What Have You Done Lately?


It is axiomatic that “they” are corrupt, ineffective, liars, stupid or some combination thereof. Of course “they” are the people who hold elective or appointed offices. Opinion polls at all levels of government reflect this kind of negative view, albeit the closer to home the officeholder the better we tend to view their performance.

While our times are not unique in this sort of criticism polls show a great distance between those who hold office and ourselves. The result is record low voter turnouts, an abandonment of responsibility for what actions our officials take on the part of most citizens and a general pervasive attitude of helplessness among the population.

I suggest this is a cause, not an effect, of our political woes. Hear me out.

In the earliest days of our nation, citizenship was very limited and those given the power and right to vote were highly motivated to do so. They were the landowners and men who had a strong economic interest in what government did. They had led a revolution against a distant government in order to wrest control for themselves. When they thought a politician was acting improperly they assumed it was up to them to do something about it.

Most often today when someone thinks a politician is not acting in our best interests they either grumble silently or at best complain about it. Now, being a blogger myself it is hardly seemly for me to criticize complaining, but that in itself is of very little usefulness. A complaint without follow up action is a cheap cop out.

Members of Congress now complain loudly about the actions of the Bush Administration in the lead up to the war on Iraq, yet they sat by while it all happened, failing to ask important questions for political reasons. Criticism after the fact doesn’t make much difference in the real world, it is a luxury with the primary purpose of deluding others into thinking the complainer has done something useful.

So it is with most of us. Complaining without follow through is toothless. Writing a letter to an office holder can be a useful action if it is coupled with something more – taking part in an election campaign to unseat the politician who ignored your letter, for example.

There are many ways to participate in public matters. But they all involve working for a solution instead of being satisfied with finding the problem. Citizenship demands taking responsibility for what happens on the national, state and local level in some manner. It requires action that makes a difference.

Having an opinion about an issue is easy. Speaking out about it takes more courage, especially on some issues. But even more meaningful is doing something about it. Ask questions. Agitate. Don’t give in to the soma of disappointment, complacency and cynicism. They are all luxuries we cannot afford.

The greatest opportunity for such a level of participation is usually found on the local level. There are schools, districts, city governments and a wide variety of opportunities for your active participation. Attend meetings. Speak out. Volunteer. Take on a responsibility that possibly no one else is willing to undertake.

This is your country, your state, your city. Stop treating it like it belongs to someone else and you will find you have much more power than you imagined. Yes, there are others who hold great power and influence, who have vastly greater sums to apply get their way, and yes, it is a nearly Sisyphean challenge at times. So what?

We have become a people so enamored with the accoutrements of life that we have largely forgotten what real life is like. We work, spend and get caught up in the drama of relationships as a replacement for a life that matters. It is unworthy of our creation to throw ourselves away to such illusions.

Some proclaim “take back America!” I say, “take back your life!”

(Phil Hoskins is a Hollywood attorney who founded “Take Back West Hollywood.”)


  1. Carl Nemo

    Superbly well said Phil! I urge folks to contact their elected reps on a regular basis. It takes little effort and it should become habit like flossing one’s teeth. Hopefully that’s being done too…:))? If you call your Senators or House reps office an aide will answer and take note; i.e., log your comments/sentiments. Rarely if ever will you go to a recording and never to an auto-attendant. Obviously the Senator or House rep cannot interface with each of us individually. You can subscribe to their newletters and make it a habit to visit their offices and show up when they appear in your locale. Also pay close attention to how they vote after you send them to D.C. Are they voting along lines that serve your needs; i.e.,, the person that sent them there, or are they carving out their own agenda and simply sending pork back home to appease their constituency. If they have their own agenda then they deserve no more than one term. Recall would be ideal, but it’s very difficult to achieve. Multi-incumbent reps have become the greatest danger to our fragile democratic system. I’ll provide a link so folks can find out who their duly elected reps might be. Remember you have two Senators and one Congressional District House rep. Also don’t hestitate to contact your state reps and let them know how you feel about a national and local issues. You’ll find emailing or phoning these individuals will give the greatest return for your efforts. Rarely if ever will a rep from another state reply to your concerns. You can also contact committees and committe chairmen concerning issues unique to that committee. It’s your homeland, not theirs, so I advise that we all take an active interest in what’s happening in D.C. as well as in your home state.


    Once you find out who your reps are then create a desktop shortcut on your computer so you are only a click away from making email contact. Once you start this process you’ll find yourself quite relaxed and efficient in letting your elected rep know how you feel on the various issues. As they say…”just do it”…! :)

  2. A related question is: What’s the government? In our American system it’s supposedly the people or “us.” Do you believe that? Does the government kick in the door and kill some innocent person based on a tip by a secret informant? Does the government forcibly seize an innocent person’s property? Does the government take someone’s property under eminent domain and sell it to some corporation for greater tax revenue? Or,is it a fellow citizen, someone you know, or even a neighbor that makes these decisions and enforces these laws, even though they’ve proven ineffective as well as corrupting?

    The recent elections show that “they” don’t listen to “us” in DC. Phil offers an excellent suggestion to begin to work locally to effect reform. “We” do have the numbers.

  3. Excellent article Phil. I started out back in the 60s sending out postcards to people in my political group asking them to send messages to our Congressmen for action. In the mid 90s I went on line to do the same kind of messaging when it became apparent that our government was sinking into a mass of federal authority,

    I signed up with “American Policy Center” about the same time I became a member of Reader Rant and regularly posted “Action Alerts” here and on other forums. Nobody gave a damn! I was called pushy and heavy handed. I wondered if it was because I was a female in the land of male posters?

    I had posted warnings about the loss of the Panama Canal, the loss of the Long Beach Naval Base and the planning of North American Highway and NAFTA long before Clinton was out of office.

    I learned how sad it was that so many people could live with the shabby government that was developing into the kind of authority that we fought England to get away from.

    I also discovered that too many Americans were not aware of the power of voting. The Constitution had never been read even by people who wanted changes made in our federal government.

    Our own public schools ignored the whole process of elections and the two parties were one and the same by the time Bush 41 was in the White House.

    In our apathy we have lost our input to our Representatives and even in 2008 the voters will elect their men and women based on the abortion issue and little else. It will put the Democrats in 100% because the Republicans have no agenda other than building a police state under the people.

    It puts people like me who believe in Capitalism out of the race and I will never cast a vote for anyone who wants to remove a single individual choice.

    Working at a local level is absolutely the first step. Thanks for the reminder Phil!

  4. Thank you for your article.

    As others have indicated many voters don’t look at prior performance of their candidate(s). How they voted, what and if they followed through on the topics used in their previous campaign. If you are a Democrat you vote for a Democrat and visa versa. This is our first mistake we don’t always vote for the individual we think can do the job but rather to whomever party the individual belongs to.

    Politicians are aware of a couple of things. Ignorance is bliss, and people are so caught up in trying to make a living working two or more jobs they just can not raise enough energy to keep up with everything and get involved with making phonecalls or writing letters. Let alone volunteering or even attend local community meetings from their City Counsil members. Excellent suggestions by the way, but difficult for the working class unless one is employed and involved with politics. Now clearly we can count on many retirees to carry the ball but in order to clean out the deadwood in Congress we need as much support as we can get from all citizens.

    Appreciate your article Sir.