Be politically informed or die

by Beacon Staff • October 11, 2006

Encouraging civic participation.

Our view:

Involvement does not end at the voting booth.

With another election on the horizon, Emerson College President Jackie Liebergott sent an e-mail to Emerson student "to encourage each and every one of you to vote and participate in the political process.,At issue:

Encouraging civic participation.

Our view:

Involvement does not end at the voting booth.

With another election on the horizon, Emerson College President Jackie Liebergott sent an e-mail to Emerson student "to encourage each and every one of you to vote and participate in the political process."

This is good advice, of course. Voting is vital to a healthy democracy.

Every election year we are reminded of this with a barrage of voting campaigns, such as "Rock the Vote" or Diddy's cartoon-like "Vote or Die" effort in 2004.

But these well-intentioned programs fail to address an important point: civic involvement does not begin or end at the voting booth.

For a democracy to thrive, citizens need to always be engaged in the issues of the day and not merely in the weeks and months leading up to elections.

This is true for several reasons. One is that in order to make a truly informed decision on a candidate, voters are well served to have an understanding of the record, ideology and character of that nominee.

But finding objective, nuanced information about a politcian can be quite a task amidst the media blitz of a heated political campaign.

Without context or prior knowledge, the uninformed voter may find it difficult to seperate the signal from the noise, especially in the face of attack ads and smear campaigns from opponents. By the time an election comes around, candidates can seem like caricatures of themselves, either by their opponent's exaggerated portrayals of their flaws, or by their own campaign's romanticized and overstated emphasis on their attributes.

Secondly, while elected officials serve important roles in our country, quality government is typically the product of active citizens and not by the politicians who hold public office.

President Bush's push to reform Social Security in 2005, for example, took place in a non-election year. And pressure to save what is perhaps the most important aspect of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was applied not by voters in booths, but by an informed involved citizenry who organized en masse to protest Bush's plan and to counter his claims.

Movements like this can have a far greater impact than filling out a ballot and can ensure that people, not merely politicians, have a say in public affairs.

"Whatever your beliefs," wrote President Liebergott, "please remember those beliefs on election day and vote to advance them. "

The Beacon agrees with this sentiment, but implores students to always remember their beliefs and to always work to advance them.