That’s how Miami U prof Kimberly Hamlin introduced her segment of Politics 101 at last week’s Huddle at New Riff Distillery in Newport.

Yes it is exhausting. This is week 6 of 200+ weeks until January 2020. Time for a breather.

The same day as Politics 101, a friend asked if I’d thought about a mission statement. Despite my love/hate relationship with mission statements, I have, and it’s personal: Make being a citizen a habit. A habit like brushing your teeth or paying attention to the dog so she doesn’t pee on the floor. Stuff you just do.

My thinking about how to be a citizen began in 2009, right after I’d spent 3 months as a full time Obama Neighborhood Leader. Once he was in the White House I started paying close attention to how things in Washington worked, or didn’t. From what I saw, members of Congress (MoCs) generally didn’t act like people who were used to being held accountable. As I began to figure out who had power and how they used it, I started to think, “Some of this is our fault.”

It came together this fall when I saw this 2010 interview with former SCOTUS Justice David Souter. Scroll to the clip that says ‘pervasive civic ignorance’ and go to minute 4:00.

“Some aspects of American government that people on both sides find frustrating are in part a function an inability for people to understand how government can and should function. … I worry … that when problems are not addressed, people will not know who is responsible. And when the problems get bad enough … some one person will come forward and say, “Give me total power, and I will solve this problem.” That is how the Roman republic fell…. Augustus became emperor … because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved…”

Thomas Jefferson said something similar: 

”If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.”

That’s what I’m thinking about this week as I take a breather in the magnificent Rocky Mountains.

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