Written By Sherwood Kohn
On Independence Day, of all days, it seems to me, we ought to celebrate active participation; in society, in government, in life itself.
From all indications, there is a spirit of apathy smothering our nation. And it is making a lot of us angry. Not directed anger, but formless, generalized anger that results in such infections as rudeness, road rage and even mass murder.
The attitudes of the nation’s founding fathers were exactly the opposite of apathetic. They had in mind a state in which all men acted for the common good; a society in which leaders strove not just to enrich themselves, but to advance the interests of all men.
Theirs was not a Utopian scheme. The signers of the Constitution knew they were legislating for fallable human beings, so they set up a system of checks and balances that would ensure the rule of law, even if a few corrupt individuals managed to creep in.
But they did not envision apathy. Their contemporaries were too engaged to allow for a lack of interest. They believed that all citizens should and would take part in governing themselves. They believed in a democracy that worked because people wanted it to and actively participated in it.
Somehow we, as a society, have lost interest in making the nation work. We are obsessed with celebrity scandals, television talent shows and a culture of violence, both real and simulated. And we are so disillusioned that we have lost faith, not only in politicians, but in our own ability to make an impact upon virtually any segment of the social fabric.
We feel ineffectual, disenfranchised, depressed, on a hair-trigger to lash out indiscriminately at anyone who invades our personal space; but paradoxically unable to express our frustration at public meetings, and even at the ballot box. Our record of participation in elections consistently falls below that of Third World countries, much less that of the Western democracies. Only 5 percent of Westminster’s 8,468 registered voters cast ballots in the city’s recent councilmanic election.
In days gone by, the Fourth of July was a day, not only of fireworks, patriotic speeches and cookouts, but of recognizing that we, as Americans, were not just apathetic sheep.
It is time that we revived that spirit and took-not to the streets as a mob-but a deeply involved interest in directly and responsibly furthering the greater good. That is very much of what the 4th is all about.