Doc Rioux At Large

What have you done for American democracy lately?

Richard "Doc" Rioux · October 27, 1996

I've talked to so many people who complain about the state of affairs in America and don't bother to vote. It's as if there is no relationship between voting and the money they pay in taxes for the governmental services they need, don't need, get or don't get. It's as if the people who refuse to vote don't really care about what it has taken in toil and blood shed over two centuries of history to get them the right to vote. Men and women died for the American flag on fields of battle all over the world.

Not to exercise your right to vote is an absolute, unmitigated, unadulterated disgrace. It is an insult to the colonialists who fought for independence. It is an insult to those who worked long and hard for the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. It is an insult to civil rights marchers who faced beatings, vicious dogs and hangings to overcome the Jim Crow laws that prevented Americans of African descent from voting after the Civil War. It is an insult to people who have aspired, been imprisoned and died to institute democracies in foreign lands while looking to America for inspiration.

"I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country," said Nathan Hale before he was hanged by the English at the beginning of the American Revolution. How many of you have read the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, or the dedication on the Statue of Liberty in the last five years? Shame on you if you haven't.

When you read this newspaper, do you realize that freedom of the press is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights? Do you know that the Bill of Rights is comprised of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution? Do you know that your right to exercise choice in religion, the right to bear arms, trial by jury and the right to freely assemble with your neighbors are protected by YOUR, yes YOUR, Bill of Rights? You are the people, and the governments in Washington, DC and Santa Clarita are your governments.

What have you given up recently for American democracy? Have you given up a night in front of the television to read a book on Benjamin Franklin or Susan B. Anthony or Teddy Roosevelt or Jack Kennedy? Have you given up an afternoon on a golf course for a visit to the William S. Hart Museum or the Reagan Library or the Jet Propulsion Laboratory? Have you talked to your children or grandchildren about democracy? Have you taken them to the voting place with you? Do they have an American flag in their rooms, and do they know what each star stands for?

I'm really offended by adults who won't take our democratic and representative system of government seriously. I'm embarrassed by men and women who don't know the basics about American history or about how our system of government works. My stomach churns when people tell me that they're not going to vote because they don't have the time or it doesn't make a difference anyway. Hogwash! These people ought to be sent to live in China or Cuba or Libya or Iraq. I wonder how they would like it if they got arrested for simply being suspected of talking negatively about their government.

In nine days in this valley, those who bothered to register to vote are supposed to go to the polls to select the next president of the United States, representatives to Congress, the State Assembly and State Senate, and judges, a District Attorney and representatives to the Castaic Lake Water Agency. There are also eighteen state and county initiatives on the ballot. Between now and November 5, how many of you will have spent at least one hour reviewing your ballot pamphlets? How many of you will have spent just a few minutes with your children or grandchildren going over your sample ballots?

Reading your election materials is what being responsible to the heritage of democracy requires. I don't expect you to read every word of the 111 pages in your ballot pamphlet. I'm not going to do that, but I will read something about each initiative. The legislative analyst usually provides you with the most objective summary of what an initiative is supposed to do. Pages 4 to 9 provide very brief summations and arguments for and against the initiatives.

A decent preparation to vote would require you to spend about an hour reviewing your material. Give up television between 7 and 8 p.m. one night or read it during a lunch hour, and you've done it -- you've exercised your responsibility. Mark your sample ballot.

This afternoon, residents of Stevenson Ranch will attend the dedication of their new Flag Monument. Families were given an opportunity to place their names on the bronze plaque in front of the monument with the funds raised to be donated to the Stevenson Ranch Elementary School. Love of country is good for the soul.

Above the names of residents is an inscription that reads: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." These words were written by Thomas Jefferson and were part of the Declaration of Independence. Fifty-four men signed the Declaration and put their lives and property on the line for the independence we now have. The act of voting on November 5, 1996 will honor them and our heritage as a free, honorable people.

Let freedom ring!

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Dr. Richard Rioux is a resident of Stevenson Ranch. His commentary appears on Sundays.


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