EDITORIAL: After the torches and pitchforks
Public protest is a necessary form of effective democracy, but it cannot exist alone.
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America should have learned a lot over the past several months and the past several days. Most notably, a whole lot of people love President Donald J. Trump and his messages, and a whole lot of people do not love President Donald J. Trump or his messages. Throughout the Presidential campaign, scores of supporters packed Trump rallies and then filed into polling places all over the country. Since then, scores of those in the opposition have packed rallies and filed into the streets all over the country. Lest I be the millionth person to issue the same platitude, I will refrain from expanding too much upon the obvious, though empowering sentiment that this is democracy at its best.
However, democracy by definition, and specifically the United States’ representative federal republic, is not defined solely by the freedom to protest. Rallying crowds, loud messages, and the entire modern day versions of the mobs with torches and pitchforks marching toward the White House are in fact healthy and necessary. Author William Faulkner said, “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth,” and he was right. Certainly too, the advent of social media has provided an outlet for these movements to reach millions of people so that all around the world, organized rallies and marches can form in a matter of days or hours. But what happens the next day? What happens when the communal spirit of impassioned voices retreats back to its towns and homes? Well, what happens the next day is where our form of a representative democracy needs to be understood and executed. On whichever side of the protests a person finds him or herself, it is being an active participant in representative democracy that ultimately must continue for voices to be heard an acted upon.
Let’s face it. Protesting is easy. Rallying is fun. Gathering with thousands of like-minded people exercising the right to free speech and free, peaceful assembly is empowering and invigorating. It is a great outlet to set oneself free and know that there are a lot of other people right there with all the same emotions and energy. What is not so easy, what is not always so invigorating, what does not come with all the instant camaraderie and spirit is what has to come in the days after, or the protests, marches, and rallies become nothing more than historical references.
On the local level, I have witnessed seismographic waves of involvement in government. When an item on a school board meeting agenda interests people or fires up a base, the room can be packed on a cold, January night with a passionate and even raucous crowd, but that same room is more likely to house passing tumbleweeds than people during almost every other meeting. The concept is simple: people get excited to assemble when something big is afoot, whether it be the inauguration of a President whose nation is politically divided, or a vote on whether nor not to install air conditioning in a school. Whether it’s locally or nationally, the people making the big decisions on how our nation and community is run are the people the voters put in that position, and they are the people who represent the beliefs and ideologies of those voters. In order for those elected officials to represent their constituents, however, they need to hear what those beliefs and ideologies are, and they need to hear it all the time, not just one or two days a year when emotions are stirred. Protests and rallies are tremendous – they provide and outlet for a mass dissemination of a unified message and a very loud voice that it is impossible for legislators to miss. They get the conversation started, but the conversation (again – whichever side of that conversation a person falls on) has to continue.
So, how does one continue this conversation? Here is a list of resources available so that the representatives who make the decisions can keep listening:
Find your congressman: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
Congressmen and the committees on which they sit: http://www.house.gov/representatives/#state_pa
More info on how to contact your representative : https://www.congress.gov/members
United States Senators listing: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/
State House and State Senate Listing and Info: http://www.house.state.pa.us/
School Board – Committees, agendas, meeting schedules http://www.npenn.org/Page/14957
So what is the real message of this editorial? It is not a partisan piece, and it is not meant to downplay the importance of or effectiveness of peaceful protest. In fact, it would be quite wise for America to understand what John F. Kennedy said: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” The point is this, when emotions settle down, the awareness and education of the people in a people’s republic cannot wane. It is difficult to complain when one does little to affect change. In order to affect change, one must stay in tune with decisions that are being made in government at the local, state, and federal level. Does it take a little time and effort? Yes. Does it mean sending some emails to elected officials with well-articulated inquiries and insights? Yes. Does it mean reading more than just what like-minded friends post on Facebook and twitter? Yes. The point is that being involved as a citizen in a representative democracy does take work that is often not glorified nor exciting, but it is vigilance and work that must take place.
A member of the Unites States House or Senate earns an annual income of $174,000. State representatives in Pennsylvania earn an annual income $84,012. Local elected officials on borough councils, township boards, and school boards, are most often volunteers, but nonetheless volunteers who truly enjoy and value having those positions. All of those people, if those salaries or positions of influence are important to them, have one common superior in a system that works properly – the voter. None of those people win their elections without votes. And the only way to really know what we are voting for is to stay educated and informed, and this is something that every person can do.
So, if you support President Trump and his policies and messages, make that known to your state and federal legislators, If you do not support President Trump and his policies and messages, make that known to your state and federal legislators. If you believe things should be done a certain way in your town, school district, or county, dinner table conversations and facebook posts are fine, but make sure the people who are actually making those decisions hear you and know how you feel. When the crowds retreat, citizen awareness cannot, or democracy does not work as it is intended.