By Ben Kleppinger
10:12 AM EDT, September 19, 2012
As the 2012 general election approaches, more and more attention is being given to one of the archetypal tools of democracy — the vote.
But as more and more people spend more and more time obsessing over who's going to vote for whom, it highlights just how little as a nation we ever pay attention to the other tools of democracy that have been granted to us by our constitution and laws.
As citizens of the United States, we each have access to one of the most impressive toolboxes in the world for effecting change. But very few of us know about — let alone use — most of those tools.
As a result, the quality of our government suffers, like a house would suffer if someone attempted to build it with only a hammer and no other tools.
Not that the vote isn't an awe-inspiringly powerful tool. The vote is most definitely the 32-ounce framing hammer in our democracy toolbox.
But we have other tools in there, too. Tools like the bullhorn of the First Amendment.
The First Amendment grants each person the right to free speech, free religion and free press, but it also grants two other freedoms that only a tiny percentage of the U.S. population can recall from memory — the right to petition and the right to assembly.
Each of us has the right to speak our mind, but we also have an equally strong right to petition our government in groups to enact change and a right to assemble and show our governmental leaders we mean business.
These are rights, not privileges, and they mean that anyone in government who thinks they can get away with suppressing the voices of a group organized against something is just dead wrong.
We've got a measuring tape in our democracy toolbox as well.
Governments at all levels in Kentucky — and in other states — are subject to laws requiring transparency.
With precious few exceptions, governmental bodies that use public funds or have the power to dictate what we can and cannot do also are banned from meeting or deciding anything in private.
If a governmental body wants to make a new law, it must let the public know what it is doing, and the public must have a chance to review the law and object.
If a governmental body ignores or tries to circumvent the public's right to observe what it's doing, its actions can be invalidated.
We are all guaranteed the right to watch our government in action, whether or not the government wants to be seen.
We don't have to wait for an election to use any of these tools of democracy — they're available for us all the time.
Unfortunately, because so few people take advantage of the tools available, far too many people in government get the idea that they are bosses over the public.
All too often, politicians say whatever they need to say to get votes and then do whatever they want to do afterward, showing no respect for the voters and citizens they're supposed to be serving.
All too often, governmental bodies come to view themselves as enforcers or dictators, even though it is the people who own the country and the people who should be controling the government.
And because we don't use any of our tools besides the vote, they all get away with it, time after time after time.
We all need to open up our toolboxes and start using what we've got. We need to whip out our measuring tapes, power-on our bullhorns and get to work building a house worth living in.