Life is very much like a box; you can keep taking from it but there comes a time when you have to start putting things back into it or else be faced with an empty box or, to extend the analogy, a possibly less-fulfilled life.
That is where activism and advocacy come into play. Advocacy is a means of putting something back into that box of life by doing something that benefits the many and not just the individual, contrary to the Ayn Rand teachings.
My road to becoming an activist came rather late in life. During my rather lengthy federal career I focused on the many challenging issues I was involved in. These included such issues as addressing the security threat created by moving cargo under bond across the nation, especially in the post 9/11 environment, during my time at U.S. Customs.
It included implementing programs designed to more fully unify the more than 22 disparate entities comprising the newly-created umbrella known as the Department of Homeland Security while serving in that department. It included, while at FEMA post Katrina, estimating the needs and identifying the capabilities and resources at the local, state and federal levels prior to the advent of the next great disaster to, thereby, ensure a more effective response and recovery to avoid what is currently happening in Puerto Rico.
It wasn't until I left federal service that I became much more interested in public policy and community service leading to my becoming much more active in raising my voice to influence that public policy. This, to me, is the very definition of the word activism.
The horrific tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut and the massacre of some 20 young children may be the single event that had the deepest impact on me as a citizen and as a human being. The Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. the FEC was also significant in that it changed the course of elections from that point forward, and not for the better as it exacerbated the problem of the voice of money outshouting the voice of citizens.
It was through issues such as common sense gun laws, campaign finance reform and climate change, to name just a few, that I had the opportunity to come to know and work with such relentless fighters for the issues I so strongly believe in as then-State Senator and now Congressman Jamie Raskin, then-State Senator and Judiciary Committee Chair and now Attorney General Brian Frosh, then-Congressman and now Senator Chris Van Hollen and my own Congressman John Sarbanes.
My activism led to the need to obtain a platform and that platform came in the form of the Montgomery County Sentinel and the political columns I write for it each and every week. I hope the readers of my columns (and I assume you are one of them or you wouldn't be reading this now) understand that my goal is not so much to change your political beliefs or positions as it is to provide you with an understanding as to how I arrived at my own political beliefs and positions.
(Just as an aside, more than two years of those columns have been compiled in the recently released book, “A Citizen's Perspective, Society, Hypocrisy and the 2016 Election Season” available at www.paulkschwartz.com as well as on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. Hey, if I don't market this book, who will?)
In the present political environment and the many challenges we face, it is now more important than ever for citizens to raise their voices and not take a back seat to anyone or any politician. Whether the issue is health care, gun safety, climate change, voting rights, civil rights, income inequality/the shrinking middle class, the economy as a whole, tax revenue, or the attacks on the First or any other Amendment to the Constitution, and many other issues too numerous to list here that affect you in some way, shape or form.
If you don't care enough to, at the very least, vote, then you really can't justify complaining when the government protections and services you have come to rely on are no longer there for you.
We are facing some very trying times under the Trump administration, a Republican House and Senate, and a Supreme Court with a majority of conservative justices. Donald Trump may be an embarrassment to every American whether they realize it or not, and a great deal of damage can be done in just a few years if not a few months.
We all have to look deep within ourselves and ask what is it I really want, what do I want this country to stand for, what values do I want my country to reflect, what can I do to help my country reclaim its standing in the world community? If not you, then who? If not now, then when?