All Political Power is Inherent in the People
A relative few have probably read it, but the Minnesota Constitution was written to guarantee, as rap legend Chuck D of Public Enemy might say, “Power to the People.”
Article I, Section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution makes it very clear who’s in charge. It says in part, “Government is instituted for the benefit and protection of the people, in whom all political power is inherent, together with its right to alter, modify or reform government whenever required by the public good.”
Aside from the preamble, these words are the first foundational law of Great State of Minnesota. It says We the People have the inherent political power.
The Minnesota Constitution was adopted over 160 years ago, but its powerful first section is no less true today than it was in 1857. This is the very core of our state government.
If you’ve ever marveled at government’s seeming indifference to the general will of the People, if you’ve ever been frustrated because you felt your voice wasn’t being heard at the Capitol, did you ever ask why, or did you just assume others had (somehow, magically) taken over and you were powerless?
The truth is that each individual is extraordinarily powerful, if only they assert their will, much more so if they join with others to do it.
It only takes a little knowledge and the gumption to do something to make a big difference in Minnesota’s public policy.
Elections are often decided by razor-thin margins in this “purple” state. A constituent showing up at the Capitol to talk to his or her representative or senator can have an enormous impact – partly because it’s just so damn rare!
Bills that eventually become laws in Minnesota don’t just happen in a vacuum. They go through several steps. No matter how oppressive and unresponsive you may think government has become, all of those steps are still completely open to public observation and input. Anybody who wants have his or her say can be heard in most legislative hearings. But how many do?
On a really hot issue, you might see 6-10 people in total, lining up to testify on opposing sides of a controversial bill. One informed, determined voice carries tremendous weight in those situations.
If the People of Minnesota feel they’ve lost their voice, I propose that they have abdicated it, either through ignorance of the process, or lack of regard for the importance of asserting their voice.
Public education was initially established in the United States to produce an informed electorate that was capable of defending their personal freedoms by participating in town hall meetings, talking or writing to legislators and showing up in person at the Capitol once in a while.
One of our great founding fathers, John Adams crowed that the education of Americans of his time had been unknown to any other people of the world, ancient or modern. “The consequences of these [educational] establishments we see and feel every day,” he said, referring to intelligent civic engagement. An American who cannot read or write, he said, is as rare “as a comet or an earthquake.”
In recent decades, our public education system has mostly failed to educate the People on the civic process, and the so-called 4th Estate (the press) has largely failed in its established purpose of late as well.
The near absolute freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution was established to allow the free transfer of information (without repercussions from government officials) about what was transpiring in government to the People, so they could be informed and involved in the process.
Now, pop culture tends to paint a flattering picture of those who would try to escape jury duty – a constitutional precept that protects us all from government tyranny. It isn’t glamorous to run from civic responsibility. To the contrary, it is ruinous.
When our United States Constitution was fresh out of the oven known as Independence Hall, Benjamin Franklin upon emerging from that bakery was reputedly asked by a passerby, “What kind of government have you given us?”
“A republic, if you can keep it,” he replied.
Keeping our republic and keeping it responsive to the People requires citizen involvement beyond Election Day.
It doesn’t take much, though. If you’re an average, hard-working citizen, you can find the time to do two or three things a year beyond showing up to drop a ballot every two to four years (there are more elections than that, by the way).
Of course, everybody’s busy! We all have things that we have to do, and things we’d rather be doing. We all need some “down time” to rest, reflect and recharge.
That doesn’t excuse those who would complain about government but can’t find the time to participate in it from time to time, though.
Each individual has more power than he or she likely recognizes. Rather than wasting time complaining about government, why not spend a few hours a year doing something about it?
Do nothing and… well, nothing happens.
When you vote in a presidential election year, you are one voice among millions. When you write your state legislator on an issue, you are one voice among hundreds. When you appear in person at the Capitol to testify on an issue, you are one voice among three, four or ten. As the old adage goes, the world is run by those who show up.
The ultimate authority in Minnesota isn’t your representative, your senator or even the governor. It’s you. You can assert that power, or you can abdicate it, but remember that over two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher Plato cautioned, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
That adage holds true today. You have the power.
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