Actions That Involve Us in the Democratic Process

One of the unique characteristics and basic tenets of a democracy is that its citizens get to vote – both figuratively and literally – and that each citizen is able to live the life of their choosing – to be able to say and do what they want.

We are a democracy.  A democracy is a form of government that is “of, by, and for” the people.  Of the People means the government is comprised of regular citizens;  by the people means the government is elected by its citizens; and for the people means that the sole purpose of government is to act in ways that benefit us.

The democratic process is the way we make that happen.  We make the “of the people” part happen by running for public office;  we make the “by the people” part happen by doing the things needed to elect our best to public office; and we make the “for the people” part happen by doing those things that keep us educated on important issues, that keep elected officials aware of our points of view, and that enforce our laws.  The democratic process is not a methodology, but a way of living that keeps our country strong.

When we invest time, energy and money in something, we tend to care more about that something.  So actions that keep us involved in the democratic process help us care about and appreciate our democracy and freedoms.  They are the actions most closely associated with citizenship.

Ask a friend how they feel about a specific issue.

In some ways this action is so easy and so useful and can be so intellectually invigorating.  It’s so valuable because listening to someone else’s thoughts is educational.  Educational in that it gives us another perspective on the issue;  educational in that it gives us a better sense of our friend; and educational in that it gives us an opportunity, and presents a challenge, to more clearly formulate and articulate our feelings on the issue.

Yet in another way, this action is hard so for most of us!  It’s hard because discussing an issue becomes a possible source of disagreement and thus a possible barrier to a friendly relationship.  Most of us want to be liked and, unfortunately, many of us believe that discussing issues may lead to disagreements and that if we disagree, we won’t be liked by the person we disagree with.

If a person doesn’t like you because of what you think, then perhaps that person isn’t worthy of your friendship.  Discussing issues can be the foundation for a great and intellectually stimulating friendship.

Complete Consumer Surveys.

Background

Well-run organizations want to improve their products and services.  One way they do this is to ask their customers how they like their products and services.  They do this by using surveys.

Because customer opinions are so important, many companies provide incentives for completing their surverys – cash, a discount for future purchases, a change to win a prize in a drawing, and more.

One of the easiest and quickest way to change things for the better in our country is to complete or participate in a survey.  This citizen action is quite simple.  It involves taking a few minutes and answering questions honestly.

Why Completing Surveys Matter

If we want a country that reflects the needs, values, and morals of its citizens, then its citizens must let each other and companies and those who create our laws know what those needs, morals and wants are.

There is no easier way to express those views than to complete a survey from an organization that asks you for your thoughts. The feedback from surveys has a strong impact and influence on those who sponsor them and is an important way to keep the country strong

A Caveat

In today’s world, one must be careful about scams that attempt to collect confidential information that can be used for identify theft.  So don’t answer “surveys” that ask for any personal information such as birth date, bank account numbers, passwords, and social security number. If the survey asks for information you aren’t comfortable giving, then don’t give it.

Email the address of this website to a friend.

If the basic beliefs of citizenship set forth of this web book resonate with you, then you’ll appreciate the importance of this action.

Citizenship is, almost by definition, a grass roots activity.  Email the address of this site – www.goodcitizen.org – to your friends to encourage them to do the small things, that when done by all of us as the opportunities arise, keep the country strong and thus free.

Thanks.

Encourage others to vote.

Voting is so important and for so many reasons. And not only do we have the privilege of voting, but we can encourage others to vote by:

    • Voting yourself, which is a form of encouragement. It tells others that voting is important and that it’s not too difficult.
    • Display the “I Voted” sticker or button often given at polling locations as a reminder to others that it is an election day. 
    • Offering to take someone to their polling location.

 

    • Taking your children with you when you vote – they can come into the booth with you and begin to understand how one votes.

 

  • Explaining to someone how to register to vote, how to research their choices on who/what to vote for, how to find their polling location, or how easy it is to vote absentee.

And as the following snippet suggests, simply reminding others to vote has been shown to significantly increase the chances that they will vote.

“The Yale University political scientists who led this study sent students out to deliver nonpartisan get-out-the-vote messages to randomly chosen houses.  After the election, voting records revealed that the turnout was six percent higher among the households contacted. (That’s not exactly peanuts, given the lackluster voter turnouts in the United States recently.)” – October 2000 Reader’s Digest

Sometimes knowing that someone else cares is all it takes.

Give feedback to public officials, the media, and companies.

There are many things we take for granted.  The ability to freely say what we believe is one of them.  Amazingly, in many countries, when one speaks out against the government, there is the prospect of recrimination, jail, or even bodily harm.

When you hear or read something that has national implications and with which you agree or disagree, expressing your feedback to the appropriate organization or person does a couple of things:

1) It lets the organization know that people are hearing their message and how they’re reacting to it and

2) it allows Americans to express their viewpoints in ways other than voting.

Expressing our opinions is the only way others know what we think.  It helps us formulate our own beliefs, and encourages others to form and express theirs also.

Elected Officials

You’d be surprised and pleased at the impact feedback to a public official can have. Most public officials have websites with contact information.  Here are some links for sending your senator, house representative or the President a note.

  • www.e-thepeople.com is a creative, interesting and  useful site.  Allows on-line letters to be sent to over 170,000 government officials in over 9,800 towns.  It also allows one to start a petition or to sign one already established and/or join in discussion groups about major topics being discussed nationally.

 

Radio Talk Shows

Another great venue for expressing your opinion and being heard by a lot of people is on a radio talk show.  It’s not as hard as it might seem to get through.  Keying-in a radio station’s call letters (e.g. KABC) into a Google-type search engine will usually yield a website with contact information. Some popular talk shows are rebroadcast in certain time zones so check the web site for times when calls are excepted.

Letter to Editor

Writing a letter to the editor is also an effective way to express your opinion.  Because letters to the editor need to be brief, writing such letters often forces us to focus on the essence of our thinking.


There are so many issues that need creative, well-thought out solutions.  The country needs to hear what you think. Our country is based upon an educated citizenry.

Pay the taxes you owe.

Until we go to a flat tax system or a use-based tax system, this action should probably have said “Pay the taxes you think you owe.” The current tax code makes it difficult for many Americans to accurately determine what they owe. But the reality is federal, state and local governments do provide needed services, and those services are funded by the taxes we pay.

Explain to your children why we pay taxes and what services our taxes provide.

Place a link to Good Citizen on your personal website.

If the basic beliefs of citizenship set forth on this site resonate with you,  then perhaps you’ll consider placing a link to www.goodcitizen.org on your personal web site or asking that it be placed on your company’s web site.

The book’s cracked flag-heart logo is included here.  To include it, and a link to www.goodcitizen.org in another site, just copy the following HTML and paste it into another site.

<a href=“http://www.goodcitizen.org” target=“_blank”>
<img src=http://www.goodcitizen.org/images/CitizenPortalImage.gif
border=“0” width=“202” height=“90”></a>

Protest over something you feel strongly about.

To protest is to express objection to or support of an idea, a cause, a position, or an action.  The ability to express one’s opinion freely and peacefully is one of this country’s great strengths.  It allows all points of view to be heard and thus considered.  I have always thought that holding up a sign in public in protest over something you feel strongly about takes a lot of courage and commitment.

There are many ways to protest, some more visible than others – from privately boycotting a company’s or nation’s products or services; to sending a letter of protest to an organization; to publicly protesting; and to circulating or signing a petition of change.

Pursue injustices, even at personal inconvenience.

This action means that when individuals or organizations do something that injures, or might injure, or that is unfair to others, that we do what is needed to either see that the situation is rectified or brought to the attention of the appropriate parties.

Examples of an “injustices?”  It could be someone bullying someone else, someone cutting in line, someone breaking the law, a suspicious individual or vehicle in your neighborhood, a company that takes advantage of its employees, a safety issue not being addressed, a bogus advertisement or claim.

It’s so easy not to do anything when we are not the target of an injustice or see someone else treated inappropriately.   It’s so easy to just want to get back to the rhythm of our daily lives – our “pursuit our Happiness.” It’s so easy to believe someone else will take care of it or that it doesn’t matter.

When these “injustices” occur and we do nothing, we are giving implicit approval that it’s okay to do.  We are emboldening individuals to continue their actions. We allow a small crack to form in the fabric of the country. It is our responsibility as a citizen in a democracy to take actions that keep the country strong.  Individuals and organizations that commitment these “injustices” often do them knowing and counting on that fact that no one will do anything.

In addition to improving the quality of the country, pursuing injustices, has side benefits. Seeing someone stand up and challenge an action by an individual or company, enables others to do the same. Often it is personally rewarding to know that speaking up and persistence can result in change. The process of following-up can also be a learning experience – how things work or don’t work!

The Giraffe Project is a great organization that recognizes individuals who “stick their neck out”.

Serve on a jury, if asked.

Laws are vital. They prescribe how a society will function. Without them, there would be chaos!a society like ours wouldn’t survive – there would be chaos!

In this country, it is the judicial system that determines whether individuals or organizations have broken the law. The most common way the judicial system makes this determination is to have a jury of other Americans listen to the evidence and determine the guilt or innocence of the accused.

If individuals who break the law were to be found innocent, and individuals who have not broken the law were to be found guilty, then our laws and judicial system would become meaningless. Thus the ability of juries to properly determine guilt or innocence is critical to our survival.

Avoiding jury duty because you are busy at work or think it’s a waste of time going to the courthouse and waiting to be called for a trial may seem important to you in the short-term. But in the long-term, neither are good reasons and hurt the country. Jury service reinforces and makes real the need for laws and the need for juries!

Serving on a jury is one of the most important, and in many cases interesting, ways in which an American gets to serve her or his country.

If you are brave, then when someone complains that they have just received a summons for jury duty or brags about how they got out of jury duty, speak up. Remind them of the mind boggling sacrifices millions of Americans have made over the years to keep us free.

One more thought.  If you are fortunate to get onto a jury, remember how important it is to make your decision based upon the evidence and the law.  Making decisions based upon prejudice or what you think the law should be, destroys the credibility of the system.  By the way, while juror selection varies by state, jurors are often selected at random using lists of registered voters and driver license renewals.

Sign an initiative or petition you agree with.

Groups or individuals who are against a policy or action or law of a government or the policy or actions of a company often create a petition requesting a change.

To strengthen their request, such groups often try to get as many individuals as possible to sign the petition. Most of us have seen individuals outside retail stores asking customers to sign a petition. Most of us “beg off” on reading the petitions citing time constraints.

Consider taking five minutes to understand the nature of the petition and make a decision on whether you agree with it and want to sign it.

Also, it’s a way to keep up-to-date on issues other Americans are involved in.

Talk about current events at dinner with your family.

Talking about current events at the dinner table with one’s children is not only a great way to spend time with your kids (or parents) but it sets a good example that it’s okay and important to talk about events and to have one’s own opinions.

Tell someone when you don't approve of their actions.

Most of what other people do is not our business.  Fortunately in this country, each of us gets to live our own life in our own way and not according to how someone else wants us to live it.  However, we are also a society, and, because of that, each of us must make certain accommodations to our behavior.

When someone acts in a way that is detrimental to the society, we, as members of the society, have the responsibility to let that person know that their actions weren’t in the best interest of the society.  Easier said than done, but our actions impact others and eventually our society.

Saying something to someone who does something you don’t approve us is one of the toughest “citizen actions” in this book. We like to get along and we like to be liked.

Some of the citizen actions are more difficult and require more sacrifice than others and this is one of those.  These are the small sacrifices that make a huge difference.  Standing and speaking up not only helps keep the country strong but it makes us feel good about ourselves.

Allow yourself to voice disapproval of actions that undermine our freedoms.

Vote.

Voting is the essence of democracy. Failing to vote is to become a member of what the media calls the “silent majority”  and to open the door for the demise of democracy. The reality is that in a democracy the notion of a “silent majority” is an oxymoron.  A more accurate term would be the “silent minority”.   To not vote is to take the “by the people” out of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address’ “Government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

To vote “properly”, one needs to be eligible; be registered; know the issues and the candidates’ position on them; know where to vote; and finally to cast one’s vote.

Voter Eligibility

To be eligible to vote, one must:

    • be a citizen of the United Statesbe a resident of the state in which they intend to registerbe at least 18 years as of the day of the next election to voteNOT be in prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony.

 

  • be registered 29 days prior to the election.

Voter Registration

To be eligible to vote, one must first register. One can register or get registration information in a variety of ways:

  • through your local Department of Motor Vehicle,
  • through your county’s Registrar of Voters or Elections Office,
  • many states allow one to fill out a voter registration form on-line or to download and print a registration form – often via the state’s Secretary of State website.
  • via specific voter registration websites.

 

Whom to Vote For?

To vote effectively, one must understand the issues and compare candidates.  In most states, Voter Information Pamphlets are sent to registered voters prior to an election. These pamphlets usually contain information about the issues and candidates. Also a number of web sites offer election information.

Smart Voter is a Web site that offers personalized election information based on a voter’s address.  Try it out!

Watch or listen to a debate between candidates for elected office

Political debates are perhaps the best way to assess candidates for public office.  Such debates present a forum for voters to listen to the candidates’ ideas and to observe their style, poise, persuasive ability, and reaction to challenges and criticism.  And while many of the debates may not be “real” debates, they often provide the opportunity to see for ourselves and not rely solely on candidate spin doctors or media-driven perceptions.

Unfortunately, there tend to be few debates and the media often doesn’t cover them.  Front-runners tend to avoid debates for fear of making a mistake.  All too often in today’s society and political environment, the candidate who is the incumbent, or who is most attractive, or who has the money, or whose family has political experience and connections is given front-runnerstatus. We as citizens need to demand more debates.

As citizens, we have gotten away from scrutinizing candidates and voting for those who ideas match our beliefs of what is good for the country.  The League of Women Voters does a good job of promoting and sponsoring political debates.

Educate yourself on the issues by seeking out more information on candidates and demanding better media coverage of debates.

Work at a polling location.

Other than perhaps working as part of a candidate’s election campaign, there isn’t anything like working in a polling location during an election. It gives one a unique feeling of participation and a unique understanding of a democracy – of the importance and power of voting. Ensuring the privacy of voting and ensuring that fraud isn’t committed are powerful responsibilities.

While elections are handled differently in various states, it is often the County Registrar of Voters that is responsible for conducting elections. In most states, they need individuals to “man” the multitude