If you were applying for a loan, would you admit to the banker, “I don’t pay my bills. I find them disgusting”?
Would you ask your best friend for a handout with no expectation of paying him back?
If not, then why would you ever admit to someone that you don’t vote?
As with a loan there’s a price to pay for living in a free and prosperous country. There is something owed.
As citizens of a self-governed nation, we are the owners. But in truth, we are but mortgage-holders of this beautiful inheritance from our ancestors, protectors and founders. The amount due is our time and attention to the matters of the realm -- paying attention to the goings-on and having a reasonable acquaintance with people in the news, those in leadership, and the issues of the day.
Awareness, knowledge, voting, and other uncomplicated acts of civic duty are the currency of citizenship. It’s what we owe each other.
Yet, some are almost proud of having checked out, having stiffed their fellow Americans in their civic duties. You hear it often, in complaints about the distasteful nature of politics and politicians. Completely, utterly unashamed to admit they’re freedom’s freeloaders.
Harvard professor and civic engagement expert Robert Putnam, author of the landmark book “Bowling Alone,” wrote in 1996 that “participation in many conventional voluntary associations has declined by roughly 25 percent to 50 percent over the last two to three decades. Surveys show sharp declines in many measures of collective political participation, including attending a rally or speech (off 36 percent between 1973 and 1993), attending a meeting on town or school affairs (off 39 percent), or working for a political party (off 56 percent).”
In researching “why, beginning in the 1960s and accelerating in the 1970s and 1980s, did the fabric of American community life begin to fray?” the professor cites a number of suspects: sprawl and mobility; welfare programs that supplanted private philanthropy; time and money pressures; changes in the nuclear family; post-’60s disillusionment with public life and more.
But the prime suspect he identifies in his 1996 article is time-and-attention-sucking television -- which he would no doubt today include under the larger umbrella of video games, smart phones and other electronic diversions.
Whatever the reasons for the breakdown in civic engagement, and there are many, they are not excuses. Our diversions may have multiplied, but our responsibilities have always been many -- to our predecessors, our communities, our nation and each other. Voting is one of them.