Bill Berridge Co-Valedictorian Speech 6/9/1974


Facing us in America today is a problem that threatens our basic freedoms, our economic security, and even our nation’s health: namely – civic indifference. In many cases, our citizens are almost totally indifferent to their duties. Foreigners visiting the United States are astounded at the freedom of our citizens and the influence in the government. Instead of making use of our freedom, we just ’’coast along” and pay little or no attention to the affairs that should concern us. Too often the tendency is to “let the other guy do it.”

Good citizenship is not merely an emotion; it involves thinking and action in everyday service. To be good citizens we must become familiar with the history and functions of our government. In addition to this, we must study the problems facing the nation today and think them through to logical conclusions. The thinking citizen will not allow himself to be misguided by rosy campaign promises and schemes. He will seek the truth and vote accordingly. Our democracy demands intelligence and character in its voters. But do the voters use their privilege intelligently—if they use it at all?

According to statistics, about half of our eligible voters do not even bother to vote. Others think that they have done their duty by voting and may go back into seclusion until the next election. It is usually these nonvoters who are most violent in their objections if something goes wrong. This is the condition that enables the political rings to control the government and to squander the taxpayer’s money. These politicians buy the votes of the ignorant and indifferent, thus electing their own candidates. The voter at the polls must then vote for a candidate chosen by the ring. His only choice is to pick the lesser of the two evils. If enough alert and informed voters go to i the primaries, they may choose their own candidate and thus defeat the ring. As one authority has said, ”A vote in peace is like a stroke in battle and none the less effective because it is peaceful and bloodless.”

There is a very noticeable tendency in our country to disregard the law. The people make the laws and agree that they are necessary, but at the first opportunity, the average citizen will evade the law or obey it in part only. This is particularly conspicuous in the income tax payments. Many of our most prominent and supposedly patriotic citizens do everything in their power to evade these taxes. A few of these violators are apprehended; most of them get off too easily. But why should a truly patriotic citizen refuse to pay his just taxes—obligations placed upon him with his own consent? No self-respecting citizen will evade any law of his government, whether it be a minor traffic regulation or a federal statute.

Associated with the average American’s indifference towards law abidance is his attitude toward other duties, for example, jury service. If Americans were suddenly denied the right of jury trial, there would certainly be a nationwide protest. Yet most of the people, when called for jury service, try to get exempted; many actually resent being summoned. The people who are well qualified to serve rationalize that they have no time. Through lack of these people’s services, our juries have become mere mockeries of justice. The jury of today is too frequently made up from the less desirable elements of our population. The jurors are often ignorant, easily propagandized, and totally unfit to judge in our complicated law procedures. If our citizens shirk their duties in this manner, how can we ever hope to preserve our democracy?

In conclusion it should be said that the educational institutions of the nation are doing their best to arouse youth to civic interest, but the apathy of the general public has proved the greatest drawback. Unless you, the citizens of America, take heed of these conditions, our democracy shall stumble along, until the public debt, taxes, and bureaucracy become unbearable and our nation perishes. Do you care enough to prevent this? Or will you let this frontier remain closed as it has been over the past years, causing the political upheavals that we are experiencing today?

It’s up to you!