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Cooking up democracy

May 16, 1997

When did politics become a spectator sport?

We ask the question seriously, and not just because tomorrow is the day when who knows how many citizens will turn out for Hagerstown city elections.

It also comes to mind because The Herald-Mail recently did the a story interviewing people who don't plan on voting Tuesday, and who aren't even ashamed of the fact. Another recent story chronicled the difficulty some small Pennsylvania municipalities are having finding anyone to run for office, and it struck us that in both cases, a lot of citizens are counting on someone else to do the job.

This is not an unfamiliar phenomenon, especially to anyone who's ever worked for a non-profit organization where a familiar few always seem to carry the load. It is of concern now because improved communications were supposed to increase involvement. Instead, the opposite seems to be happening.

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Hearings dealing with major local questions are now routinely televised and every government of any size has a World Wide Web site, filled with documents related to how elected officials are spending everyone's tax dollars. Newspaper coverage, if we may pat ourselves on the back for a moment, is more comprehensive than it's ever been.

And yet, even though it is easier than ever to find out what government is doing, fewer people are using that opportunity to prepare themselves to get involved.

We've heard the arguments against getting involved - a lack of time, and the doubts that it will do any good. But who ever said making progress was going to be easy? Governing isn't like going to a fast-food restaurant. If it was, those who held unpopular positions would be run over as the rest of us sped through democracy's drive-through window.

No, like preparing a home-cooked meal, being involved in the process of governing a free society takes time. Those who are content just to watch the preparations from a distance should not be surprised if what elected officials serve up is not to their liking.

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