Thursday, September 14, 2006

Civic Duty

My daughter Sara hosting a German cousin and visiting Belgians
In high school, I applied to participate in the American Field Service (AFS) student exchange program. The application process included interviews with several teachers and school administrators about everything from how I got along with my siblings and my family life to my general awareness of civics and local government. Since I would essentially be representing my family, my school, my city, and even my country, "they" wanted to make sure that I was up to the task. One of the questions was "How would you answer if someone asked you if you would speak out against the policies of an elected government official if you didn't agree with those policies?" I was pretty apolitical at that time and enthusiastically replied "I would support an elected government official. If we elect someone to office, then we should support that person." That evening as I was sharing the interview process with my parents, my father chastised me, saying that it was my civic duty to speak out against an elected official if I did not agree with that person's policies. This conversation took place in 1968. My father is no longer living. But if ever there was a time to act on his advice to me, that time is now.

I went on to live for two months with a family that summer in Hasselt, Belgium. I studied Flemish (Vlaams) before I left (it turns out that my high school German teacher was Dutch and Flemish is very close to Dutch). While my vocabulary was pretty limited, my Belgian family bragged to all their friends that I could speak Vlaams fluently (ha! they were kind at best). I formed a life-long friendship with my Belgian sister Zus and then later with her own family. All three of her daughters have, at various times over the years, traveled to California to stay with us. Our family has stayed in Belgium several times as well. But that's not the real story here. The real story is the admonishment my father left me. I still remember it. True, it has remained dormant for many years. But I am moved to revisit his take on government by the people, for the people, and follow through with my civic duty. So, I ask you:

  • Are you pleased with the policies of your country?
  • Are you proud of America?
  • What do you think about alleged prisoner tortures in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib as well as secret prisons in unnamed countries?
  • Why do you think that we're in Iraq? When do you think we're leaving Iraq?
  • Why does your government emphasize fear?
  • Why haven't we signed the Kyoto (Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions) Initiative?
Side note: I am proud to be a Californian: "On August 31 2006, the California Legislature reached an agreement with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to reduce the state's greenhouse-gas emissions, which rank at 12th-largest in the world, by 25 percent by the year 2020. This agreement effectively puts California in line with the Kyoto initiative." ( "Kyoto Protocol".)
  • Why don't we have affordable health care for more people?
  • Why is our trade deficit and our national debt so high?

I wish I had more answers. Please vote Responsibly.

Next Entry: Eating Right: Why We Should Care


Ange said...

That is the best part of being an AFSer. You not only feel love for another country but greater love and respect from your own country. The world becomes much smaller.
AFS Venezuela 1992-1993

Gail said...

Thanks for posting your comment. I cherish my AFS experience and always enjoy hearing from other AFS participants. Participating in AFS was definitely one of the most formative growing up experiences of my life.