Candidates, Elections and Citizens

Written by: Terry Link

Primary Source: Possibilitator

As we approach the fall elections to many positions in our communities and state there arises a little more interest in politics, even as most of us decry the increasing partisanship. My thoughts wander a lot these days as I am simultaneously a candidate, a supporter of other candidates, and a citizen concerned with the decisions made in our name at various levels of governing. As the story below from Bill indicates

Will Americans Set a New Record for Political Apathy in 2014? | Blog |

“The United States is supposed to be a beacon of democracy, yet Americans have one of the lowest levels of electoral participation in the world. In fact, a 2012 study found that the US ranked “120th of the 169 countries for which data exists on voter turnout, falling between the Dominican Republic and Benin.”

While this probably comes as no surprise, what isn’t reported here is how even those who do opt to vote, only a very small percentage involve themselves otherwise in election or public policy arenas. Very few donate cash or time to campaigns. Few are willing to publicly endorse candidates whether by bumper sticker, yard sign, or letters to the editor. Yet we know that name recognition and personal contacts from these activities make all the difference in election campaigns. In local, small communities name recognition and face-to-face meet-ups are time consuming but possible. But in larger communities or at the state level one must rely on advertisements and press coverage as substitutes. The former takes cash, the latter is difficult when the news hole shrinks and becomes limited to discussion of the horse race – who’s leading, who has momentum, who has made the biggest gaff.

If we want our democracy to work better, we need better information when we shop for candidates to support. Without an even playing field, those that have the resources have the upper hand. The equalizing factor should be citizen involvement. If you don’t have time, give money. If you don’t have money, give time. Find the candidates you can believe in and support, and then do so. Otherwise our democracy will continue to be run largely by those the system favors – the wealthy and well-connected.

I suspect that many would-be candidates and potentially good elected officials, decline entering the fray because of the barriers and lack of support available. That’s why when candidates do receive a check in the mail, or someone volunteers to hand out campaign literature, or write letters, they feel that their wish to serve the public good is not in vain, it is not time wasted. The feeling that someone believes in you, in your ability to improve the community is a powerful tonic. This is the time to find the gumption to dig a little deeper and support the kind of democracy our hearts know is possible.

As the activists of the 1950’s chanted, “better active than radioactive”. Let’s make our democracy live up to its promise. This will not happen by harping at all the flaws of our system from our armchairs. Time to find your voice and align it with candidates you believe in. Time is wastin’!

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Terry Link
Terry Link is a retired MSU librarian, former founding director of the MSU Office of Campus Sustainability, and co-founder and former chair of the American Library Association’s Task Force on the Environment. He recently served as associate editor for the two-volume encyclopedia, Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices(Gale/Cengage 2014). He has also served as executive director of a regional food bank and as a county commissioner. Currently he is president of Starting Now, LLC, a sustainability consulting firm, a Senior Fellow for the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and serves on numerous non-profit organization boards.
Terry Link

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