According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, patriotism is “the love for or devotion to one’s country.” Perhaps no other day of the year evokes such a sense of patriotism than Independence Day. With flags rippling in the wind, red, white and blue bunting adorning porches and store fronts and local parades and marching bands on display, it’s easy to feel a swell of pride for our country.
Arguably, another, perhaps deeper form of patriotism is active engagement in public and civic life. Involvement in your town promotes a richer community life, and ensures that institutions thrive and communities remain vibrant and inviting places to live work and play. Besides being enjoyable, your participation in community events and activities, together with your friends, neighbors and co-workers makes a difference. Simple things like supporting a bake sale or attending a local high school event signals to the young people in your community that you care and support them, and that the community itself is worth sustaining.
In fact, there are civic engagement opportunities throughout Illinois. You may recall that one of the most important cooperative principles is that of democratic participation. If you pay your bill, you are a member of the co-op with an opportunity to provide input through voting during your annual meeting.
Illinois electric cooperatives originated more than 80 years ago to serve a need that was not being met by traditional for-profit electric companies. Providing reliable electricity is their top priority. They make decisions based on long-term thinking – what decisions will benefit the larger community in which they operate? One of the best ways you can engage with your co-op is by casting your vote when it’s time to elect board members. These are folks just like you, from the communities they serve, who provide guidance to co-op leadership on a myriad of issues and decisions both short-term and long-term.
Perhaps you haven’t voted in the past because you didn’t think you were qualified to weigh in on a particular topic, or maybe you simply didn’t have time to vote. But you do have an opinion on the issues that affect your community and your cooperative wants your particular perspective.
Everyone has valuable experience that informs their decision-making process. Diverse perspectives benefit the whole community. You may have a different view than your neighbor, but together, those perspectives provide a more balanced view of the community. You could be bringing new information that hadn’t been previously considered. Illinois’ electric cooperatives seek more members participating in the process, because greater numbers reflect a consensus on the direction of the future and the will of the people.
I would argue that voting, whether in the co-op or in local and national elections, is a form of patriotism as it reflects a devotion to one’s community and commitment to ensure that it thrives.
Democracy is not a spectator sport; it takes active civic engagement by citizens to thrive. This Independence Day, I hope you will embrace the local celebrations and actively participate in your community – and vote at every opportunity!