Opinion: Political engagement is a luxury not available to all

Thomas Jefferson pointed out that sufficient leisure and education are necessary in order for us to have an informed and engaged electorate. I thought about this a lot a couple of weeks ago as I attended City Club to listen to Rep. Mike Simpson.

We talk about being engaged politically and how important that is. I talk about it all the time.

But who has the ability to just show up in the middle of the workday in the middle of the workweek and listen to a U.S. Congress member talk about an important issue? I’m lucky enough to have the flexibility to come on a workday.

But what about those who have to work certain hours and have restrictive jobs? They have to pay to put food on the table. They can’t afford to take time off for an event like this.

City Club makes an amazing effort, rebroadcasting for free and charging a small fee to sit in the gallery. But not every organization is City Club. Get involved on a nonprofit board? You might be required to donate at a certain level. Even when it comes to local politics, you need to have some means to travel to meetings and be involved in various committees.

Often, decision-makers in parties and on boards are people who have the means to be there. The people most affected? Well, they don’t always have access.

There’s a lot going on here. But the main thing is that I’m fortunate to have time and means and flexibility to be informed and engaged.

It’s much harder when you’re stuck working multiple jobs for poverty wages and still try to get the kids to soccer practice and get their homework done. And it’s been harder since COVID.

So maybe instead of yelling about how people don’t participate, we should consider figuring out how to make participation easier. If an informed and engaged citizenry is actually the goal, we should be examining our systems of participation and finding ways to include the people who are affected by these policies and who suffer most from decision-makers who have no concept of what it’s like to work so hard and still barely survive.

My real concern right now is that our current policymakers and decision-makers aren’t interested in an informed and engaged citizenry. When you hold “public comment” in a hard to get to place, during work hours, like the so-called task force on education is doing, you’re essentially making it clear you’re not interested in participation. In fact, between the all-out attack currently being perpetrated on our education system and our mounting issues with affordable housing, it almost seems as if certain elements of our state “leadership” are actively trying to quash citizen involvement.

Unless we insist on change now, and unless we re-commit ourselves to the idea that voting, reliable information and access to policymakers are good things, we could be in serious trouble.

Miranda Marquit, MBA, is a nationally recognized financial expert, writer and speaker. She is the state committeewoman for the Bonneville Democratic Central Committee.