In her weekly column, Nancy Churchill discusses how democratic republics are ‘absolutely dependent upon the active and informed involvement of the people’
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was held in strict secrecy. Anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Mr. Franklin, what form of government have you given us?” His reply: “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”(https://bit.ly/3rZCyaQ)
Franklin’s point is important: democratic republics are not merely founded upon the consent of the people, they are also absolutely dependent upon the active and informed involvement of the people.
Unless “We the People” decide to participate more actively, we will NOT keep our republic. The hour is upon us —we must rediscover how to actively participate in the republic, or we will soon live in a totalitarian dictatorship.
Having decided that we must participate, the next question is, “How?” I am a firm believer in the power of local action. We have the most power and influence in our local communities, among our friends and neighbors. Local action can have a national impact. So let’s consider local government.
County boards make the county thrive
At the county level, there are many all-volunteer boards that make the community work. Those include school boards, hospital board, PUD board of commissioners, planning commission, EMS board, fair board, fire district boards … The list is long, and it’s often hard to get qualified people to volunteer.
I often hear people complain about the elected members of local boards. However, most people never go to a board meeting, don’t know the board members, and don’t know the state laws that govern the operation of the board. They don’t understand the limits or constraints on the authority of board members.
Boards require some basic training for new board members. Classes on the Open Public Meetings Act and Public Records Act are required. Then, there are classes regarding the laws that govern the board’s authority and responsibility. This is when the board members discover what I call “the straightjacket of the law”.
For local boards, what is and is not possible is severely constrained by the law, as defined in the Revised Code of Washington. For example, certain mandated school curriculum was added to the law by our progressive legislature. Over the years, many seemingly insignificant laws have been passed that resulted in less and less local control of the districts in an effort to make a “one-size-fits-all” state education system.
There are school boards that have major problems. However, before you blame your school board, be sure to observe its members in action and decide if the problem is with the board, the superintendent or the laws they’re constrained by. Most boards are doing the best they can while dancing in their legal straightjacket.
The art of civic participation
All is not lost. Everyday people can make a difference, even within the constraints of the law. Start by researching the boards in your county, and pick one or two of interest to observe and interact with. Attend your board meetings and get to know the board members. Research and introduce a topic you’d like them to consider during the public comment period. Most board members are thrilled to have community members make an effort to show up, and they’ll generally be interested in your comments and concerns.
Ask your board to represent you by communicating your concerns up to the next higher administrative level. To solve difficult problems, we need to insist on having difficult conversations with people who will need to be persuaded and coaxed to see our point of view. Persistence and reasonability will eventually succeed, while angry demands will push the board members away.
Another opportunity to “keep the republic” is to get involved in state legislative races. The state representatives and senators are the ones making the law, the “straightjacket” that controls everything we do! The best way to change the laws you care about is to elect more Republican legislators. Get involved, and help in any way that works for you: volunteer with a campaign, hold fundraising events, or work the phones from home.
Finally, learn to follow the lawmaking process. Pick one topic, and research the bills that address that topic. Follow the bills through the legislative process, watching for opportunities to comment, testify, and reach out to your legislators on the topic. Don’t get too attached to a particular bill; focus on learning about lawmaking and how good laws get made and bad laws get stopped.
When “we the people” understand lawmaking, and participate actively in the lawmaking process, we are fulfilling our duty and responsibility as citizens of a republic. If you’re not sure where to start learning, please visit influencingolympia.com and get on the mailing list. The new class, Influencing Olympia Effectively, will be released very soon. You CAN develop new “keep the republic” skills during the upcoming 2022 Legislative Session.
If you want to help “Make America Great Again,” you have many choices. Let’s roll up our sleeves and make keeping the republic our number one priority.
Nancy Churchill is the state committeewoman for the Ferry County Republican Party. She may be reached at DangerousRhetoric@pm.me. The opinions expressed in Dangerous Rhetoric are her own.