May 12, 2020

Do We Still Teach Citizenship?

Yesterday, I reported to the Federal Courthouse for jury duty. As we all collected in the jury receiving area, I was surprised that most of the talk among the prospective jurors was about how they were frustrated with the fact that the court denied their appeals to be excused from duty. Then, when the jury clerk made her opening remarks and thanked us for being there since more than half of the pool had garnered excuses, I was shocked.

As the day wore on and we went through the jury selection process, another half of the people answered the judge’s and lawyers’ questions in ways that were obviously intended to get them dismissed. In the end, we who were selected to sit on the jury were essentially the only people who were willing to accept the responsibility.

All of this was shocking and disappointing to me. I had always known that most people are not interested in the workings of the government, myself included–voter turnouts prove that–but I assumed that, when called upon to be a part of our democracy, most people would willingly–maybe even enthusiastically–step forward. I am clearly naive.

As I drove the 78 miles back home last night, I was struck by a thought. If these people, these adults with whom I had been dealing all day, were so willing to shirk their responsibilities to their government, what were they teaching their children? My guess is that the message is negative–not just apathetic, but negative, as if to say “Only suckers actually do their jury service.” “Only suckers vote.” “You are not an important part of our democracy.”

In the Middle East people are sacrificing their lives, as did the people who formed our democracy, for nothing more than the hope that they will some day receive a jury summons. But we Americans, by and large, can’t be bothered to sacrifice a week of our lives in order to support the concept of a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

And yet we complain. We complain about stupid juries who award millions to the wrong people or politicians who have only the interests of lobbyists in mind. If we don’t participate, and more importantly if we teach our children not to participate, what else can we expect? How can a jury that is pulled from only about 18% of the population (based on my experience with this jury) possibly be the best and brightest of our citizenry? How can we expect them to reach the best decision possible if they do not comprise the best thinkers available? How can we expect politicians to pay attention to anyone other than lobbyists when there is no one else presenting them with compelling arguments?

You might also like reading Edition One – Fall 2013

The only way to turn this tide is to teach our children that it is important for them to take control of our government, to teach them that they have the ability to determine what happens, and to insist that the teachers and scout leaders and clergy to whom we entrust them do the same. It will take our kids’ entire childhoods, a constant reinforcement that they are the power players in our system,  to make a difference because all of us who are adults now are cut from the same cloth, lacking a strong conviction that the people are the government and that we need not tolerate any shenanigans on the part of our representatives.

You might also find the following blog post interesting - Edition 3 – Summer 2016

I return to the courtroom today to hear more of the case against a young man who it seems is incapable of making a good decision. Even though I am running two companies and in the midst of creating a third, and even though I find my mind wandering back to matters that are more important to me personally than the forensic details of the case, I will gladly sit, and refocus, and return the best judgment that I can. Because I am an American, and because I want to do my part to make America the place that it was envisioned to be. I hope all of you will do the same, both when you are called upon to serve and today, with your own children.

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