When my friends, clients, and associates hear me talk about "participating in government" they immediately ask me "How do we do that?" They know they can write letters or go to those local meetings held by Representatives or Senators, but what should they try to talk about? What subjects should they raise? How can they get the people in power to listen to the little guy or gal?
The answers to these questions are within each of us but first let me address the need for everyone to vote.
I know it often seems like voting in this country is about making a choice between two evils. Typically, the two candidates are only two sides of the same coin. However, if you abdicate your responsibility to vote altogether, you really only allow elected leaders to become more alike. If people do not care about the slight differences between Candidate A and Candidate B, there is no need for them to be different is there?
People in the poorest nations vote more than Americans, the issues in elections often mean the difference between life and death to really poor people.
Another important reason to vote is because elected officials know if you vote. Politicians have access to lists of the people that actually vote in each election. They may not know who you voted for but they know if you voted (Computer voting machines are changing that but this is another subject). Voter registration and who voted is public data. Many elected officials check to see if the person writing letters to them actually voted. If you do not vote why should they care what you think?
WHAT SHOULD I WRITE ABOUT?
When you get a bill from a doctor or hospital does the amount on that bill make you happy? If you have good health insurance does the amount deducted from your paycheck seem fair to you? Do you think it right that the CEOs of some big firms make $100 million a year while you have to buy the generic brand of macaroni and cheese just to be able to feed your children? When you read about people like Jack Abramoff or an oil company buying laws from Congress does that get you steaming? If you remember that Robert Gates lied outright to Congress about his knowledge of the Iran-Contra Scandal, does it upset you that he will now replace Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld?
Did you know all the future Social Security money gets used to pay current U.S. debts? Congress puts an IOU in the cookie jar and expects your little children to pay that bill when they grow up.
Did you know we spend at least $50 billion spying on other nations and our own citizens every year? All that money and we have no idea what Iran is doing with plutonium or where the next Osama bin Ladin wannabe is hiding?
Are you angry that Congress and the Bush Administration just eliminated your right to a fair trial (habeas corpus)? How about the known fact that America tortures and "disappears" people just like Stalin and Hitler did?
What about the 100,000 Americans killed and wounded in the middle of a Civil War between the Shiite and Sunni tribes in Iraq?
When you write, call, or e-mail (I do not recommend e-mailing Congress, they just delete most of those anyway) your elected local, state, and federal officials, write about the subjects that matter to you and your family. Write clearly and put in personal, real facts. Ask them to state clearly what they are doing about the problems that mean something to you. Ask them to reply to you. Tell them that you vote based on the way that they act when they are representing you. Finally, remind them that they work for you, you hire them to do a job when you vote for them and pay taxes. If they do not do the job honestly, fairly, and daily, you have every right to fire them in the next election. They will listen if enough people speak out clearly to them or they will lose their posts, if enough people vote for the other candidate.