I find it interesting, the term activism. In modern parlance it typically refers to someone fighting some sort of injustice, either perceived or real. Most of the time, those people that are referred to as activists are active for liberal causes. I don’t recall someone being referred to as a conservative activist, although I am sure they exist.
Somehow or other, this term has garnered a position all its own too, as though it is a vocation like landscaper, bricklayer, teacher, activist. Sometimes, it is followed by a descriptor, such as equal pay activist, or anti-Trump activist or even save the spotted owl activist. The assumption is that they are actively working to further the cause they have chosen.
The one I really don’t understand is political activist. Apparently, it refers to someone involved in the political realm and being active, trying to further their political agenda. Again, this gets paired up with someone on the left pushing as hard as they can for their chosen docket. Don’t believe me? Watch the news. Political activists on the left are almost always referred to that way. Just read the descriptor below their name.
“Tonight, I’d like to welcome Jane Stevens, attorney, democratic strategist, and political activist” are the usual introductions.
I know, it sounds like I am disparaging liberals, but actually it is quite the opposite. Those with deep feelings on a topic, whatever that topic that may be, should be pushing for acceptance of their chosen cause, not waiting around at the bus stop, or for someone else to do it. If trying to get your point of view moved forward makes one an activist, then should not all of us fall into that category? If we live in a republic that depends on the power of the populace, does that not demand that we all become activists at least as it concerns the vote, something Americans do at a paltry rate? James Madison said it well when he stated in his piece Who Are the Best Keepers of the People’s Liberties, “The people themselves. The sacred trust can be nowhere so safe as in the hands most interested in preserving it.”
Based on typical voting numbers, I am given to wonder who is interested in preserving it at all. Americans will turn out to vote for a presidential election because it is a big event. We have turned the election of our chief executive into an event that rivals the Super Bowl except that the hype machine is over two and a half years now, rather than the NFL’s two weeks. Predictably, the voting percentages are larger for eligible voters than an “off-year” election (another term that bothers me-is there really an off-year because no President is being elected?). According to www.electproject.org, the percentage of eligible voters that participated was 59.3%. Think about that for a minute. Just over half of the eligible voters participated in the General Election for the highest office in the land. Sadly, for a nation that touts the right to vote as one of its founding principles, that is actually about typical for the American populace. Very rarely do those numbers go over the sixty to sixty-five percent ratio. For the 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 elections, the percentages were 54%, 60%, 61%, 58% respectively. Interestingly, over the course of American history, those percentages are remarkably similar, with the period 1840-1900 being rather the exception, having almost consistently 70% or more.
Midterm elections (where there is no President being elected) fare worse. Between 1916-2012, those percentages hover around 40% turnout, dipping as low as 33% in 1924. Americans have been big event people for the duration of our history it seems. Maybe we just cannot throw off the yoke of monarchy as yet with some seeing the President as a type of king who can simply “make it happen” with the wave of the presidential pen, something like a monarch’s scepter. Recent history suggests that there may be some truth to this assumption as the number of Executive Orders by Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Jr., and Barack Obama numbered 381, 166, 364, 291, 276 respectively. Those numbers pale in comparison to FDR, who totaled a whopping 3,721 during his years in office (1932-1945).[i]
The point is that all eligible American voters should see themselves as activists, not just those on the political left which is where this term is most applied. To steal a great line from the film The American President, “Democracy is advanced citizenship”, and we should treat it as such. Right now, based on voting numbers alone, we do not. The very idea of having to “get out the vote” suggests a certain laziness of the American voter, something that in a vibrant Republic should never happen. It is pie-in-the-sky to suggest that there would be 100% turnout for any election, but numbers hovering around 35% or so for midterms are appalling, and certainly not demonstrative of a Republic that is supposed to be the beacon to the world.
Currently, the United States Congress has an approval rating of 17%, give or take a few percentage points each poll. Think about that for a moment. Would you go to a restaurant that has a 17% approval rating from its customers? A clothing store? A car dealership? A school? With mid-term elections on the horizon, it is time to take a good, solid look at your representatives or Senators. Are they really doing what is right for the nation? Are they representing your views? Take the political parties out of the equation and look at the person. Then, vote.
The point is that WE are the ones that must make the change, regardless of political affiliation. Remember this basic fundamental truth of our government. The source of all political power in this nation resides with the people through our power to vote. So, vote your conscience, vote your party, whatever it is, but vote. Make your voice heard. It is the least you can do as a member of this Republic. Then, we can all call ourselves ACTIVISTS.
[i] Presidential memoranda and presidential proclamations are other ways that the Executive can influence policy as well.