When this American election day is over, when else will you vote, or otherwise lay claim to your civic responsibilities?
Photo by hi fi parasol on Flickr
Here is a memory from a gentleman who has run for president in a past election. He describes how his parents gave him their "Tradition of Civics." It is a story about talking story:
"A deep personal sense of civic duty isn’t usually the result of enduring didactic lectures, much less of studying bloodless civics books. True civic awareness is a flowing river with many sources – some as small as rivulets and brooks, some as large as tributaries. In our case, the flow began at a young age, as we accompanied Mother and Father to the local town meetings where the community made its decisions."
"At these meetings, our parents – and anyone else who lived in the town and cared to participate – had the chance to talk with the town’s elected ‘selectmen,’ as the local representatives were called. A holdover from early New England history, the town meeting was a more pristine form of local democracy that has had no equal to this day. The public business of the town was put on display, and those townspeople who showed up regularly had few inhibitions about airing their opinions. When there was a disagreement, nothing was sacred. An interested party would hardly think twice before calling out his opponent in purely personal terms: ‘Your father, Greg, would turn over in his grave if he could see what you’re doing here.’"
"Even as a boy, I noticed that these gatherings were often dominated by the same few voters, who took to the floor meeting after meeting and always seemed unusually well prepared for the occasion. By the time I was a teenager, helping out in the restaurant, I realized that these leading citizen activists were widely viewed as mavericks, and that some considered them oddballs or even deviants. The day after a tumultuous town meeting, people would point out Mr. Franz, a particularly motivated older resident, walking down Main Street. It was as if he were one of a trio – the town drunk, the town fool, and the town citizen. Who is more foolish I wondered – the core group of committed voters and taxpayers who engage in the process, or the much larger number who habitually abstain from town affairs, leaving their interests to be decided by others? Later I was delighted, and not a little vindicated, when I discovered that the ancient Greek word ‘idiot’ referred to civic apathy, not intelligence."
"On the other side of the ethical tradition was the Golden Rule, and a host of similar pronouncements in the Bible that enhanced that simple call to help and get along with one another. For Dad, that was enough as a frame of reference. In the daily soapbox that was his restaurant, he was happy to discuss anything under the sun with his patrons, whether local or out-of-town. From local tradespeople to campaigning politicians, few survived a visit to the Highland Arms without having a vibrant conversation with my father. Those politicians were his special target; his counter, with its long row of seats, was an irresistibly efficient way to shake hands with a captive audience of voters. Dad always lay in wait down by the end of the counter, near the large coffee urns. And when his and the politician’s hands clasped, he wouldn’t let go until he had his say and got some response."
"There’s little doubt that, in the nearly fifty years he ran the restaurant, my father educated, motivated, and inspired tens of thousands of people to think more deeply about the issues that affected them as citizens – right there in Winsted, and around the country and the world. To this day, I still meet people from near and far who recall their conversations with him."
— Ralph Nader, The Seventeen Traditions
(a book review appears on MWAC)
Photo by Bob Jagendorf on Flickr