Our lives are full of choices. Two things that we had no control over: who our parents are and where we were born. Those two factors are very significant in determining our future. Often, we can overcome cultural and geographic obstacles and forge a life for ourselves where we are primarily in control of our circumstances. The democratic system of government in the United States allows residents (“We the People…” from the Preamble to the Constitution) the opportunity to select and elect leaders who will write policy and enact legislation that control many facets of our lives. That is not the case in much of the rest of the world. Our rights are worthy of protection through participation. It is time for us to make some important choices with our votes.
We Are the People
U.S. President Abraham Lincoln offered us in the Gettysburg address of November 19th, 1863, “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Our democratic system relies upon its members to identify their beliefs, educate themselves on those seeking elected positions, select and support representatives, and vote for them to hold office. This is a solid system with checks and balances, but it has many challenges. It is our responsibility to actively participate in the process.
Fact or Fiction?
Lately, our mailboxes and media sources are jammed with messages stating a candidate’s attributes and/or their opponent’s faults. Many of these messages are associated with a particular party or an organization promoting a certain position. They are messages (often fear driven) designed to solicit election or financial support. It is often difficult to decipher what is fact and what is fiction. Add to that, our incredibly partisan political situation in all levels of government. Getting clear information from trusted sources is challenging but essential.
Going into the polling place without being fully informed can cause a voter trouble, there might be unexpected ballot items or uncertainty about candidates and issues. An online service, Ballot Ready https://www.ballotready.org/ allows you to see your ballot for the upcoming election. Under each race or measure category, the candidates are listed with their history/qualifications and positions on various issues. In addition to the educational benefits, the site enables the user to make selections and have a copy of their ballot to take to their voting location. Showing up to vote with confidence is comforting.
Where Do You Stand?
An important first step is to identify how we value and prioritize the issues. Then we need to align with candidates that best represent our beliefs and support them. But it becomes complicated when we have several issues that are of strong concern to us. Consider, in a legislative session on any given day, your representative may vote on 40 different pieces of legislation that range from water quality to social justice to highway construction. It is important to have representatives that share your priorities and beliefs, but also your general philosophy.
Do You Care About the Environment?
If Illinois environmental legislation has an influence on which candidate receives your vote, the Illinois Environmental Council (IEC) https://ilenviro.org/vote/ is a wonderful resource. On their site you will find a list of our Illinois Senators and Congressional Representatives that have achieved a 100% record on legislation supported or opposed by the IEC. This list is usually consistent with the Illinois Sierra Club’s list.
Every Level is Important
If you are an advocate for the environment, every level of government is important. On the municipal level, there are local zoning restrictions which often offer protection to prevent land uses that may threaten local conditions. Zoning types include residential, home-based business, commercial, industrial, agriculture, rural, historic, and aesthetic. Beyond that are decisions about zoning issues and certain decisions impact how different proposals may fit into existing uses. Townships and county-level commonly address land preservation and restoration. The makeup of municipal government determines very important local decisions. State and federal representatives develop broad policy, introduce legislation, serve on committees, and vote on wide variety of far-reaching rules, regulations, and laws. Vote at every level.
Make Sure They Know You
Our system of democracy relies upon the idea that the majority drives decisions. That is not always the case. Our representatives are charged with representing their constituents but their perception of the majority’s opinion is often based upon who is in the conversation. Special interest groups often invest heavily in influencing representatives with professional lobbyists and it takes great effort by small organizations and individuals to offset those efforts. Representatives list their contact information and state and federal level representatives have local offices. Write to them, call them, and visit them regularly. Offer your opinions and a thank you when they act in your interest. Building these relationships is essential in maintaining the will of the people, by the people.
Prepare yourself by studying the issues, identifying candidates that will represent you, and vote them into office. In addition to voting, there are important efforts to inform/educate others, and encourage their vote. Let’s get out the vote!
Happy Birthday Clean Water Act
This year marks the 50th Anniversary for the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act was part of a package of environmental legislation that established the federal and state Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Clean Air Act, Resource Recovery Act, and several more. The funding, regulations, standards, and enforcement that were associated have resulted in a consistent and steady recovery of a damaged environment. Much more needs to be done and continued. Thanks to the voice of concerned voters and their representatives, we can hope that the Clean Water Act will continue to improve the environment.