This weekend, as Tift Merrit and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot jammed away at the Newport Folk Festival, I attended the annual meeting of the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition (RISC, pronounced risk) about a mile away on Goat Island at the Hyatt Regency hotel. RISC is a grassroots taxpayer advocacy group that aims to improve the quality of life in Rhode Island. While there, I witnessed average citizens asking their governor, Donald Carcieri, questions and hearing his answers immediately. This type of direct access to elected officials is not always available. Try calling your governor’s office for an appointment. If you’re not a local lobbyist, a union boss, or a photogenic infant, it could be tough.
It is difficult to muster the energy or time to fully participate in government. Time must constantly be split among work, children, home, and friends, so why waste any of it lobbying government-you’re helpless, right? My choices on Saturday morning, going to the Newport Folk Festival or to the annual meeting of a taxpayer advocacy group, seemed like a no-brainer. Yet, I went to the meeting.
There are state- and local-level advocacy groups all around the country that fight, like RISC, for a better quality of life for citizens like you and me. These groups are generally independent. Some of them lean right or left, but no matter your political inclination, participating in an advocacy group will allow your voice to be heard, literally, by the government officials that work for you.
Government is dreadfully boring. It is filled with thousand-page bills written by congressional staffers and statistics compiled by bureaus buried in its bowels, all of which is masked in a layer of spin. Sometimes it just feels better to close one’s eyes, plug one’s ears, and shout, “La la la,” until the pain goes away. That is why I have linked to a list of taxpayer associations. I encourage you to add your name to the e-mail list of your state’s group. The taxpayer associations do the heavy lifting for you and report back on the work that your government is doing, whether that work be good or obscene.
As Congress takes its August recess and heads out across the country, it is important to get out to town hall meetings and register your discontent or happiness about whatever you wish. Don’t just go to reject ideas (although you should definitely reject bad ones); bring good solutions to your officials too. I am including a video of a recent town hall meeting where Senator Arlen Specter and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are shown exactly what happens when bad ideas are brought to a town hall meeting. Enjoy.