Pounding the Pavement: How You Can Turn Abstract Ideas into Concrete Policy

ANOTHER ELECTION DAY HAS COME and gone and the statistics show that it was the highest voter turnout since 1968 — 60.7 percent of registered voters (122 million people) voted in the November election. The flip side: more than 78 million Americans who were eligible to vote stayed home on Election Day.

Think about that for a minute. A whole lot of individuals didn’t participate, far more than the margin of victory nationwide in the presidential race. In fact, in some of the tightest races at the state level, like the governor’s race in my home state of Washington, the contested margin of victory was fewer than 150 votes and is still being battled out in court. At all levels—local, state and national—we’re talking about votes that will have an impact on your life and the lives of your families and friends not only now, but for years to come.

If you’re ever tempted to think your vote doesn’t matter, think again. As an informed and involved citizen, you have far more power than you realize. You’re the minority who will determine the fate of our nation. That said, it’s not enough to just leave some full-term chads in the voting booth or to fill out your absentee ballot. Being informed and involved means more than that.

I believe there are four critical elements to responsible citizenship. You must 1) know what you believe, 2) know why you believe it, 3) act on your knowledge, and 4) act effectively. Having one, two or even three of these elements is not enough. A responsible citizen embodies all four.

Consider: A lot of people know what they believe and they’re willing to take action. A typical student at Olympia’s renowned Evergreen College might look you in the eye and say, “Logging companies will never stop until they reduce the earth to one giant parking lot.” And an activist such as California’s Dona Nieto will act on that belief by accosting loggers in the woods with “nudist guerilla poetry” (true story).

If you ask such folks why they believe loggers are evil monsters whose sole motivation in life is to cut down enough trees to annihilate the human race, you probably won’t get a fact-based response. Assuming a person still held those beliefs after honestly considering their source, she could probably combat the problem with something more effective than “flowers in her hair and tears in her eyes,” as the bare-breasted guerilla poet did.

I’m picking on silly leftists with my example, but the fact is many conservative, freemarket types are guilty of the same omissions. Too often we know what we believe and even why, but we don’t get out and do something about it. Or we’re ready to do something about it, but we spin our wheels and waste our time on strategies that don’t work.

If someone asks why we believe lower taxes are better for the economy, or why parents should have school choice, or why Social Security has to be reformed, are we prepared with a convincing and factual response that not only debunks the myths of the other side but advances the debate into territory they’re not ready to defend? Are we the kind of people who go off half-cocked or do we carefully evaluate an issue and come up with a solid plan to advance our goals?

Perhaps the most pressing question: Once we know what we believe and we’re ready to act, are we prepared to act decisively, even if it makes us uncomfortable? The men who made it possible for us to openly write and read articles like this would be considered radicals today. They were “the vigilant, the active, the brave” who meant it when they cried, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” They were the ones willing to give up fortunes, security, and even their lives to give us a chance to govern ourselves. They intelligently evaluated their times, and they did what it took to build a nation.

Some Great Books to Read

● Dedication and Leadership by Douglas Hyde. Long-time Communist Party activist turned Christian, Hyde describes the legitimate and effective tactics that allowed an evil philosophy to convert so many.

● Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky. Despite his lack of morals and ethics, union radical Saul Alinsky has some legitimate information for those who want to be effective world-changers. No sense letting his protégés, Hillary Clinton and the National Education Association, have all the fun.

● Confrontational Politics by H.L. Richardson. Retired California Senator H.L. Richardson provides a game plan for conservatives who want to effectively combat their liberal counterparts.

● The Art of Political War and Other Radical Pursuits by David Horowitz. Horowitz shows how Bill Clinton’s generation, having mastered the art of political war, has spent the last ten years clobbering conservatives in and out of government.

Are we willing to do what it takes? We’re not asked to sacrifice much by comparison, but it’s not going to be painless either. We’ll have to sacrifice time to become informed, and we’ll probably have to sacrifice comfort to be involved. We may find ourselves knocking on our neighbors’ doors or waving signs on street corners; we may be ridiculed by those who have no appreciation for the sacrifices that bought their right to ridicule; and we may (God forbid) even face more serious persecutions.

The alternative is to let liberty continue to slip away until brave men and women are required to buy it back again with their lives. And those brave men and women will be our children, or grandchildren, or great-grandchildren.

I hope you’ll be in that small but dedicated group of citizens who determine the fate of our nation.

Marsha Richards is Director of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s Education Reform Center. This article first appeared in the Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s newsletter, Living Liberty. It is reprinted with permission from Evergreen Freedom Foundation. For more information, visit www.effwa.org.