By Fred Woods
I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.
Alabama politics is the laughingstock of the nation. Just about every political corruption measure in the country lists Alabama either first or in the top five of the most corrupt states in the U.S.
At present, the top three political figures in the state have either been convicted, are under investigation (leading to impeachment or federal indictment) or have been suspended from office pending trial for encouraging others to disobey the law (violation of oath of office).
Who’s to blame for these developments? Look in the mirror! As that great philosopher, Pogo Possum, said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Are we,then, a bad people? Is there no hope for us? Not necessarily. As Edmund Burke, the statesman father of modern conservatism once observed, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
And I truly believe that most of us are good men (and women). If this indeed be the case something has quite obviously gone wrong. Maybe it’s because we no longer teach civics and government in our schools. Maybe, with the advent of 24-hour cable television “news” stations, it’s the bending of media’s role from reporting the facts to reporting propaganda.
Whatever it is, it’s time for good men and women to step up and do something! For whatever reason, politics, politicians and government have been demonized to the point that, to a large number of us, government has become the enemy, most of us have become cynical and don’t even bother to vote, the most capable people dare not run for public office and we seem to have conceded our responsibility to hold public officials accountable for all but a few isolated instances.
The highest office in our American democracy is The Office of Citizen. We occupy that office, if we will. All the rest of the positions are either elected, appointed or hired—by us, us citizens. For our democracy to work, we citizens must be both informed and involved. Quite obviously, we are neither today. Getting informed comes first and, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, back in the early 1800’s, the solution is to inform citizens through education, not take their role as controllers of the American democracy from them.
There’s a new group in Lee County that wants to begin this task, at the local level. The group is called the Spirit of Democracy (SOD), and its founders believe that the fundamentals of democracy need replanting in us citizens and in our civic undertakings. They dare suggest we need more politics, not less. This is because the very lifeblood of democracy is a political process. This is the process that enables a free people (an informed and involved free people) to elect their representatives (politicians) and engage in the life (politics) of the community.
The group’s intent is to involve Lee County citizens, the media, civic clubs and other community organizations, students and others to participate in and develop SOD as a vehicle to grow a strong and healthy democracy beginning here at the local level.
This effort started with four local citizens who challenged themselves to do something other than criticize and bemoan the current state of affairs. These people are: Tom Penton (Opelika), Christy Dittrick (Waverly), Virginia Jones (Auburn) and Gerald Johnson (Auburn). They have committed themselves to doing something about this challenge to our democratic republic. Their vehicle is SOD.
SOD proposes, as a first step, creation of a Lee County Civic Forum, a nonpartisan organization made up of citizens sharing a common belief that, since the citizen holds the highest position in our society, it is the citizen’s responsibility to be informed about and actively involved in civic life. The Forum will seek solutions to the problems of a failed democracy including strengthening civic involvement in the democratic process.
SOD’s organizers are now in the process of creating an informal Advisory Council to help guide the SOD movement. They offer the following statement about their efforts:
“We choose democracy, We fought hard for democracy. Are we to shed it now? Democracy depends on an informed and involved citizenry. SOD, with our feet clearly on the ground will seek solutions to the problems of a failed democracy and develop and implement actions designed to strengthen our civic involvement in the democratic processes. We start with Lee County. If we cannot make democracy work here at home, then democracy as an institution. We invite all citizens to join us in this effort.”
I’m going to work with them. I hope you will, too.
For more information about or participation in SOD, contact Virginia Jones, email@example.com, (334) 750-7470 or SOD, P.O. Box 562, Auburn, AL 36831.