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“We have met the enemy and he is us.” — Pogo
Back when I was mayor, I remember giving a talk at a local school about the problems we faced and what we should do to make our city better.
The students listened politely as their mayor told them that even as young people in middle and high school, they could do things that would make Worcester a better place to live. As an example, I mentioned having them get involved in neighborhood cleanups.
One outspoken young man said without hesitation and with a bit of disdain that he should not have to clean anything up and that we “paid” other people to do that.
I did not hesitate.
In my most fatherly voice, I said that the trash on our streets and in our neighborhoods was left by careless people. If we want a clean city, we need to take responsibility to clean it up. I also made it clear that we never hired anyone to clean up after him. We hired workers to pick up leaves and sweep up sand, but that we put the trash in the neighborhoods and we should pick it up.
This story illustrates a larger problem. Today, in America we seldom take responsibility for the messes that we create. Someone else is always to blame.
Think of the biggest political problems facing our nation; it is always someone else’s fault or someone else’s responsibility to fix.
In my view, we are the problem.
We drop the trash that litters our neighborhoods and then we complain that our neighborhoods are a mess. We create the crime. And we elect the people who run the government that we complain so much about.
Part of being a good citizen is being engaged in the community. Voting is our first responsibility. But it goes well beyond that. If you do not like something, stop whining and do something about it.
If you want proof that we bear full responsibility for the problems we face in our country, our states and our communities, look no further than the most recent presidential election. While nearly 133 million people took the time to cast a ballot, that was only 55 percent of the citizens in our country who are of voting age. That means that nearly half of us either are not registered to vote or could not be bothered to vote.
Donald Trump claims to be worried about the imaginary 3 million to 5 million illegal votes cast in the last election. First, that is a lie and he knows it. There is no evidence anywhere that substantiates such an outlandish claim.
But doesn’t it make more sense to worry about the 130 million citizens who are not registered or could not be bothered to vote?
The same is true for all of those citizens who complain about Congress. They go to rallies and chant that we need to “drain the swamp!” and get rid of these career politicians who do not do much of anything. Yet, we keep electing the same people over and over again.
It is not their fault. It is ours! We send them to Congress. They do not get there on their own.
And as for those people who complain about conditions in Worcester: If you want to solve the problems that we face, and there are many, start by looking in the mirror.
The average municipal election sees a voter turnout of about 15 percent. If you count those who are not registered, the number participating in local elections drops to about 10 percent. So, is it Joe Petty’s fault, or is it our own fault? Should we blame Ed Augustus or the 90 percent of us who do nothing to change things?
If every opinionated loudmouth who expressed outrage on social media actually took the time to register and vote; if every bigmouth at the local coffee shop who was quick to criticize everyone else for today’s problems actually spent a few minutes standing in line waiting to vote, then maybe, just maybe, things would be different.
I remember a “Mayor’s Walk” I had in the South High Community School area. It was daytime and several dozen residents had joined me and then-City Manager Tom Hoover as we walked through the woods and railroad tracks looking at a range of problems.
One of the mothers was giving Hoover an earful. According to her, the problem was all of the negligent parents who did not take responsibility for their own children. Those children were skipping school and causing problems. And that was why, she added, well-behaved young people like her daughter were struggling.
According to her, teachers and administrators were spending too much time on problem teenagers when their own parents could not be bothered.
As she continued to rant, I got about 100 yards ahead of Hoover with a group of parents. I met a half-dozen high school students who had skipped school that day and, according to them, did the same thing most days. When Hoover and the enraged mother caught up to us, you should have seen the look on her face when she saw that one of the regular truants was her daughter.
I will admit that all of the endless complaining about conditions in our country and our community gets to me from time to time. I get riled up because I see that, with some hard work and personal sacrifice, we can fix the problems that we face – if only we take the time to involve ourselves in the solutions.
It is vitally important to remember that the highest rank in our political system is the rank of “citizen.” Part of being a good citizen is being engaged in the community. Voting is our first responsibility. But it goes well beyond that.
If you do not like something, stop whining and do something about it.
If your neighborhood is filled with litter, organize a cleanup. If there is crime in your neighborhood, go to a local crime watch meeting. If there is not a meeting in your area, start one.
If you do not like the way Worcester is being run, the way the streets are plowed or anything else, get up and vote. And, then, take the time to call someone on City Council and complain – and keep complaining until they do something about it.
And if you hate the way the presidential election turned out, if you can not stand the idea of Donald J. Trump being president of the United States, and you are not registered or did not vote, keep it to yourself. You have no right to complain.
The recent protest marches the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump were a breathtaking act of civic engagement. But one day, no matter how impressive, does not fulfill our responsibility for citizenship.
Every one of us can and should do more. This is our country, and “we the people” are responsible for dealing with the challenges that we face.
Raymond V. Mariano is a Worcester Sun columnist. He comments on his hometown every Sunday in Worcester Sun.