Mel Martin

Lawyer, U.S. Marine Corps

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How do you inspire the average citizen toward civic responsibility and participation?

An effective government requires an accountability system; a structure of checks and balances, rules of ethics, standards of conduct, and a proactive watchdog media (based on journalism ethics). None of this is possible, however, unless the citizenry demands and enforces its own expectations; it must rise from the quagmire of frustration and blame-mongering into affirmative steps toward beneficial change. From the small (sometimes false) presumptions that citizens will independently research issues, party platforms, and candidates before casting a vote, to the bigger tasks of community leadership to cure social ills. The polarization and punditry is preventing civil discourse and real exchange of ideas toward solutions; accompanied by objective insanity legitimized by air time, it seems the general population may be losing hope/care at the exponential rate.

A misinformed/apathetic/oppressed citizenry + governance without the public's trust and confidence (i.e., consent) => societal downslide if not some semblance of chaotic collapse.

So...Is this a nature v. nurture issue? Family v. school? Is it culturally driven (and therefore pending superstar persuasiveness)? If change requires extrinsic action, and we're not depending on charismatic wonderment or some privatized solution to save us all, what tangible measures can societies implement that will ACTUALLY work?

  • Jul 26 2011: I think this is a very important topic.

    People lack the time to learn about local/national issues and politics. Some people are not familiar with politics and how government works. People distrust government as they cannot easily see what the government is doing and how much money is spent on various items in the budget. Also in today's world everything is much more complex.

    Personally I think we have a few solutions to try. For the younger generation I would include or expand on topics about ethics, civic engagement, politics and history in schools curriculum. I think we also need greater transparency of government actions and show easy to understand information about budgets and spending. People need more online resources on various issues where experts from both sides can present their view. Voters can then learn about issues they vote on and not spend excessive amount of time to become experts.

    I also think it is time to decrease our workweek to 4 days and allow vacation to accumulate regardless of employer up to 5 or 6 weeks a year (as it is happening in Europe) so that we all have time to become responsible citizens. People working long hours have hardly enough time for their family, friends and errands.

    I think this is pretty complex topic that has no easy solution. I wonder how other countries take on this problem.