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Senior Scene

By Paul V. Palange

We have a responsibility to show people younger than us the importance of a free press when it comes to learning about the workings of government, and that being informed will naturally prompt them to get involved.

I thought my first column for 2019 was going to be about resolutions for senior citizens. I figured I would poke a little fun at those lists that suggest we should resolve to take actions such as eating better and exercising our bodies and brains on a daily basis. Then I changed my mind. I’m unsure why, but I decided to go the serious route. I decided to write about two resolutions that I hope some of my peers will agree to make.

The resolutions are to be more civically engaged and to stay informed by subscribing to at least one reliable news source that is printed and/or distributed online. We – us older adults – have to realize that we need to start a movement to dramatically increase participation in democracy to ensure elected and appointed officials are effectively serving the public. We need to set an example that will hopefully motivate our peers, our children and our grandchildren that it’s essential and critical to be active in the democratic process by attending meetings and hearings on the local and state levels. We have to make our voices heard so officials act in the interest of the majority of the people, not in their interests or for special interests.

If we cannot be present at certain government sessions, then we have to contact our representatives with emails, telephone calls and letters. Do you ever wonder why one or two people wield so much power in legislative chambers and then use that influence to derail initiatives that would drive the economy and improve our quality of life? Then do you wonder how such people continually win re-election? It’s because we allow it. We don’t apply the pressure needed to influence how our officeholders vote on bills, and not enough disgruntled voters go the polls to oust complacent incumbents.

I know a tad more than 48 percent of eligible Rhode Island voters cast ballots in the midterm election in November, and that some people consider that a respectable turnout since it’s the second highest for the past five midterms. However, it’s not a majority of eligible voters, and it’s an indication many people are staying away from the polls for a variety of reasons. It might be apathy, it might be they feel their vote will not make a difference or it might be they thought that there were no candidates worthy of their support. We have to convince our contemporaries such reasoning is ill-advised, and that they must exercise their precious right to vote after selecting whom they feel is the best candidate.

The second resolution is critically tied to the first because if we fail to stay informed, we will fail to make educated decisions. I think one of the best ways to do that is by reading at least one newspaper on a daily basis. I realize there are people who will disagree, but in general, you can get balanced reporting on issues from a mainstream news organization.

I worry that a lack of demand for such information will ultimately lead to the death of the free press, which our founding fathers created to be the fourth leg of government. They knew human nature, and human nature, folks, has not changed. The other three legs of government need monitoring. There has to be a watchdog, and there’s no better watchdog than a free press. Our democracy needs journalists who will work tirelessly to hold public servants accountable and expose corruption and the abuse of power.

Citizens should be so engaged in the democratic process that the demand for information never wanes. News outlets, whether they are sustained through subscriptions, advertisements or both, must flourish so the checks and balances our forefathers envisioned survive. It’s important on so many levels for all of us to consume the news we can use to remain engaged with our public officials and institutions.

In addition, the discourse that is so necessary for vibrant debates and the exposure of the pros and cons of proposals, projects and procedures must remain civil. Leaders that claim the press is only interested in creating and disseminating “fake news” are afraid of being held accountable and having to answer to an informed electorate. They want the watchdog to be euthanized. We cannot allow that to happen.

We have a responsibility to show people younger than us the importance of a free press when it comes to learning about the workings of government, and that being informed will naturally prompt them to get involved. The involvement might be as basic as voting or it might be as intense as running for office or serving on a volunteer board or committee. It’s all good and all of it advances citizenship that can frequently produce compromises that will benefit our society as a whole.

Happy New Year!