Timothy Leary’s famous catchphrase was “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” I didn’t then. I’m not going to now.

Way back in the 1960s, I held that my body was “a temple of God.” Thanks to my Christian beliefs, I wouldn’t corrupt it with mind-altering drugs. As a citizen, I saw my responsibility as finding a way to drop into government, not out of it. I made a choice to be part of a solution to the problems of war, misspent tax dollars, and racism.

I remain determined to “drop in.” A lot of people aren’t. Polls indicate that a majority of Americans–composed of right, center, and left political views–so distrust government that they’ve decided to drop out.

I understand the feeling of distrust. As someone who has spent much of the last 20 years helping others lobby Congress, I often have doubts. I’ve found that I have to wake up in the morning and make that choice. The choice isn’t a matter of ideas but of practice. What I do or don’t do today is my choice. I’m choosing by my actions.

Why stay engaged rather than drop out? For me, the federal government provides daily inspiration for that choice: from the Senate foot dragging on nuclear arms control treaties that would make this country safer, to the bigoted haggling over whether to overturn “don’t ask, don’t tell,” to the long refusal to sign the treaty banning landmines our country doesn’t use anymore anyway. When I think of these issues, the obstinate ignorance of global warming deniers, the continuing war in Afghanistan, the BP oil disaster on top of the Katrina catastrophe, the anti-immigrant laws in Arizona, or the huge piece of the federal pie eaten by military contractors every year, I want to stand up and be heard.

Yes, I know I’m writing against the popular narrative that emphasizes the “throw the bums out” appeal of the tea party movement and calls for even deeper cuts in taxes and government expenditures. Sitting here in Washington, I can tell you that members of Congress running for re-election, and the candidates that challenge them, are hearing loud and clear that the people of this country are frustrated with politics and Washington, the partisan bickering and name-calling.

But before you take that tea party road, I’d encourage you to ask some basic questions: Do you want the federal government to do nothing about unregulated greed on Wall Street and just wait for the next financial crisis to happen? As a country, do we still want next-to-no federal regulation on the huge oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico even if taxpayers will have to pay to clean up the next mess after it happens? As taxpayers, can we continue to pay ever increasing amounts of our tax dollars to fight wars that could be prevented with more effective investments in diplomacy, development, and international cooperation?

I don’t.

What you and I do in this election year could make a tremendous difference to what Congress and the rest of the federal government do in the coming years. We need to get eligible voters registered. We need to mobilize eligible voters to ask candidates questions about the important long term policy issues. We need to get out the vote in November. Whether you are Republican, Democrat, Independent, Socialist, Libertarian, or of another political persuasion, get engaged in this election year’s debates. Your actions can help rebuild our house of democracy.

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Joe Volk

Joe Volk is executive director of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a nonpartisan Quaker lobby in the public interest. www.fcnl.org

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