The law and other democratic institutions ensure little if they are not backed up by the willingness and courage of decent people to guard against their abuse.
-Vaclav Havel, Summer Meditations
There were many uncontested races on my ballot today: County Clerk, Board of Regents, County Commissioner, Sheriff, County Engineer, Public Defender, and several Lower Platte District races.
When I was doing my pre-election research, I found that most of the uncontested candidates didn't respond to interview questions on voter-friendly web sites. Why should they? They're going to be filling those seats whether or not they explain their positions. As a voter, I knew it didn't matter if I filled in the oval next to their names. My vote didn't seem to count if I didn't make a choice.
I thought back to the summer of 1992 when I was a foreign exchange student in Czechoslovakia. That summer the Czechs and the Slovaks were alive with the prospect of making a choice that would forever change their lives and their country. At just 2 1/2 years old, their democracy was still perilously fragile, but they were holding an election to determine whether they would remain Czechoslovakia or become the Czech Republic and Slovakia. People were out on the streets talking about political ideas and philosophy. Their playwright president (who had served jail time for his outspoken ideas about democracy) had recently written a book about his vision for the country. I remember the day of that election. Of course I couldn't vote in it, but I could soak up the feel of it, the palpable joy of once-oppressed people directing their own destinies, for better or for worse.
Yesterday I spoke with one of our elected representatives here in Lincoln who told me who would be "taking his seat" this coming May in our next election. "Taking his seat." Not "running for office" or "campaigning." I suppose in a city where so many races go uncontested, his remark makes sense in a disheartening, ominous way.
But that's not democracy.
Preserving a democracy isn't easy. It takes work and thought and initiative. We have so long enjoyed the blessings of our hard-fought democracy that apathy has set in. We haven't been ground down by years of totalitarianism or monarchy, and we little appreciate the control we have over our lives. In 1991, Havel wrote, "And yet, if a handful of friends and I were able to bang our heads against the wall for years by speaking the truth about Communist totalitarianism while surrounded by an ocean of apathy, there is no reason why I shouldn't go on banging my head against the wall by speaking ad nauseam, despite the condescending smiles, about responsibility and morality in the face of our present social marasmus. There is no reason to think that this struggle is a lost cause. The only lost cause is one we give up on before we enter the struggle."
Have we given up on the struggle? Have we relegated our control to a few people who may or may not have our best interests in mind? Have we trusted bureaucrats with our tax dollars and our children's educations only to find out later that they've been bought and sold by advocacy groups who have favors to dole out?
We have six months until the next election. Let's make our choices count.