Civic Engagement

My local newspaper, The Tallahassee Democrat, ran a story on March 19 reporting on a talk given by former Florida Governor and former US Senator Bob Graham.  In his talk, Graham calls for more civic engagement.  His talk was a part of a larger program titled “Choosing to Participate: The Power of Civic Engagement.”

For most citizens, civic engagement is futile.  I’m speaking from my own experience.  The few times I have attempted to speak at city commission meetings or county commission meetings, I’ve been met with indifference.  I’ve been given a three minute time limit to speak (I can understand why they do that), and then when I’m speaking I’ve watched commissioners get up and leave in the middle of my three minutes, or talk among themselves as I’ve been talking to them.  For people like me, civic engagement is nothing but frustration.  Most people realize this, which is why they would rather use their time in other ways rather than waste it on civic engagement.

But what happens when people who really can make a difference choose to participate?  Two of those individuals are Charles and David Koch, who Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called “un-American” for their civic engagement.  Reid said, “The Koch brothers and other moneyed interests are influencing the politics in a way not seen for generations. … Not only have Senate Republicans come to the floor to defend the Koch brothers personally, they have again and again defended the Koch brothers’ radical agenda — and it is radical, at least from the middle-class perspective.”

It is interesting that Senator Reid says, on the one hand, that the Koch brothers have a radical agenda, and on the other hand, that many of his colleagues in the Senate support that agenda.

I don’t want to draw a connection between the ideas of former Senator Graham and Senator Reid, who are two different individuals.  But it is worth a remark that while some politicians call for more civic engagement, others castigate people for their civic engagement, when those people (1) have ideas different from their own, and (2) are actually able to participate in a way that makes a difference.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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