A few months ago my friend Kathy gave me a lapel pin emblazoned with the words COMMON DECENCY in bold type. The Common Decency Campaign, the creation of her friend Dr. Brian May, lead guitarist of the rock group Queen and an animal rights activist, promotes a government that is free of corruption and inequality and demands decent behavior in elected representatives. As a person who believed his vote was irrelevant, he is now using the campaign as a platform to encourage others to make a difference by re-establishing “common decency in our lives, work & parliament.” While his campaign specifically addresses what he considers the “disgusting behavior” of Britain’s political players, the concept is universal.
The Common Decency Plan calls for greater civic engagement through:
• Voting, regardless of party affiliation and even if you think it’s a waste of time
• Questioning all candidates
• Educating your friends
The more I think about the concept, the more I believe we need a similar campaign here in the Inland Empire, promoting a new standard of behavior for not just our elected officials, but for ourselves. We don’t vote; or, we are easily convinced to not vote in the best interest of the people, but instead for special interest groups who spend lots of money on sophisticated and often misleading campaigns; or we ignore the process completely.
Take the June 2nd election here in Riverside. Of the four city council seats, two incumbents are on the ballot without challengers: Ward 3 Councilman Mike Soubirous and Ward 5 Councilman Chris Mac Arthur. Even if they are good representatives, a little competition and choice is vital for a healthy democracy. Yes, we need to vote but we must have someone – or something – to vote for. I admit, like most people, I do not like to attend public meetings and I have no desire to run for public office. I understand, however, the need to support good people who I believe will make good public servants, like Ward 1 Councilman Mike Gardner who has been an excellent representative of Riverside’s downtown community. He has a challenger, but is clearly the better choice. he has been a respectful colleague, prudent steward of public funds, and advocate for smart growth in the core of the city.
Regarding voting for the public interest over special interests, in Moreno Valley the highly controversial World Logistics Center project will soon be coming to a vote of either the council, or if Councilman Jeffrey Giba has his way, the entire city electorate. Critics argue that a special election could easily favor the project because Highland Fairview, the project’s developer, has a history of trying to buy elections through exorbitant contributions and independent expenditures on campaigns. We saw the same problem in San Bernardino during the last election cycle when the firefighter and police unions joined together to fund a campaign against a charter change initiative. They used misleading information and fear tactics to convince voters to vote against it, a problem whose solution is now being addressed through the bankruptcy exit plan.
While the Common Decency Campaign was not as successful in changing the last election in Britain as Dr. May hoped it would be, it is a good beginning. It is also a solid platform to build upon as we work to improve the quality of life for all citizens and build the kinds of cities and communities here in the Inland Empire that we would like to leave for future generations to live in and thrive.