Teddy Roosevelt in his famous “Man in the Arena” speech comments on the duties of citizens in a democracy:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
If you pay attention to what he’s saying, I hope you’ll find it as inspirational as I do. Roosevelt is praising those that enter the “public arena” of participatory democracy. I couldn’t agree with him more, and although the process is messy, it’s what we as Americans do. Our roots are in direct participation in government, when in the late 1700s, we formed our own government based on the concept of democracy, where the average citizen calls the shots.
My interests tend more to our local community, and so here I’d like to praise those locally who have put themselves “in the arena.” From those that write letters to the editor in local papers, to those that hold up a sign or flag on either corner of the Friday night Montrose peace protest. Those that collar their local representatives or officials by email, phone or in person, to take action on an issue. Some of our contributions are not as “in your face” – attending a public meeting, even picking up trash on your street, or helping at your kid’s school are all ways we take direct action in society.
Some contributions are more pronounced, such as seeking public office. In particular I praise those who have stepped into the arena in a very public way, our Glendale City Councilmen and Crescenta Valley Town Councilmen. They don’t do it for the money – CV Town Councilmen get no pay, and Glendale Councilmen get a token. They do it because they want to be that man in the arena “who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
We in the Crescenta Valley have always been a community of volunteers and participants, and never more so than recently. I had a conversation recently with a guy from Glendale City Planning in which I was expressing curiosity about the amount of attention paid to “North Glendale,” their term for CV. He told me it’s because “they constantly hear from us, we go to meetings and make our views known, more so that other parts of Glendale.” I’m proud of that.
Last week I went to a meeting with Glendale Parks Dept. staff about establishing a volunteer park docent program at Deukmejian Park when it reopens. Their question to me was could we get enough locals to volunteer. I was proud to say that wouldn’t be a problem in CV, as we are a community of “doers.”
If you feel like you can take on more community service in your life, and would like to be “in the arena” more often, there are many community groups locally. A great place to see them all on display in one place is at the “Relay For Life” at Clark Magnet High School on May 15th. You’ll find scores of booths showcasing local groups. Even more inspiring, you’ll see hundreds of young people there, our future citizens, giving back to their community, and getting ready to take their turn “in the arena.”