9% is not enough.

This is a speech I recently gave a school. The purpose of which was to persuade my audience to take an immediate and personal action. If some of the phrasing seems awkward or out of place, that may be due to the fact that it was delivered to classroom of 20 people.

What if I told you only 1 person in this room was satisfied with the way that this class was being taught? That only 9% of this class was happy with their choice. What if I told you that if you were unhappy with how class was being run, you have the power to change that? What if I told you that it wasn’t just us here in the classroom who were dissatisfied, but that there were another 260 million angry Americans out there as well?

At the end of 2011, 9% of Americans approved of the job being done by the United States Congress. I currently study political science and I have firsthand experience in local government. That passion and experience  has led me to actively follow and participate in congressional politics. By the time I finish here; hopefully you will follow more closely the activity of Congress and you will exercise your influence over it.

CBS and the New York Times found in a 2011 survey that more than 84% of Americans believe that the Congress isn’t doing their job. 9% think they are doing their job. Another 7% don’t even have an opinion.

Do you know who in the federal government can declare war? Or who can institute a draft for said war? How about who sets the tax rate that you pay on your income? Do you know who writes criminal laws you are subject to?

Congress: Your Senators and Congressman are the members of the most powerful branch in the Federal government. Yet somehow the group given such an enormous power over our lives seems to fall short of expectation. How many of you, know the names of your 2 Senators and your Congressman?  If you do, do you know what their party is? Their voting record?

Much of the discontent with congress comes from the apparent disconnect between your representatives and you. Why is there such a disconnect? According to the same CBS poll, Americans at-large gave their local congressmen an approval rating that more than triples the national average. So what Americans are saying is “Congress is broken, but my Congressman is doing fine.” This logic illustrates a problem with voter perception of the Congress. We are electing officials that we may not fully understand or support.

Each and every one of us, excluding convicted felons, has the ability and the right to change this. The Constitution guarantees the right to vote of every citizen. Many younger citizens approach voting as a nuisance and waste of time, believing in their mind that their vote does not impact the overall race. Students from the ages of 18-24, according to the Census Bureau, have the smallest voter turnout rate of any age group by about 5-10% (depending on the year).

If you feel that your vote doesn’t count. Think about this for a moment: Congressional races have only a few thousand voters, just the people who live in your district. As opposed to the 120+ million voters that vote in the presidential election. The concentrated voting pool empowers each vote; you have an amplified impact in Congressional races. Senatorial races are similar; most states base senate races on a county by county basis. So your vote can help determine which candidate your county will go to.

While all you have this influence of Congress, not everyone exercises it. According to George Mason University analysis, voter turn-out during non-presidential elections, called midterm elections, is almost half of turnout during presidential elections. Many of you may have an issue with Congress, yet no one is voting to express their concern.

In order for you to be represented properly, it is your responsibility to understand the people who represent you. You must form an independent opinion of the candidates and evaluate whether that candidate accurately represents your interests, or if they think they are qualified to make decisions that impact the entire nation. How can you evaluate these candidates? There are a score of resources available to all citizens that provide clear information regarding politicians. A quick Google search of my Congressman, Rodney Frelinghuysen brought me to his website. There I found a page that listed his stance on issues, legislation he has promoted, and contact information. Using that information, I personally called my congressman’s office during the House consideration of SOPA to express my disapproval of the bill. You can do the same.

If a candidate already holds office, you can examine their voting record. Nearly all votes in Congress (and State Legislatures!) are available online (http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php), you can see exactly what your Representatives are supporting or opposing. Most Congressional races and all Senatorial races involve a debate between candidates. Watching these debates can be useful to see where each candidate stands, but also seeing how skilled they are at debate. Debating skills are essential to your representative choice. Congress is a deliberative body and your representative’s job is to make a persuasive case for your needs, and to convince others to support those ideals.

2012 is a General election year, 435 Representatives, 33 Senators, and 1 President will be elected.

How many times someone asked you ‘who you are voting for?’ Do you have an answer? If you tell them, do they ask you, “why?” Maybe you have not paid close attention to the elections, and you don’t have an answer. Now imagine that before election week you checked out each of the candidates in the race, again someone asks you for who you are voting. You can not only tell them which candidate you support for president; but Senate too; and even the House of Representatives. Not only that but you could tell them why you support those candidates. And you might even be able to convince them to support those candidates too, so now your vote (which you may have thought useless) has now doubled in its impact. With a Congress that is supported by more than 9% of the people, we can expect more success in Congress. Perhaps a different type of representative will arrive in Washington if you pay closer attention to these Congressional/Senatorial races: A representative who is truly connected to you. With a return to a more independent and self representative people there will be a stronger confidence in government and more satisfaction with its actions.

Becoming more involved with Congressional and Senatorial races is simple, there are many things you can do to participate:

  • You can register to vote if you have not already. You can register by mail, or at your local town hall or court house.  (http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/register_to_vote.aspx)
  • You can become more educated about candidates by researching them using web and public records.
  • Contact your Representatives! If you don’t like the way your representative is voting you can call them and their office will take down your opinion. Senators and Congressmen honestly listen to feedback from voters. If there is an overwhelming opposition or support of a bill, they may change their vote.
  • You can donate to or volunteer for a Congressional or Senatorial campaign. These campaigns are always looking for enthusiastic people to help spread their message.
  • Vote. You have a voice and a say in the way that your government is run, if you won’t stand up for your rights and beliefs, why should anyone else do that for you?

James Wilson, the unsung writer of the Constitution, mused about popular representation saying that:

“Oft I have marked, with silent pleasure and admiration, the force and prevalence, throughout the United States, of the principle that the supreme power resides in the people, and that they never part with it… There is a remedy, therefore, for every distemper in government, if the people are not wanting to themselves; if they are wanting to themselves, there is no remedy.”

 

 Sources:

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