When I began this blog one of the first posts I wrote dealt with the dangers of citizen apathy. I began that post with the following poem:
First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.
Variation on a poem attributed to Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)
Niemöller was a Protestant minister who, although an early supporter of National Socialism and Adolph Hitler, eventually became a strident opponent of Nazi policies. For his beliefs, he was imprisoned first in Sachsenhausen and then in Dachau concentration camps. In 1945 he was liberated by the American 5th Army. His poem is a lament on the inactivity of the German intellectuals, including himself, who did nothing to oppose the initial rise of the Nazi Party. It is a stark rebuke regarding the dangers of apathy.
This week will see the convening of the 111th US Congress and the 116th Indiana General Assembly. January 20th will mark the inauguration of President-Elect Obama.
Now is not the time for Indiana's citizens to assume that their civic duty ended at the ballot box. We elected these men and women. We must now hold them accountable to their words. We cannot assume that they will automatically fulfill the promises made on the campaign trail. We must hold them to every single pledge and position taken in the pursuit of their elected office. After all, this is the reason they were elected and the voters deserve to receive that which they paid for with their votes.
There are those that will argue that campaign rhetoric should not be taken seriously, that what is said in the heat of battle should have no bearing on policy, that this is the way the political game has always been played.
If politicians have no intention of following through on the promises and pledges they made to the voters of this state and this nation, then they are truely without honor. This includes every single position taken. If a legislative candidate put forth a plan which would increase the state income tax, even if only for a select group of Hoosier taxpayers, then it is that legislator's duty to follow through by introducing that legislation. If a legislator campaigned on a platform which included voting to keep the Property Tax caps from becoming part of the Constitution, then we should expect that when the vote comes up they will be true to their word.
These are extreme examples, meant to provoke thought, but the basic premise is sound.
As I stated earlier, we must hold our elected officials accountable. Our civic duty does not stop at the ballot box or the jury box. We must be vigilant. We must not be apathetic, and unlike Niemöller, we must speak up. Who will do so if we do not?