Freedom and Civic Responsibility: Who Cares?

aloneAfter the election I had a dream. I was in the midst of many people who looked with either disdain or indifference at the plight of others. Certain people suffered violence and death, while others did not. It seemed quite arbitrary. Even though some had compassion for the victims, they didn’t really do much to help them.

Those who were not dead or dying lived in affluence, though there had been a flood and they had to walk around or through the water to get to their homes. I did not have a home, and the thought came to me that since I didn’t know where I was going, it didn’t matter where I went. I found an upscale lounge where professionals were discussing other people’s foibles. The psychiatrist I sat next to was clinical and aloof to the difficulty I was having with my wife.

When I awoke, I had the sad, empty feeling that too many people just don’t care for one another. They live in a sterile, one-dimensional world of their own self-concerns. And if they do think of the needs of others, it’s in an impersonal, condescending, self-preservation kind of way.

The saddest thing about this dream is that it seems more like reality than a nightmare. Too many people just don’t care.

I looked up the election results on California’s Secretary of State site. At the website was a breakdown of voter turn-out by counties. With 98.5% of precincts reporting, 9,501,150 votes were cast statewide out of a total of 18,245,970 registered voters, or 52.1%. So, almost half of the voters didn’t vote. I tried to picture the nine and a half million people in California who didn’t care enough to get involved in their own self-governance, who stepped aside and let “the other half” bear their burden of civic responsibility.

I tried to picture it, but I couldn’t. It’s too much like a nightmare. Lest I be accused of hyperbole when I say these people didn’t care enough to vote, consider some possible excuses. Emergencies? I’m sure there were a few. Illness? Injury? No transportation? Out of town? Perhaps, but those are good reasons to vote by mail. Religious beliefs? Nonsense. Read “Romans 13, The True Meaning of Submission” by Baldwin and Baldwin. None of these excuses can account for MILLIONS of non-voters.

Woodrow Wilcox

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The excuses that account for most of these overwhelming numbers are correctable, if only people cared enough. For instance, “I don’t understand politics. I don’t have the time to study the issues.” (They just don’t care enough to become informed.); “All politicians are the same. It doesn’t make any difference who wins.” (Again, they don’t care enough to become informed.); “I don’t like politics. It’s either boring or a bunch of mean people saying nasty things about each other.” (This avoids the fact that sometimes you have to fight for what is right.).

But the excuse that seems to be the most prevalent is a half-dismissive, half-apologetic shrug. It may be accompanied by a smile or grimace, a sigh or a roll of the eyes, but almost always it has an innocuous disavowal, such as, “I don’t know.” Inevitably, it always boils down to the fact that they’d rather spend time doing something else they consider more important. They care a lot about their own personal life, but not enough for the rest of society to vote.

Being a responsible citizen means more that simply obeying the laws and paying taxes. Voting is the best creative tool responsible citizens have. By voting, American citizens positively impact the lives of one another in their communities, municipalities, states and nation. Not voting is not being a responsible citizen which comes from not caring enough. Because when a person cares enough, they don’t just stand there. They do something

If you study the Old Testament, you will find many references to peoples and individuals who “did evil” in the sight of the LORD. There are many examples of the children of Israel doing evil, for which God punished them. But there are also many cases in which the people were punished for the sins of their king. Inevitably, a sinful king leads his people into sin. A study of the kings of Israel and Judah reveals the names of kings who “did evil” in the sight of the LORD, including none other than Solomon, that paragon of wisdom (1 Kings 11:6).

I’m sure back in Bible times, as today, that people with good values lived by righteous standards. But they still had to endure God’s wrath when their leaders led the people to “do evil”. I’d like to think that as long as there is a modicum of righteous individuals in society that we will be spared outright destruction (Genesis 18:23-32). On the other hand, we live in a state of grace. Since Jesus gave his life for our unrighteousness, there remains but one, final judgment.

But even if we don’t consider not voting or not caring a sin, it still has consequences. The greater the number of non-voters, the less our government represents the will of the people. When the will of the people is replaced by the will of those who govern, then citizens are dictated to, which totally abrogates the concept of “the consent of the governed” and invites tyranny to step in where uncaring citizens stepped aside.

Let me state emphatically that contrary to what some conservative commenters have said, Romney did not lose because a few conservatives decided to vote for Virgil Goode or some other third-party candidate. Romney lost because there were too many non-voters. Too many people didn’t care. Blame them, not me.

Two days before the election, Ralph Nader hosted an internet debate featuring third-party candidates for President. As debates go, it wasn’t bad — certainly better than any of the Republican debates. One question, asked of each candidate, was what could be done to increase voter participation. Several ideas were put forward, including term limits, curtailing the influence of lobbyists and PACs and ending political contributions by unions and corporations. However, no one addressed the fundamental issue of inculcating the values of responsible citizenship in our children.

When I was in the first grade my class would walk to a nearby home where we watched a televised series on American History. The program’s theme song was “This Is My Country” and I can trace my conviction that voting is an obligation of citizenship to that program. We weren’t taught any particular political philosophy. We were simply taught that America is free because our government is of the people, by the people and for the people. That includes me and every other citizen of this free land. I was taught to care about my country. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of everyone. Voter turn-out percentages beg the question, “Who cares?”

Perhaps the lyrics to this song will help explain what I mean by caring enough to vote. Then again, perhaps not.

This Is My Country
by Don Raye and Al Jacobs, 1940

This is my country! Land of my birth!
This is my country! Grandest on earth!
I pledge thee my allegiance, America, the bold,
For this is my country to have and to hold.

What difference if I hail from North or South
Or from the East or West?
My heart is filled with love for all of these.
I only know I swell with pride
And deep within my breast
I thrill to see Old Glory Paint the breeze.

With hand upon my heart I thank the Lord
for this, my native land.
For all I love is here within her gates.
My soul is rooted deeply in the soil on which I stand,
For these are mine, my own United States!

This is my country! Land of my choice!
This is my country! Hear my proud voice.
I pledge thee my allegiance, America the bold,
For this is my country to have and to hold.


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Michael Day is a native Californian and a retired mailman, proud of the fact that while most of his friends were protesting the war in Viet Nam, he volunteered for the draft and served in combat with the U.S. Army Infantry. His diverse life experiences range from singing with the San Diego Opera to doing menial labor and being involved in church leadership for twenty five years. His blog, http://retiredday.wordpress.com, is an expression of his deep convictions concerning freedom and Biblical faith.
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  • WXRGina

    Great piece, Mike. Between apathy and ignorance we have become subjects instead of citizens.

  • retiredday

    As a footnote, the 9.5 million registered voters in California who stayed home were more than enough to change the results. In California, Obama got about 5.6 million votes and Romney got about 3.6 million. The assumption is that Democrats stayed home because they didn’t like Obama and Republicans stayed home because they didn’t like Romney. So they threw their votes away without any appreciation for their own power. California is just one state, but the principle is the same. The political power of the vote of the people has been surrendered to the political parties and the oligarchy that controls them.