Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Our Best Hope - 12,500 Fresh Eyes Each Day

Each day 12,500 young people in this country are reaching the age when they are old enough to vote in elections.  According to the Rock The Vote Scorecard issued this month, this is the “largest and most diverse generation in our country” but also “the most urban, mobile, interconnected and technologically savvy generation in history.”Capture

By the time I turned old enough to vote, my optimism about civic involvement had already been crushed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy while I was a 15-year-old and sitting in biology class.

I learned he had died in the hallway on my way to literature class where our continued study that day of the then-three-year-old classic To Kill A Mocking Bird, took on even greater significance.

Five years later, while living in Los Angeles, the exercise of my civic duty was still deferred by mourning when first Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis and then not long afterwards and only a few blocks from where I was living, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated after winning a Democratic Presidential primary.

My civic passion wouldn’t ignite until four years later when I supported Senator George McGovern’s campaign against President Richard Nixon and my politics had swung from the Goldwater Republicanism of my parents and grandparents to the other end of the ideological spectrum before finally setting in the center as an Independent, albeit a progressive-leaning one, where it remains today.

Sensitive to hypocrisy as most young people are, I hope this incoming generation of voters doesn’t feel equally betrayed and disenchanted to learn what just happened in the North Carolina Senate.

Lobbyists and profligate campaign contributions by the special interest-Outdoor Billboard Industry trumped democracy in a step backwards for preservation of North Carolina’s unique-sense-of-place by overriding the overwhelming, bipartisan public opinion which was opposed to the legislation.

Fortunately, thanks to the insistence of the House and intervention by Speaker Thom Tillis and outspoken Senators such as Richard Stevens, the sanctity of local ordinances such as Durham’s ban on billboards was preserved along local standards for tree cutting.  It is the rest of the state that is most at risk.

It hope these new young voters don’t waste time demonizing the intent of these special interests or the elected officials who fronted for them.  I suspect they are decent people who love their families but who are focused on narrow interests to the exclusion of the public interest.

I hope they also aren’t dissuaded from voting because the legislation on behalf of Outdoor Billboards isn’t the only or even the worst instance of blatant self-interest in this state’s history or even in the history of this nation under the guise of representative democracy.

I hope all new voters wade into the process without concern for party affiliation and vote for the people they think will best represent, not just their opinion, but the majority’s opinion and yet will have the courage to stand up against special interests and other things that are blatantly wrong.

Ultimately, with the aid of this new generation of voters, the State of North Carolina will ban billboards altogether just as other states such as Alaska, Vermont, Hawaii and Maine, where residents grasp the fact that greater scenic values outweigh the alternatives, have done.

The only question is whether it will be too late to save one of this state’s most enduring economic and quality-of-life assets, its scenic beauty.  Ironically, the aggressive over-reaching consequences of this new legislation may in the end bring that day closer.

I hope this new generation of voters finally turns the tide, like no other has been able to do, against the threat that lobbyists, special interests and beholden elected officials have to democracy.

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