The mayor of Ann Arbor is John Hieftje, but I didn’t know that; did you? I haven’t heard the name before, nor have I heard of the city council’s actions, or even of the state senate! How can this be? As a citizen of a democracy I am obligated to keep myself informed of goings-on so that I might test and refine my opinions and carefully vote for people who have declared and demonstrated their conviction of principles in agreement with my own. Why aren’t I doing that, if I know I should?
As might not be surprising, I think the Internet has a lot to do with it. As things become more interconnected, redundancy has fallen away from news media as local papers languish, to have their jobs cut and anything other than local reporting filling in by the Associated Press. (I speak here of the Lansing State Journal.) There may have been a time when one could learn of local, state, national, and global affairs from the town newspaper, but I sure as hell don’t remember it. Besides, who has time to focus on local things when national politics are so much louder? It occurs to me that perhaps we’re more affected by local government than we think. Every time we buy something at a store, we are subject to sales tax as determined by state government. Our parking tickets, smoking policy (nicotine or otherwise), and road conditions all are subject to state or local law, not federal. However, by making national affairs so easy to keep up with, the Internet has made local affairs seem irrelevant, when clearly they are not. I think it’s fair to say that I feel more like a member of the national community than the local one. As I understand Locke and Russoe’s writings, citizens make great advantage – either for themselves or their community – by participating in their own governance. It seems here that maybe many people are choosing not to. Which community is more important to contribute to?
I assume that many of my peers aren’t participating in local affairs, either. The portion of the population the government represents, then, does not include us. Is it too late? Perhaps our lack of participation led to a lack of response and accountability from government. Take, for instance, the reply I received from my senator:
Thank you for contacting me about broadband Internet expansion and the issue of network neutrality.
As you may know, on December 21, 2010 the Federal Communications Commission approved a compromise that would create different rules for land-line and wireless Internet The rules would prevent land-line providers from blocking access to sites and applications, but would allow wireless companies some flexibility in the services they provide. I will continue to monitor the actions of the Federal Communications Commission on this issue.
The Internet has been a catalyst for free expression, innovation and economic opportunity that has benefited countless Americans. Should legislation about this issue come before me for a vote, I will be sure to keep your views in mind.
Thank you again for contacting me. Please feel free to do so again if I can ever be of assistance to you and your family.
United States Senator
It strikes me as vague and noncommittal. The specific views I expressed were not referenced, just the general topic of my email. With fewer people fully participating in their own government, I think that – as this letter demonstrates – the government is becoming less accountable. Here I don’t mean that accountability is doing what I’m in favor of, but Senator Stabenow should have mentioned her own thoughts on the matter so I know what to expect and what my further actions could be. I feel like with this letter my participation in government has been snubbed. Similarly, the responses to petitions on the White House’s “We The People” site seem either condescending and politically safe. Perhaps it’s less that people don’t want to participate, and more that the government has realized that these kinds of responses are convenient for discouraging boat-rocking. Does the government have an obligation to be accesible to its citizens? I’d sure like to be able to subscribe to a mailing list that tells me when and where elections are held, and for what positions! Keeping an eye on political lawn signs is not enough. What can we do to reclaim the representation in this democracy?