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.”)