, one woman got up during the public comment period and complained that visitors who came to city hall this week were appalled that the ladies room was a mess. So there you have it. Who cleans the bathrooms if no one is in charge? 540 people made the decision to elect a new mayor. Pacific has about 8,000 residents, so less than 6 percent of them made the decision that will affect not just those who live inside the city, but all of us who live in the surrounding area.

Visitors will manage to survive a dirty rest room. But will Missouri’s children, working poor and elderly be able to survive the destruction of public schools, health care programs and services that keep older folks independent?

How do we get people to connect the dots between decisions made in Jeff City and DC, and what happens in their own lives? Anyone breathing air from a coal-fired power plant has a stake in the political process. Everyone with children who may want to go to college should be paying attention to the override of Governor Nixon’s veto of the tax cut bill. Senior citizens generally vote in large numbers, but how do they vote? A friend lives in a senior living community where only 10 percent of the residents even bother to go to the polls. These are not wealthy retirees. Don’t they know what is being done to their ability to live out what’s left of their lives in a safe, comfortable environment?

My first goal as a candidate for state rep in a rural area of Missouri is to meet as many folks as possible and really listen to them. I truly want to understand what issues are important to them and whether they see the connection between their struggles and the decisions being made for them in the halls of power. I talked with a man in his 30’s last evening who needs surgery before he can do any kind of work that involves physical strength. But he can’t get the surgery without insurance. And the Republicans in Jeff City are hell bent on denying him that opportunity. He understands that, but I wonder how many others like him don’t?

So bottom line? We need to talk to everyone we know and make the connections for them one at a time. Share simple messages. Be as blunt as needed to make an impression that will motivate them to talk to others. Find a candidate you like and jump in with both feet. Democracy is not a spectator sport. Use it or lose it.