If there’s one thing I’ve never lacked in, it has been curiosity. As a 16-year old I skipped school to lobby at the Boise State Capital building. We spoke to state legislatures on students’ rights in education. Again I lobbied at the age of 25 in Olympia to the Washington State legislature on funding cuts in higher education. I was representing a program called TRIO, a program geared towards disadvantaged and first generation college students.
The point is, I’ve always been an advocate for citizen involvement in government. It’s more than just lobbying, more than paying attention to what bills are passing; it’s about a personal responsibility to keep in tune with what is going on in government.
As I crossed into the realm of journalism I took that passion with me. The responsibility on my shoulders isn’t something I take lightly. Being responsible to alert the public on issues, events, tragedies, triumphs and sometimes the mundane isn’t an easy task. While my favorite stories are on the lighter side, usually features on positive events or people who’ve overcame a struggle, I also realize how important those city council and county commissioner meetings can be.
A few weeks ago I checked a spam message that came through the email. As Obamacare has been something I’ve followed and researched over the last several years, the title popped out and grabbed me. The piece was written by a Notre Dame professor, the subject: “Obamacare should remind us we are not ‘subjects,’ we are people.” I won’t ramble on my thoughts of the Affordable Care Act, or the controversies involved. Her piece for the most part was all things I’ve read before. She stood on a Tea Party platform, so obviously she was very against the new health care reforms. Her lists of who to blame went on to point out the government, the politicians and lobbyists.
As I read on to see her blame on how the media is also responsible, not printing on certain corruptions sooner, claiming they are incompetent or corrupt. While I personally believe that national media chains that are corporate owned could potentially be corrupt on some levels, I couldn’t believe she was killing the messenger. I couldn’t help but stop right there. I saw everyone listed for the blame but the one party that should be the most involved: the public.
Now, before you get all wound up reading this, let me tell you, if you don’t believe in your heart of hearts that you don’t have a job to do this will be a difficult piece to finish reading. I’ve been to hundreds of public meetings. City council, school board, county commissioners, budget hearings, public hearings, informational meetings and other private/government sponsored meetings. All of these were open for the people to come learn, to come comment, to get involved. Many of these meetings only had an attendance of one: myself.
Here’s a thought to ponder. We might be in a small community, so maybe one person is enough to keep oversight on some things, but do you really think one person is safe to keep all the knowledge of the workings of your local government? If you can’t be active and participate in your local government, find out how it works and what goes on, how do you expect to understand the federal government?
I applaud those who get involved. Many of those who sit on the city council or in the commissioners chairs tend to be people who got involved before they were elected. Some, unfortunately, may have no experience; they just thought they could do a better job. Sometimes those individuals can do a better job, sometimes they can’t, but they get applauded for having the audacity and courage to try.
What I think all the public needs to think about is, what have you done for your local government? Your property taxes pay for city and county services. Don’t you want to know what is being done with your money? Haven’t you even wondered how the budget is created? I invite citizens to a challenge. Get involved, sit next to me at some of these meetings in the next year, get informed, go beyond just reading the news and do your own research. With more information than you can imagine at the click of a button, at least take a peek into real sources. (Just be sure your sources are valid.)
Not only journalists have the right to call and ask questions of your commissioners, council members and city departments. All citizens have that right. Public information is there for a reason. If you start to understand the workings of your local governments (city, county and state) you might have an interesting perception of your federal government.
Bonnie Davidson covers news for The Courier. She can be reached at 406-228-9301 or email@example.com.