Your voices are vital. The word ‘vital’ means necessary for life. A democracy, to be fully alive, must include all of its citizens.
– Swanee Hunt
The study of politics is often viewed as a preferential interest – an acquired taste that is only enjoyed by the select group of individuals who prefer it. It is arbitrarily chosen the way that one might choose to follow astronomy, indie music, or the culinary arts. This characterization is harmful, however, because while changes in the high fashion industry only affect those who follow high fashion, changes in the political arena affect the entire domestic and global community at large. When a major shift occurs in the fashion industry, such as a new designer headlining creative for an historic house label, it is discussed by the greater community at large, from the media veterans, the respected pundits/bloggers, the vocal participants and consumers, and sometimes even the casual observers. Even those who do not buy from the label (and thus are not members of the directly affected community) discuss the shift and its implications in striking detail. However, fashion is art, and art is aesthetic, and aesthetics are not interwoven, consequential, world-altering events.
This is not breaking news. Many seemingly intelligent people can see the disparities between politics as a subject of popular interest and politics as the distribution of economic and legal power. However, many of these individuals simply shrug it off as a defeat that must be accepted, and that any attempt to change the status quo is simply a sign of naivety. These individuals view their apathy as a mark of wisdom, for they have sorted through their priorities, discovered the futile impact of political engagement, and moved on to more effective pursuits.
It is difficult to reconcile the complex, twisting democracy with its idyllic, oversimplified cousin that is taught in schools. Democracy is angelic; it is synonymous with other idealist quips like freedom and peace. In this regard, these apathetic people are correct – it is ridiculously naive to assume that our green pasture-ridden idea of democracy is attainable in the United States.
While children are taught the merits of democracy, military strength, and religious freedom, their indoctrination falls in the realm of extremes. They are taught about war – war on communism, war on fascism, war on drugs, and war on violent crime – but they are not taught about preservation. Preservation of the public, of its interests, and of equality is exceedingly difficult. As the population grows and social dynamics evolve, it is the responsibility of the citizens to watch their government, to research bills before they become laws, and to honor facts over rhetoric. Freedom is a complex thing that is not simply attained on behalf of a few bombs thrown overseas; freedom is also siphoned off by competing interests with a more cogent vision and a firmer grasp of how the government operates. To keep a paycheck, one must first show up and perform their job; to keep a strong, sustainable, intelligent governance, one must first pay attention to who’s doing the governing and for whom.
This is the cost of a government by the people and for the people. It should come as no surprise that large swaths of the population are underrepresented; to be represented in government one must genuinely participate in government. It should come as no surprise that voting on whimsical notions and ‘values’ often results in gross misunderstanding between the electorate and its representation. When real people base tangible votes on intangible ideals, they are cheapening their vote, holding it out for the first bidder with a compelling speech on their tongue. When real votes are distributed like prizes for a public speaking competition, public officials are not accountable to the voters so much as they are to the whims of their ‘conscience’. When voters do not research public policy, policymakers owe them no more favoritism than the last compelling speech delivered from the pomp and circumstance of the podium.