Here in America we sure do love our apathy; even I used to take my apathy in extra large sizes. But then, I had a moment, a moment that changed everything. A number of years ago, I was yelling at the television during a news program and became overwhelmed with an intense feeling of despair at what I perceived to be some very unhealthy steps our nation was taking. And then, I realized how preposterous and useless it was to yell at the television screen and do nothing else. I decided that I couldn't feel so strongly about something and do nothing about it; I saw hypocrisy in my own actions--or in this case, in my inaction. So, a fire was lit, and I got involved in local politics and community citizenry.
My journey through activism has been amazing and fulfilling in many ways. I have found how easy it is to become involved and informed; how empowering it is; how little effort it takes to actually know things. I have learned that a little bit of effort to be an active citizen can go a long way, in addition to yielding a great many friends.
However, the main thing that I have learned in my adventures is an ugly and discouraging truth, and I'm going to be honest and blunt about it today. I mean none of the things I say personally. I speak in generalities; I do not want to insult your good intentions or any efforts you have made to be involved. Also, everything I say here applied even to me, just a few short years ago, so I am not immune. However, there are things that need to be said.
Here it is: apathy will be the downfall of this country. The indifference of our people when it comes to being informed and involved in government, politics, and community affairs will lead to our demise. Not an original thought, I know, but I am adding my own testimony to voices of those who have offered similar warnings. I have experienced apathy firsthand at such a discouraging level that I cannot remain silent about it any longer.
Apathy has permeated every facet of our society; however, in the realm of civics, it is particularly pervasive. Other than the latest talking points, which only graze the surface, very few people know anything about the issues facing them and their country today. Knowledge of local politics is almost non-existent. Our country's founding documents are known only in name, not in content, and discussed only in misunderstood catch phrases. Current events are typically only discussed in sound bites and trendy hot-topics.
People cry about how hard it is to get involved, but then when opportunities to be involved arise, they don’t take them. When they sense an injustice in the system they complain and do nothing to fix it. We have a nation of people who have strong opinions on every issue, but with no resolve to act on those opinions. Talkers, not doers. This makes for entertaining subject matter for bits like Jaywalking on Leno's show where we all laugh at how stupid Americans are when asked questions about our country. But deep down, we aren’t much better, and, we don't do anything to remedy that. It is easy to form and express an opinion on the internet over an issue or get in debates with friends over the latest talking point; what percentage of those talkers, however, act on their opinions? Take concrete steps to be involved? I assert that it is easy to talk, but worthless without action. Nations aren’t saved on ideas, they are saved only when people act on those ideas.
Now, I know why many people are uninvolved; believe me, I’ve heard it all. I have heard that politics are boring, time-consuming, hard to understand, depressing, and intense. I have heard that you are too busy. I have heard that there is no hope because the system is corrupt. I have heard that big money controls everything so we can’t make a difference. I have heard that you just don’t care, that you would rather focus on other things. I have heard that political parties have sold their souls. I have heard that it is too upsetting and emotionally draining. Yes, I have heard every justification for apathy that exists.
I hear all of you, I really do, but it does not change my opinion. We still need to be involved, despite all of the reasons we think we can't be. We need to forge ahead. If we don't, we will be to blame, nobody else, and nothing else. If there is an active and informed public, corruption cannot exist. If there is an active and informed public, freedoms will be preserved. If there is an active and informed public, the craziness will slowly be purged from the system. As it stands now, corruption and cronyism exist unchallenged and breeds itself into every level of government, which then feeds on itself to stay alive.
“I don’t have time,” people say. “I didn’t know there was an election,” they sigh. "I don't know enough about the issues." Let me get this straight: we are all able to access the internet to look up movie times--just not to look up our city website to see when elections are? Our sporting venues are packed to the brim, movies and concerts sell out weeks in advance, and the lines at Redbox are always thriving. Television ratings are in the millions. On Black Friday people plot and plan for weeks for the sales. With each new Apple product people camp out for days to get it. People wait hours in lines at amusement parks to go on a 5 minute ride. All of this, but, we don't have time for politics? People won't take the time to invest a bit of effort in citizenship, and yet they shake their fists at the sky and bemoan our deteriorating freedoms. There is a disconnect here, one too obvious and dangerous to ignore any longer.
Unfortunately, history has taught us over and over again that it takes a major crisis--tragedy, disaster, deaths, war, poverty, starvation, or famine, to wake people up. When--not if, when--that happens to us here, we will have brought it on ourselves and those who did nothing will drag the rest of us who have been fighting down with them. As long as we have an apathetic public that cares more about going to the movies than taking responsibility for the republic of which they are a part--we will lose it.
I hear parents talking about supporting their kids by going to their sporting and school events--how about parents supporting the future of their children by showing them they care about our country? By showing them that freedom is important? That citizenry is a critical component of living in a free world? How about we show our kids that patriotism means more than standing during the anthem at the beginning of sporting events and lighting off fireworks once a year? How about instead of intense debates over who should win The Bachelor, we debate things that actually matter? How about you let your kids see you yelling at the television--not over a football game--but over a political debate? How about while in the car instead of tossing on the music we put in a history book or listen to a policy discussion? How about instead of watching American Idol with the family we put in a documentary on American history?
My intense passion and love for citizen involvement is being squelched under my increasing horror at the level of apathy that now exists in our society. Many of us spend our lives in hibernation, waking every 4 years to a frenzy of activity when we vote in the presidential elections, pat ourselves on the back for having done our duty, then burrow back into our caves again. This is definitely a great start, but we must do so much more! There are city council meetings, municipal and primary elections, caucuses, voter registration drives, townhalls, commissioner meetings, conventions, classes, campaigns, rallies...so many opportunities to be involved! We don’t have to do it all, but we need to do something! Instead of settling back with our extra-large order of apathy, we need to stand up and be involved.
Here, I offer my challenge: Americans, get involved before it is too late! Step up and defend our freedoms! Educate yourselves about the issues, be an informed voter, become involved, and be a voice in your community! It isn't as hard as it seems. Even the most busy among us can do something. If we don't, apathy will take us down, and the weight of that downfall will rest squarely on our shoulders.