Don’t Just Get Mad—Get Involved!

It’s the news story that just won’t die. The names, states, titles held, and offenses committed may change, but the basic theme is all too familiar. Politicians abusing their power, committing ethical and, in some cases, legal breeches, and betraying the confidence and trust of the citizens they pledged, then pretended, to serve.

I am sick of it. We are all sick of it. And sickened by it. But we cannot allow the actions of our suspicions about any so-called public servant to strip us of our belief in a political process that has been fundamentally successful for centuries. More importantly, we must not become so cynical that we opt out of our fundamental duty as citizens to be engaged in that process. Let’s not forget that the very ability to participate in the process is an honor and a right for which many died.

You don’t like what’s happening? You can change it with your vote, or with e-mails or letters to your local or state representatives. Write to your local newspaper or start a solution-oriented blog. Or step up to run for office and begin climbing the ladder of public service yourself. The point is, now more than ever, complacency is perhaps the worst crime of all. And all too often, we as African Americans are–in this regard–guilty.

Like it or not, from healthcare to education to environmental protection to business ethics and entrepreneurship, politics frames the conversation, charts the path, and often provides the access. Those who control the political process control our fate. Political power, even at the most limited local levels, can make all the difference.

I learned that firsthand, as a child, watching my mother wield her considerable influence as president of my public school’s PTA. When she put on her hat and walked into that school office–all five feet of her–she commanded everyone’s attention, including the principal’s.

Those early lessons were broadened and driven home for me when I worked as an aide to Sen. Robert Kennedy in the late 1960s. His life and term of service were far too short, but Kennedy’s lessons in how politics can and did change people’s lives for the better have never left me.

Kennedy was as shrewd as some of his detractors have portrayed him to be, but that quality never in any way compromised his sincere commitment to public service fueled by the belief in the power of the individual to enact positive change for the

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