Last year I attended my local caucus meeting and as the state senate candidate was speaking I asked who was running for the house seat. My neighbor looked at me and said "you".
Initially I told him that wasn't going to work, but two days later I found myself at the county building filing my papers. I spent the next few months trying to flesh out my platform and raise money. Starting in July I began knocking on doors three days a week. I knocked on about three thousand doors. Most people didn't open their doors and out of those who did only a few had questions for me. A couple asked me my party affiliation and sent me on my way, refusing to even take my brochure. I also had a website, about three dozen people looked it at during the course of the election. Many of those who did view my website were friends and family that do not live in my district. Only about a third of eligible voters voted in the election.
I live in suburb of Salt Lake that is mostly LDS, I was surprised to see so little civic involvement by members of the church.
Each major election year the first presidency issues a statement including the following:
we encourage our members to participate as an exercise of their civic responsibility and privileges
I believe many members avoid participation because they see politics as corrupt and worldly but Quentin L. Cook counselled:
We cannot avoid the world. A cloistered existence is not the answer. In a positive sense, our contribution to the world is part of our challenge and is essential if we are to develop our talents.
One of my favorite gospel quotes comes from David O. McKay:
Let me assure you, Brethren, that some day you will have a personal Priesthood interview with the Savior, Himself. If you are interested, I will tell you the order in which He will ask you to account for your earthly responsibilities.
First, He will request an accountability report about your relationship with your wife. Have you actively been engaged in making her happy and ensuring that her needs have been met as an individual?
Second, He will want an accountability about each of your children individually. He will not attempt to have this for simply a family stewardship, but will request information about your relationship with each and every child.
Third, he will want to know what you have personally done with the talents you were given in the pre-existence.
Fourth, He will want a summary of your activity in your church assignments. He will not be necessarily interested in what assignments you have had, for in His eyes the home teacher and a mission president are probably equals, but He will request a summary of how you have been of service to your fellowmen in your church assignments.
Fifth, He will have no interest in how you earned your living, but if you were honest in all your dealings.
Sixth, He will ask for an accountability on what you have done to contribute in a positive manner to your community, state, country and the world.
One of the reasons I like this quote is because it lays out our responsibilities in order. A saying we have in the church is "family first". You will notice President McKay breaks it down to first your spouse, then your children. I of course want to focus on the sixth item. Many will say that the first five take up all of their time, and they have no time for the sixth, I encourage you to evaluate if that's really true, and invite you to try to find time for the sixth item as well. One obvious solution is that our families should be included in these activities. It can be a powerful bonding experience and a chance to set an example and teach values.
In order to participate effectively we must be aware what is happening. There are many ways to do this. Local news sources, such as newspapers, radio shows, and local broadcasts, are great ways to find out what are the major topics of interests. Following politically oriented blogs(like this one) is an other good way to find out what people are talking about. You can also follow blogs/social media of public officials, where they will often announce initiatives they are working on. Reading the newspaper can be a good tool to start discussions with your children about the events of our times. Bias is a valid concern when using these resources, so I want to recommend two of my favorite resources, le.utah.gov and thomas.loc.gov. Where you can directly look up the text of the bill itself and how your representative really voted. Recently I looked up the prison relocation bill to see who voted for it, and some people who claim to be staunchly opposed voted yea. One method for identifying good blogs is that they will link you directly to the source material.
I know this may seems overwhelming. You can't keep track of everything. I recommend you start with a a topic or two that you are familiar with and feel passionate about.
When people talk about civic duty they are often referring to voting in the general election, which is important, but is not the only or most effective way to be engaged. I encourage all of you to attend your neighborhood caucus meetings in the spring. Politicians tend to take caucus attendees more seriously(especially if you become a delegate), because they are viewed as more influential. You can also contribute by helping make those around you more aware of what is happening, through social media, blogs and letters to the editor. I believe we can raise awareness with out causing contentions as Dallin H. Oak stated:
On the subject of public discourse, we should all follow the gospel teachings to love our neighbor and avoid contention. Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious. We should be wise in explaining and pursuing our positions and in exercising our influence.
We are counseled to exercise our influence but to do so in non contentious way.
I know many of you are reading this because you are already seeking all you can do to influence public policy in a positive way. If that's the case I encourage you to share this with your loved ones, friends, and random strangers. Do so on social media, in person, and you can even share it in church.