So, the election season for 2014 is over. Candidates were elected, incumbents were unseated, amendments were passed or defeated, and as usual, relatively few people showed up to vote.
What I have learned over the past year is that democracy is, for the most part, missed. I thought I would begin taking an active role in this thing we call democracy. I visited Tallahassee with the Florida PTA and went through the orientation seminar and heard from lobbyists and was quickly trained on how "things worked". After my 4th meeting with a legislator, it hit me: this is completely ineffective. I stood outside these offices with my colleagues, waited for our 5 minute session with people who don't know me (and in some cases don't care to know me), and noticed that our little chat about education bills was sandwiched in between people coming to talk about roads, farms, and land use agreements. Then, I watched a Committee meeting that had the public forum component at work. It seemed like over 100 people waited their turn to step up to the microphone and show their support or opposition to this one bill being discussed. After the 4th person gave their 5 minute testimony, every other talk sounded the same "blah blah blah support blah blah blah" or "blah blah blah against blah blah blah". And as I watched the elected officials "listen" to these testimonies, I could tell they were hearing the same thing. Every once in awhile, someone would step up to the microphone and would be remembered by a legislator or two. Every once in awhile, a legislator would acknowledge that they knew the person speaking. And I learned...
Running for School Board allowed me to internalize this lesson I began to see in Tallahassee. We have democracy all wrong. We are seeing it the wrong way. Quick story: a student asked me two weeks ago why I wasn't running the show for all of education. I simply replied "because I believe in Democracy. In a democracy, who has all the power?" She said "the people." I chuckled. Oh the disconnect of textbook and reality. I didn't ask who SHOULD have all the power. If I did, then she would be right. Back to today: the 2014 election season ends. And today is flooded with the moans, the cheers, the "depression", and the relocation plans from many people. And that's exactly where we have it all wrong.
Democracy doesn't take place on the 2 voting days every two years (don't forget the primaries, folks. They determine everything local). Democracy doesn't take place when you cast your vote. You don't even HAVE to vote to be a part of democracy. My experience with the Florida PTA taught me that democracy doesn't take place in Tallahassee (or Washington, DC). Democracy takes place EVERY day. Democracy takes place at HOME.
If the people have the power (like my naive young student is taught, and only 40% of us realize), we need to start exercising our power. We need to meet, face to face, with the officials we elected. And I don't care if you voted for them or not, WE elected them. If we have an issue we are passionate about, we must constantly pursue the people that WORK FOR US, and educate them in the same way we were educated about our issue. We must make sure that they know who WE are, that they will recognize us on the street, that they will stop and say "hi Josh, how have you been?" We educate them. We remind them why they are there, and who they truly work for. And yes, we still have to go to Tallahassee, and wait in between jails and bridges to talk about education, and wait to be one of the over 100 people to wave in support (or against) whatever is being discussed. We have to play the game. But this time when we play, the legislators know us. They remember us. And they feel our presence.
So, it doesn't matter who won yesterday. It doesn't matter what passed or failed yesterday. Democracy takes place today. Prepare to educate legislators on your burning issue, and please be articulate and constructive. Prepare your lesson plans for our elected leaders; the leaders that WE elected. (Oh, you didn't vote for him/her? How long were you working on that campaign? How much money did you give or raise for the campaign? How many phone calls did you make? How many homes did you visit? How many people did you register to vote?)
Own it, people! WE elected them! Now, put Democracy in action and make them work for you!