By Jill Ryan
While there is a lot of rhetoric today about our country and our democratic process of government—how often do we stop and think about how that process works in our lives? What did Abraham Lincoln mean when he described government as “of the people, by the people and for the people?” In my opinion, ‘of the people’ means those elected are ordinary citizens, ‘by the people’ means regular people are responsible for selecting the elected officials through their votes, and ‘for the people’ signals that the government’s sole responsibility is to benefit its residents. From individual local decisions to Congressional decisions that impact the entire country, citizen involvement is critical to make this unique form of government work.
I see this playing out in our communities every day. The more we, as individuals, educate ourselves regarding issues that are important to us and voice our opinions and use our votes through the process, the better our system works. Many of you reading this are exactly the type of people who remind me every day of the value of participation in our system. You participate in public meetings in your community; you vote for those you believe best represent your values and you let them know how their decisions impact you and your community; when you see that a project or proposal might not be a benefit to the community, you take action to try to make it better. You get involved.
Individual participation is truly what makes the democratic process work. Thousands of decisions are made every day at the local level that impact how our land, water, air and other resources will be used or preserved. Without individuals participating in those decision-making processes, elected officials may hear only from the company or proponent behind the project. Individuals with local knowledge of how that project may impact the community, its residents and resources are therefore critical in ensuring important information and voices are at the table.
Whether you are working to encourage clean energy, prevent the destruction of a wetland, eliminate the use of toxic substances, ensure clean drinking water for your community, or a host of other great efforts—I applaud you for getting involved. You are focusing on what is important to you, and ensuring a robust democratic process.