Over the course of the last few weeks, in the wake of the election, thousands and thousands of phone calls and emails have poured into elected officials’ offices from all across the nation. Our state of Arizona is certainly no exception as many citizens on each side of every issue have eagerly voiced their opinions to Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, Congressman Gallego and other representatives. This type of engagement in the political process is incredibly encouraging and exactly what is necessary for a democracy to thrive and yet this has become very problematic.
Due to limited resources, relatively small staffs and tight schedules, our calls and emails are often going unheard. Our sudden flood of engagement in the political process has broken the very systems designed to hear and respond to this engagement. As I and others throughout the state have found in the last weeks, calls to representatives are so numerous that there is almost never an answer. Consequently, constituents are then encouraged to leave a voicemail. Yet, if you are calling one of our two senators, you are lucky if the voice mailbox isn’t full and they can receive your message. Then, in an attempt to get around this issue, you are asked to send an email. Yet, as many have found with Senator John McCain’s office, the email does not always work and sometimes never reaches anyone at all. At the end of this entire process, if you are lucky enough to have your email or voicemail sent correctly and responded to, it is typically a pre-written, generic response to one of a handful of common issues raised.
With this type of ineffective system in place to hear the voices of the people, the question then arises: What does this mean for a representative democracy? Who do our elected officials represent if they can no longer hear our voices and represent us? While I would imagine that over the next few months calls will slow and the problem will potentially be circumvented, the number of issues and the people concerned about them seems to be growing more and more numerous each day. And while potentially the offices of officials will simply hire more staff to help hear and respond to our voices, promises to cut the federal budget make me less than hopeful for an increase in staff such as this.
So again, I ask, where does this leave us if we participate in a representative democracy where our representatives cannot hear those they represent? Without hearing the voices of the constituents of Arizona, without going to our homes and towns throughout the state and seeing our issues, without being a vibrant participant in our democracy and community across the state, I do not have much faith in our senators’ ability to represent us, and at this juncture in time, we need them more than ever. I call upon our senators to increase their engagement in democracy as we increase ours and to come speak with and listen to the people they represent. The simple fact of the matter is, if we live in a democracy where our elected representatives do not hear the voice of the people, then we do not live in a democracy at all.
Noah Karvelis is a local educator and activist living and working in Phoenix. He frequently writes and lectures on the relationship between education and democracy.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.