Of the millions of words written about celebrating the Bicentennial, very little space has been devoted to the valiant Americans who have been actively exercising their citizen rights and duties for better communities. They are not national celebrities. They are only our domestic patriots using their constitutional rights to make democracy work. There is 73-year-old Ada Vladimir of West Palm Beach, Fla., leading a growing group called “Consumers Against Higher Prices” in a variety of causes on behalf of voiceless residents.
Near Pittsburgh, Michelle Madoff mobilizes the community against the disease-producing pollution of U.S. Steel’s plants.
In Los Angeles Ed and Joyce Koupai launched the. People’s Lobby a decade ago which is revitalizing the instruments of direct democracy — the initiative, referendum and recall — in numerous western states.
Out of Princeton, N. J., Kenneth Wooden, author of the new book, “Weeping in the Playtime of Others,” has started a nationwide drive to end the incarceration of innocent children in cruel human warehouses.
From Philadelphia, the untiring Maggie Kuhn spearheads, at age 71, the retired citizens’ movement throughout the country that she has dubbed the “Grey Panthers.”
This list of domestic patriots could go on and on to make the further point that the cities with homegrown leadership, could be the noblest and most inspiring, though most uncovered, story of this Bicentennial year.
Reporters who have been covering the fashion show of partisan politics may want to take a break and cover the citizen politics now spreading in one state after another. They will find community and neighborhood groups defining their grievances and reforms in impressively concrete and informed ways. They also will see these groups are shaping impressive innovations in organization and strategy to strive for justice.
A harbinger of what is emerging in this community action area is the Illinois Public Action Council, 39 E. Van Buren, Chicago, Ill. 60605.
This group is carefully developing a federation of local citizen groups for statewide action on local problems. This is being done after extensive intergroup meetings, training sessions, fund-raising development and building staff skills. The agenda for this month’s statewide conference in Springfield, the Illinois capital, is grounded in solid research.
This Investigative effort has documented major problems shared by many communities and the institutions primarily accountable for the injustice, waste or corruption. The council will focus on the inequitably high tax burden on the average citizen while large property owners receive a windfall.
Unethical real estate dealers, developers and mortgage bankers, neighborhood deterioration, soaring utility rates and problems of senior citizens rank high on the list of concerns.
Funding of these groups to maintain a full-time staff is coming from the communities themselves in order to lay the basis for keeping the civic action close to the people it is to reflect and serve.
After Several decades of wholesale delegation of peoples’ hopes and rights to frequently remote and insensitive governmental departments, these accelerating signs of direct democracy are refreshing.
On July 4, this country will spend $240 million on fireworks in celebration of its 200th birthday. Whatever such pyrotechnics may do for the spirit that day, they will do little for the nation’s soul and less for its future.
It will take daily celebrations of citizenship to ennoble the soul and secure the future. It was Thomas Jefferson who typically put it so well: “Patriotism is not a short and frenzied burst of emotion but the long and steady dedication of a lifetime.”