I had a really tough civics teacher. Her name was Mrs. Hisaw and she was incredibly mean. Every kid in her classes was terrorized including me. I heard somewhere that fear causes your memory to really go to work so that you can avoid the same situation in the future. So, of course, I vividly remember most of what I learned in 7th and 8th grade civics, thanks to terror and Mrs. Hisaw. Which in turn means that I have a deep understanding of the three branches of government, the difference between federal government and state government and how they work together, etc. etc.
Then a lot of years later when I became a foster parent of two babies with extremely severe disabilities, I got a nasty surprise. I decided to try to help them because I had the naive belief that there would be help - that there would be someone to tell me how to help them. It turns out there wasn't. In the end I got most of my help from other parents of kids with disabilities, and together we tried to create what our kids needed. We soon found out that our own resources were not enough, and we couldn't even raise enough money to create, for example, a school program for them. So, we turned to government because that's where other kids' schooling comes from. We had quite a fight over a number of years because no one thought our kids could benefit from school, but eventually we won. In that process, I learned a lot about democracy. It's supposed to respond to the needs of its citizens, and we eventually made enough of a ruckus that it did.
So, I'm really quite passionate about our system of government. It's slow; it's subject to corruption; it has many other flaws too. But because I've seen it work and really make a difference in people's lives, I'm deeply disturbed by what I see happening. I'm old enough to have watched a long process take place which began with the Vietnam war. Well, maybe it began farther back than that, but that's when I started paying attention. A large number of people thought our government had made a terrible mistake and fought to stop the war. Our government came after them. The FBI watched them, arrested them and harrassed them in many ways and what they were doing wasn't illegal. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Then we had Nixon and Watergate, and it turns out he actually was a crook.
I think somewhere along the way the majority of people just decided our government was such a mess it wasn't worth bothering with. In later efforts to help parents of adults with disabilities find ways to meet their sons and daughters needs, I found that most of them did not want to bother talking to their government representatives. They had absolutely no faith that they would be heard. In recent years I've had similar experiences with trying to persuade people to communicate with government officials. I tell them - that's how democracy works. You elect people to represent you but they can't represent you if you don't tell them what you want. Falls on deaf ears.
This year I wrote my Congressman. I asked for something very straightforward. I asked him to tell me what his position was. He could have said he didn't agree with my request and explained why if that were the case. But he just didn't answer. I only received a reply after months of calls and faxes. He is an acquaintance of mine, and I think he's a good person. But he didn't respond until he was harrassed!
I'm beginning to think our government isn't a democracy any more - that it just runs to serve itself and the interests of campaign contributors. If that's true, it makes it even more important for me to stay on my soapbox and keep trying to persuade people to get involved in their democracy. I refuse to give up!
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