By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The other day, I was collecting signatures for a political club I’m a member of to put candidates on the ballot. I was given the task of trying to accost passersby and lead them to our table, where the petitions were stacked.
Over and over again, I asked people, “Are you a registered Democrat? Do you live in New York City?” Several people were interested, but the great majority, about 19 out of 20, weren’t interested. Some were tourists, some didn’t speak English, some were Republicans, some were Democrats who didn’t live in New York. But the great majority just ignored me and kept walking. The most disconcerting thing is that, by and large, the younger the passersby were, the less interested they were.
Let’s look at how short-sighted many of these people were. What would have happened if there were no student loans? Some of them would never have gone to college. Well, most student loans are sponsored by the federal government, and would never have come be if not for the political process.
What if they decide to go into a restaurant? In most cases, they don’t have to worry about suddenly getting sick, or eating contaminated food. Why is this? Because of pure food and drug regulations, again, an outgrowth of the political process. It took more than 20 years of struggle to pass the Food and Drug Act of 1906, which was a centerpiece of President Theodore Roosevelt’s administration.
If these people keep walking, sooner or later they’ll have to cross the street. They have the political process to thank if they’re not menaced by a railroad train. That’s right, a railroad train. Once upon a time, in both Brooklyn and Manhattan, railroads ran at street level. It took a lot of agitation in both state and city legislatures to mandate that they run either above or below ground level.
I realize that politics isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, in the same way that physics, chemistry and math aren’t my cup of tea. I also realize that not everyone is a member of a political party, not everyone votes in primaries, and many people don’t vote in elections. For an increasing number of Americans, the only times they pay attention to politics are during presidential elections and when something affects them directly, such as the building of a tall building across the street from one’s home.
Still, the fact that in one of the most informed, most educated cities in the world, only one out of 20 people or so were willing to even talk about the petition is a bad sign. After all, we weren’t from a fringe religious group, selling a new variety of flavored coffee or promoting one of those “day spas” one of my fellow Eagle staffers writes about. We were from a major political party, and our petitions clearly identified us as such. Even if more people stopped to debate – which happened twice, once with a pro-life Republican and a second time with a radical socialist who called the Democratic Party a sham—that would have been more welcome than people totally ignoring us.
Perhaps someday, when martial law is declared and civil liberties are a thing of the past, these same people will finally develop an interest in the political process. But then, it will be too late.