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Love It or Lose It

Commentary by Faye Nicholson, Executive Director, REM
93 Main Street, Waterville, Maine 04901
Phone: (207) 873-4444
E-mail: rem@rem1.org
(July 6, 2000)

It is reasonable to assume that my involvement in building consensual democracy through my work in REM, working day after day, for almost five years, makes me more aware of the gift of democracy. Many of us in REM have found ourselves reading the Declaration of Independence, studying the Constitution, reading Jefferson's original writings and attending conferences like the recent Maine Town Meeting held in Skowhegan to commemorate Margaret Chase Smith's "declaration of conscience" speech.

The more I study, the more I value our democracy. REM, consensual democracy, the civic sector where citizens become involved in everyday local community building, such as the creation of this wonderful communication tool, Local Voices, is just being born in Maine. Many feel that this is the next step in the growth of our democracy--an "of the people, by the people" involvement on a daily basis across our Mid-Maine community. Imagine that it will be the sister/brother to the governmental sector of our democracy working collaboratively to optimize resources expended on our local, regional community. Imagine the power of our State of Maine tied together with a network of local REM/government partnerships. Imagine America so joined.

REM, Reawakening the Energy in ME, is about citizens coming to a realization that government cannot do it all, and probably shouldn't. Each of us as citizens in a free land must take some part in the building of our local community. It is the only way that we can create a quality of life that reflects our vision and not Washington's or Augusta's.

Building new is only a step forward when you protect what you already have. Renovating a new room on your house is not a step forward if you do so instead of fixing the leak in the roof, replacing the rotted floor joists and paying the insurance. You have to love your house or lose it all. And love is a verb. It requires action. Our homes are high maintenance so we're used to paying attention to them. It's hard to take them for granted. Our democracy is not. If we don't love it, we could lose it too. And because it is not high maintenance for the average citizen, perhaps it is more at risk.

There are signs. For instance, consider the recent vote in Waterville. In REM's membership there are 901 Waterville residents who could have voted, should have voted, on the charter issue. So many people expressed to me strong opinions on this issue that apathy does not explain the lack of voters at the polls. Whatever the reason, probably different for each person, the effect is that democracy suffered. The people failed to speak.

One day standing at Arlington Cemetery it struck me that there has been an unbelievable amount of blood spilled to preserve this democracy. What would it fill? The Empire State Building? China Lake? The Grand Canyon? People, many people, literally gave their lives so that we could have the right to vote, so we could be free. Voting happens very seldom. The process is extremely low maintenance. Perhaps dangerously low. Perhaps REM, Reawakening the Energy in ME, is more important than we realize. Perhaps getting involved, getting your whole family involved, is a step in reawakening our sense of responsibility and a step toward preserving what has been given us.

Some crises are evident . . . a hurricane, a flood, closing of a mill. Some are quiet, invisible until it's too late. Democracy is the base for all that you enjoy, all that keeps you safe. The only way to protect it is to practice it. Love it or lose it. And remember, love is a verb. Run for office. Pay close attention to who you vote for, talk to them, know what they stand for. Vote. Let your representatives know how you feel about issues. Work in REM. Get involved. This is the way to patch that roof, shore up those timbers, pay that insurance. Give just a piece of your life in memory of those who gave it all. And remember what Ghandi said, it is the path, not the goal, where life is lived. It is our walk together that gives life meaning and preserves our basic values such as those stated in our Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution, the foundation of our democracy.