There are certain points in history when the gap between governments and their people widen. Whether our democracy is receding depends on your point of view. In the midst of increased government surveillance and economic meltdown, there are grass roots citizens' movements which are reseeding democracy. But if we only measure democracy by the state of our government, then one could easily argue that government of, by, and for the people has taken some giant leaps backwards; from 'droning' out democracy, to the overt Patriot Act that we inflicted upon ourselves. Willingly trading "security" for personal freedoms seems counter to what every patriot has stood or died for.
Government doesn't need to protect itself from its citizens it needs to engage them more.
And on our part, as we celebrate our independence, we as citizens might do well to review the state of our democracy and then commit to come out of our personal cocoons and become more active citizens, not for personal gain, but for the benefit of our communities and society at large.
We have redefined the "American Way" as our standard of living and not the principles on which the country was founded. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, cornerstone values expressed in human terms have morphed into those expressed in dollars. We are no longer securing principles, but in the name of preserving freedom, we are securing assets. The problem is that for more and more of the American people, the American Way of life is slipping away. And that means that the assets we end up securing as vital to the American Way, are not only not owned by the people, nor even by the government, but fewer people are benefiting from them.
Yet we the people are left expecting the same level of services from underfunded programs with no personal funds to pay for them. Is that security and where are our rights?
The foundation of democracy is personal responsibility and sacrifice for the good of the nation. It has been replaced by a brand of rugged individualism marked by unbridled greed and little conscience let alone social conscience that has turned the wealthiest country into a banana republic and left our Empire in ruins.
What makes people secure is not necessarily arms and money. First and foremost, it is the spiritual, inner sense of well-being; not the control of wealth but the control of one's mind and one's self; not a gated community but participation in a community where their voices can be heard and what they value is important: a shared narrative for peace.
In all my travels, I've only met one true U.S. patriot. On a recent trip, I was seated next to an elderly gentleman with a veterans cap. He looked at my turban and remarked, I never judge people by their looks and I've always considered myself a good citizen. When the war came, I enlisted to fight to preserve our democracy. When I returned home I felt it was my duty to join a party, so I wrote to the national headquarters and asked for their platforms. Based on my convictions I joined one. But I never vote party line. For many years I ran a small business and was relatively content until one of the town officials embezzled a lot of money. The town meetings became shouting matches to assign blame. So I wrote to Albany asking whether they had a handbook for local governance. And low and behold they said they did. I asked them to send me one (naturally I paid the associated costs). When I read it, it clearly stated that the Town Trustees, not the supervisor or his wife, had fiduciary responsibility and were clearly liable. That of course didn't sit well, but it was the truth. I'm sure they had never bothered to read the rules before running for election. Then came 9-11 and I was mad. We passed the Patriot Act and as one who wanted to be patriotic I felt I should know what we had just done. So I called and asked if I could get a copy. When it arrived, it was several inches thick, but it only took a few pages for me to realize that this was anything but Patriotic, it negated everything I had ever fought for or voted for in my life."
We wondered together whether any of our elected officials had ever bothered to read as much what this fine citizen did, and if they had, how they could call themselves our representatives. But in fact, it is we as a nation of citizens who have totally neglected our responsibilities.
Government needs a well-informed, active citizenry, not just to elect them, but because it will ultimately be the citizens who will bear the burden and shoulder the responsibilities that government has shirked.
When a crisis is upon us, we shine! Hurricane relief, flood, or tornado relief, we are right there with aid and many with a hands-on presence. Dealing with an act of God, something we can't assign blame to is simple, but dealing with the ongoing fallout from poor or misguided policies has not been our strong suit. Our solution to most problems has been to throw money at them. In the process we have funded countless programs and wars, and the contractors to deliver or administer them with our public money, but the problems persist.
Now we the people are left to debate the cost/benefits of essential but underfunded programs: our schools, our personal security -- fire and police -- services to the sick and elderly, and our roads and sanitation.
As the money from the top becomes less available, it also becomes less relevant -- and while we may suffer from breakdowns in infrastructure, not just crumbling roads, but crumbling institutions the opportunity to reseed is very real, vibrant and vital.
What is needed is a recommitment to reseed democracy from the grass roots up. Citizens groups are convening in our cities to solve local problems. Many new locally based businesses are springing up and have even attracted venture capital to help them scale up. And we have found that people long to talk to each other again.
The game has changed -- or maybe it's been exposed. Perhaps our great society is no longer a full house, but a house of cards -- a bluff that has allowed those in power (holding the cards and the dealers) to rake in money from players who can barely afford to sit at the table. So what happens when our values are bankrupt? Maybe it's time to change the game, or at least ask, "What price am I willing to pay for liberty and what price am I willing to pay for security?"
The solution is not easy. Our interests are threatened either way. If we define our interests solely in terms of what will maintain the 'American Way,' our free market consumer based economy where shopping and voting are our basic rights, then we need to secure the assets which feed the system; or if we are looking to return to the ideals that built this country, values based more on preserving and securing our rights, then we must step up and take more responsibility. Maybe with enough democratic process, we can do both. But first we must define which America we will be going forward and then ask: To be an engaged American citizen or not to be, that is the question.