Good citizenship is really calling for action

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We all know the feeling. Something isn’t right. We don’t like what we’re hearing. We’re getting angry. We’re about to utter those familiar words of resentment: “There outta be a law!”

Then it hits us: Our government has the power to address our concerns. Why, government is likely the cause for our concerns. We need to take action. But we don’t.

Familiar? I have always been surprised at how often we know we should take action on a legislative or regulatory issue and fail to do so. Finally, I may understand why — thanks to a book by former two-term Florida Governor Bob Graham titled, “America, the Owner’s Manual: Making Government Work for You” (CQ Press, 2009).

Graham asks a simple question: Why don’t more people participate in grassroots political action? His answer is just as simple: We’ve actually been taught to watch the game of democracy.

However, democracy was never intended to be a spectator sport. Citizenship means engaging with government at all levels, according to Graham. But since we were hardly taught any civics in school, we don’t feel comfortable getting involved.

Graham, who also served 18 years in the U.S. Senate, wrote the book with co-author Chris Hand primarily as a text for advanced high school and undergraduate college students. They also hoped the book would help people catch up on developing their skills as active citizens. But, students notwithstanding, the book is reportedly being used by a wide range of organizations — for example, the Service Employees International Union and the American Society of Landscape Architects. Both want their members to be more active and effective in engaging government.

The book uses a variety of case studies. It doesn’t center on actions of government officials or agencies, as most civics books do. Rather, it focuses sharply on plans, tips and citizen actions that impact government policies.

Why am I blogging about this? First, it would be a good book to have your managers and employees read for a true understanding of how they can effectively impact regulatory policies at all levels of government, from the local schoolhouse to the White House.

Second, we in the marine industry have got to get better at influencing government policy. Our national and state associations do a good job of representing the industry before government. But our real power rests in the grassroots. When the call for action goes out from our legislative teams at the NMMA and MRAA, we must know how to respond. As Graham claims in his book, we can fight “city hall!”

And make no mistake — there are big issues staring at us right now. For example, the greatest threat to fishing in history; the determined campaign to expand ethanol above E10; reauthorization of the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund that channels millions of dollars back to boating; protecting our working waterfronts; among many other issues from taxes to emissions. And that doesn’t even begin to touch on important issues in virtually every state government that will impact our businesses. It’s time we all developed better citizenship skills.

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