Can They Hear You?
By Christopher Cross
The City of Los Angeles is still staring down the barrel of a multi-million dollar deficit, causing cutbacks in life-saving services like firefighters and paramedics. The City of Compton may have to look at laying off as many as one-third to one-half of all city employees to balance the books and remain solvent. The City of San Francisco is closing half of its courtrooms throughout its jurisdiction, because it is millions of dollars in the red, leaving all but the most high-priority criminal cases left waiting in the wings—there’s no place to try the cases, and no money to pay the staff to do so if there were. Sacramento is billions in the hole, and is taking monies from the cities and counties statewide, making for a desperate situation for poor families, wounding the MediCal program, and robbing students of financial aid and even closing schools to save a buck. Even the Feds are fighting to show who has the bigger stones in the debt ceiling debacle. All of these elected officials fighting to be heard makes you wonder if any of them are taking the time to listen to anybody else, other than the echoes of their own voices.
And I keep thinking back a little, back to November of last year and the “midterm” elections. Did you cast your vote all those months ago? Did you make your voice heard?
It’s not easy to do, we all will admit that. After the incredible results of the 2008 Presidential elections, it seemed like the entire country just needed a break from all the speeches, all the drama, and knowing who approved this message. When November 2010 rolled around, estimates of registered voters that turned out nationwide are as low as 40.3%; in LA County, it’s much higher at 53.77% according to the Registrars’ Office. Still, that means that about one in two voters actually stood up and said something about how they wanted their corner of the world to be run. Just about half. And if you weren’t one of them, then that needs to change. Why?
Because in Inglewood, a mayor accused of corruption was replaced by another mayor, also found to be corrupt and also replaced. This happened because the residents of this city didn’t want to face the eventual betrayal of their elected officials, and have their already shrinking quality of life eroded even further. In Wisconsin, when the state legislature agreed to allow their governor to take away union bargaining rights, they found out that their constituents were not happy; “Total Recall” is not just a sci-fi movie, it’s what the lawmakers face for turning their backs on their friends and neighbors once in office. In these instances and hundreds more, changes were made because normal, regular people like us did more than get pissed off. They took action, and made sure that their voices were heard.
Representative democracy is a funny thing. It’s an act that only really works with a big dose of audience participation. If you don’t vote, you have no say in how things work where you live. You give away your voice, your power; you tell the various politicians out there “whatever, I don’t care; you’re not going to pay attention to me anyway”. And when they take away the very future that you are trying to secure by attending this institution, you will have to share the responsibility for that as well.
We have men and women in uniform who have sacrificed everything to give the right to vote to Iraqis and Afghanis who risked assassination, and the elimination of their entire families, to cast a vote for their future and proudly display their purple thumbs. Here at home, we stand accused of apathy and complacency, where we just assume that “the system” sucks and shrug our shoulders and blame “the system” for what’s happening to us. But in a very real sense, we are “the system”. We can make the changes needed to make society work for all of us. We can protect the members of our community that need the most help, and we can make sure that the people we put in charge play fair, holding them accountable when they don’t. But not if we don’t participate, not if we’re not paying attention. Not if we don’t speak up.
If you didn’t vote, don’t bitch.