Monday, July 3, 2006

Speaking truth to power

In all my dealings with politicians, and there have been many, they keep saying, "Write me a letter" when a constituent feels strongly about something. It matters.
Comparatively few people do. That takes work. That takes thought. Most people, unfortunately, recoil at the challenge of stringing more than five words together. Perhaps they know instinctively that it won't make sense, or perhaps it's just easier to grump and whine in the coffee shop.
Or maybe they're a little afraid of the politicians, these oh-so-powerful Washington or Lansing or courthouse types. There's really no reason for that; the successful -- read: re-electable -- political leaders I've met are approachable, open, willing to listen and generally pretty smart.
The Boy Scouts require Scouts working on the Citizenship in the Community merit badge to write a letter to the editor, or write a letter to a political leader or board commenting on some issue. It's our right as Americans to do that, but precious few of us do. When we don't, that opens the door for organized, special-interest groups to pretend to represent everyone.

Andrew recently finished Citizenship in the Community. He cast around looking for something to write about, and considering he and his family are on the county roads every day, his letter went to the Isabella County Road Commission.
There's a stretch of road west of Mount Pleasant that just simply is awful. He wrote about that, encouraging the road board to find the money to get a new surface on this increasingly busy road.
He spent a lot of time on the iMac composing, revising, brainstorming, got it approved by his merit badge counselor, and got the badge. Citizenship in the Community is required for Eagle, by the way. Knowing how to make your voice heard is a clear requirement for a leader.
Will they jump? Of course not, but knowing it's an issue, and people care, will
keep that near the top of the priority list when it's time to set the budget.
Fuzzy also recently sent letters off to Michigan's U.S. senators, and encouraged his friends to do that same thing.
I talked to a man over the weekend, a Native American, who wants to change the rules the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe regulates fireworks sales on the reservation. He's involved, and even though progress is slow, he's continuing to push his ideas. Ultimately, I think, he'll get results.
Most politicians don't bite. But if we don't show up, write letters, make our voices heard, people like Jack Abramoff will be more than happy to fill that role.
Happy Independence Day. It takes work to keep it.

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