You've probably heard someone complain about the government in your lifetime. If you're reading this paper, it also probably means you try to pay at least some attention to what's going on around you. What you might not know, is that you, yes you, the person reading this column, has the power to make a difference and make a change.
People have the power. When the nation was in it's early turmoil, much of the complaints of the British government were spread through pamphlets and newsletters. It was the power of opinion and the power of the press that helped push along the freedoms that we just recently celebrated. Independence Day isn't just a day to celebrate our country, the true meaning is in the name. Independence. We the people gave ourselves the power to oversee the government.
With three different branches to oversee the ruling government, several checks and balances were put into play. One check and balance isn't talked about nearly as much. Perhaps the fourth branch, or often referred to the “cornerstone of democracy,” is just as important. Journalism is a way to allow the people to stay informed. It employs people all over the nation to attend those meetings, to seek the truth and report it. It's a way to keep local governments, small and large, in check.
What the public sometimes doesn't realize, is that they too have all the power of a journalist. The public is allowed all the same access to government, committee and commission meetings. They are allowed access to information. They are allowed to ask questions of their commissioners, of their city council members and their city and county employees. They can ask questions of their state legislature. Once we forget to ask questions, or stop caring enough to ask them, the people lose their power.
While I've previously mentioned in my column that the public should never rely solely on the writings of one reporter, a local newspaper is a tool for the public. The public has access to the paper, the public can alert their local journalists of events, information and even corruption if it's happening. It's a journalists job to check on those leads.
I'll continue writing about the citizen's right to information, the checks and balances in place for the people and what the public can do to be more involved. If you don't go to your local meetings, if you don't ask questions and if you feel like you're lacking in time and energy, I may reveal some pretty big reasons why it's so important to make that extra effort.
If we can't participate in our smallest forms of government, how can we ever hope to participate on larger levels? If you've grumbled about your government, small or large, and haven't stepped up to do anything about it, you could be a part of the problem. Our nation needs a revitalization and a rebirth to a passion for the government and for our freedoms. With so many controversial issues in the spotlight on a national level, it's easy to get lost. Perhaps the easiest way to learn about the function and form of government is to take a step back and focus on what's happening here.
One of the most basic rights as a citizen is your right to accurate information. Misinformation is everywhere. Perhaps you really wanted to know what the city discussed at the last city council meeting? Maybe I didn't report the claims in the newspaper and you've just had a thought wondering about how much the city spends each month? Gathering those records might not be a Facebook click away, but it's easier than some of the public might know.
Walking into your county or city clerk's office only takes a few minutes. Asking for a record takes even less time. As my experience in the reporter's chair, I've also learned that most government clerks and secretaries are friendly and can even help you find what you're looking for. It's not only a civic duty, it's a right. A right that was given to us by the founding fathers.
So before you crack open some fresh firecrackers to celebrate your independence, take a moment to exercise those rights first.