Stormy Democracy in Action
As we brace for Hurricane Sandy, remember that every person can make a difference. If Frankenstorm lives up to its nickname during this Halloween week, we’ll need lots of informed, caring citizens to look out for each other.
In a few mere hours, the storm is set to strike Massachusetts. Most of us are prepared, but we know that some damage and power outages will be unavoidable because of the strong winds and rain. However, we’re in better shape than we would be if we didn’t have any warning of what was ahead. The hurricane hasn’t hit yet, but you won’t believe what I woke up to in the middle of the night last week:
As you can see in the video, a short burst of rain caused my street to flood. The water got into the cars, and set off the horn in one and the lights in another. I called the police and waited on the porch, watching. My neighborhood woke up. The guys across the street put on their bathing suits and went swimming (which was funny but disgusting, since the water did not look very clean). Lots of people peeked out, took a few photos, and went inside to find their earplugs. The police arrived and a work crew set out to try to unplug the drains.
I’m not sure what they did, but by 9 AM the next morning, the water was 100% gone. Sadly, most of the cars that were parked on the street were totaled. Apparently when water gets into a car computer, it costs thousands of dollars to fix. My car was parked in my driveway, but the inside of the car was still filled with water. It’s been in the repair shop for a week already and I’m waiting to find out whether or not the insurance company will agree to replace the carpet. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a new interior and only need to pay the $500 deductible.
It’s pretty clear that this happened because of an issue with the city sewers and drainage, and so I decided to take action. The next day, I sent an email to my city officials telling them about what happened. I wrote, “I believe that there is a serious problem with drainage on my street which needs to be addressed immediately.” That afternoon, my local alderman (the local legislative branch representative) actually came to my house to talk to me about the problem. On Monday, he sent the city engineer out to my street. On Wednesday, there were crews pumping out the sewers.
On Friday, I got an email from another city official, who copied me on an email to the city engineer, asking if this situation was being addressed. When I got home from work, the street was lined with cones letting people know that sewer work would be happening on Saturday. I don’t know if the city succeeded in solving the problem, but their test will come tomorrow. If they did fix the problem, Hurricane Sandy won’t turn our street into a river again. I’m probably not the only person who spoke up, but it feels good knowing that I played a role in fixing this problem. Now that’s Democracy in action!
There’s always more problems to solve. In my classroom, students have been studying the U.S. government, and they recently learned about how citizens can influence their local government. For their Democracy in Action Rubric, students wrote about issues they wanted to see addressed by the government, and they brainstormed how a citizen might influence change. Here are some of their ideas:
“As citizens of the United States it is our job to make our nation a better place and to be more peaceful. I would write a letter to the senator telling him that people in prison need to be treated fairly.”
“A normal citizen could record a video about how the Executive branch of the Federal level could control the F.D.A. to set higher standards for the number of side effects a drug can have or how dangerous those side effects can be.”
“I would send a letter to my representative asking for a law to lower the allowable rate of plastic production. I would also text the President to tell him to approve the law. Friends and countrymen join me. Write to your representatives. The United States Congress has the power to create bills. We can stop companies from producing plastic in excess. Companies may not like this because they make money on useless plastic. I say, give up the happy meal toys. We should all recycle and use less plastic to save our planet!”
“Organize a doctor’s strike until all people are provided with health insurance. By then, people would be dying and the government would have no choice but to provide health insurance. If they’re stubborn enough to not provide the health insurance, they will be sued by lots of people and then have to buy in.”
“If the roads are safer people will not be as likely to crash and be killed or severely injured in those car crashes. You should all send letters to our mayor saying which roads are dangerous.”
As you can see, at 10 and 11 years old, these students already understand how a single citizen can make a difference. As we prepare for this upcoming storm, I encourage you to be on the look out. What is the government doing to protect us, and what can you do to show good citizenship? Even though our system isn’t perfect, every little bit counts.