When less than half of the American people actively participate (read: vote) in the politics of their country, it is often imperitive to provide an incentive for involvement.
My solution? Cookies.
I've found that a tasty incentive for citizens to take interest in all things civic are merely a hot oven away.
During my tenure as Adrian College's Student Government Association, oh so many years ago, I was faced with dwindling student interest in the organization that represents student interests. Say what you will about the effectiveness or even relevance of the organization - SGA was still the only student-run organization that had the budget and the responsibility to Get Things Done. Faced with disinterest and apathy on campus, I thought, "What would draw me to a meeting?"
My answer was treats. If you can't involve students in their own governance on ideals alone, you can entice them into participation by the governing will of their collective sweet tooth.
Bake it and they will come.
And come they did. Our student attendence in SGA meetings from 2001 to 2002 rose steadily, and I think it was because of the cookies (and punch and, often, cider) we provided. An A-frame sign on the mall, announcing when and where meeting were held, was also effective, but it lacked the romance and allure of chocolate chips and sprinkles. I was lucky to have an executive board with the foresight (and creativity) to make it all happen. And frankly, they liked cookies, too.
I can hear the arguments already. "But Dave," you may be asking, "shouldn't participation in governing bodies be an incentive enough? Didn't Plato warn that one's apathy toward government runs the risk of being governed by one's inferiors? Should cookies be a last resort?"
My answer is yes. But my counter-question would be: what do you know that works better than cookies?
Also: what could contribute more to the enjoyment and warm glow of budget items and bylaw debates than snacks? I would also ask, if a governing body can afford and provide a simple alternative to coersion, why not?
(The cookies I brought to last night's ATO meeting were a hit. They even won an award - the first inanimate objects, I believe, to win - and earned a parking spot in the house's driveway. Too bad there were none left by meeting's end.)
I read one writer propose that our Election Day should be a national holiday. Give everyone the day off of work (like Thanksgiving or Labor Day) and they will more likely get out and vote.
I would add cookies to that equation. When I went to vote this past Tuesday, the volunteers were friendly and the voting center was sheltered from the wind and cold, sure, but where were the treats? Where was the steaming coffee and the cinnamon-and-sugared donuts? I would more gladly perform my patriotic duty with a full belly and a caffeine buzz. What would it cost? A few dollars, maybe?
The rewards would be far greater than gustational happiness, I think.