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Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Two Greatest Democratic Duties

Although nothing is perfect democracy provides a system for the law and electing leaders that we have to work with while pushing for needed reform. We are given the constitutional right, and responsibility, to participate as full members in these systems for our own good, the good of others, and the good of the nation. Jury duty and voting are both civil responsibilities requiring the exercise of freewill to choose the outcome that affects our lives and futures in very direct ways. Both are essential to a functioning democracy. Both are duties and should be treated as such. Both should have the same level of mandatory participation a required of those chosen to serve as jurists now. It’s not anti-democratic, it’s central to a healthy democracy, as many around the world already know and demonstrate. 

Perhaps, if you threatened people with contempt charges and fines for not showing up, you might get a higher percentage of voters participating than the roughly half who show up now. Many might spoil their ballots, but at least this would get counted, they would have their say not fume in silence. Many might actually decide that because they are forced to show up anyway, they might as well exercise their right to choose those who will rule over them. They may even decide to try and make an informed choice, paying perhaps a little more attention to what’s happening in the real world than on “Reality” TV.  They might realize which one actually affects their own lives. 

Maybe then people might realize that you have to work with what you have while striving for something better and that most lasting change is slow but can suddenly break loose if one is patient and persistent. One can become proud of oneself for trying to be part of the solution rather than a complaining part of the problem. Things might even change for the better. 

Jury duty is based on the recognition that sometimes people need a prod to make them do the right thing. It forces the citizen past inertia and a self-centered life for a moment to make adult decisions about the nature of the world. Ideally decisions based on informed reason.   Mandatory voting is not a limit on free-will but a push to use it. Voting and jury duty are the two most key things a citizen can do to directly affect the country and the future. They are far from futile, placing genuine power in the hands of the average citizen. They are fundamental rights and responsibilities for a modern democracy. 

It’s tragic that it seems to take the threat of punishment to get people moving and engaged in their own rights and lives. Almost half seem continent to place these things in the hands of the very politicians they don’t trust with nothing but mild complaint. You can only determine your own fate and that of your country if you participate in the decisions involved. Otherwise you trust the judgement of others. 

Bound by more duties and trust than most of us, soldiers do their part for the country every day. Staying aware of the world beyond your immediate life and taking time to vote takes far less of our time, effort, and possible sacrifice. We aren’t asked to die, just choose responsibly and maturely.   

Lack of participation starves democracy, allowing it to be overwhelmed by the active minority.  Perception is everything in politics. If you believe you are powerless, then you are.  Juries and voting give us a voice, a chance to force those who would rule us to obey instead. That is why democracy was invented.   You often have to speak loudly to get the attention and action of those who would lead.

Jury duty and voting aren’t everything, but they are safeguards, the minimum that should be required of all who benefit from being a citizen of our country.  They are the bases upon which other forms of peaceful citizen action should be built.