civic duty

This is one of the first things Dr. Christine Basey Ford said on Thursday:

“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”

Civic duty. I’m a big believer in civic duty, though it’s pretty much an outmoded concept these days. Civic duty is the notion that citizens owe some fidelity to the government, and in return that government helps and protects its citizens.

The government really asks very little of us. Pay our fair share of taxes. Vote. Obey the law. On rare occasion, serve on a jury to sit in judgment of a legal matter involving our community or a fellow citizen. That’s about it. Some of us accept more civic duty than is required. We serve in the military, we work for the fire department, we help out in natural disasters, we volunteer to feed the homeless and help the poor. We alert the authorities to information they need. Sometimes we oppose the authorities when they overstep their power.

“[I]n early July 2018. I saw press reports stating that Brett Kavanaugh was on the shortlist of a list of very well-qualified Supreme Court nominees. I thought it was my civic duty to relay the information I had about Mr. Kavanaugh’s conduct so that those considering his nomination would know about this assault.”

Civic duty requires an element of sacrifice. That sacrifice is why so many people try to avoid their civic duty. People try to avoid paying taxes, find ways to shirk jury duty, can’t be bothered to vote. They praise the military, but shun actual service because it can be dangerous, and doesn’t pay well, and disrupts their career plans. They blame the poor for their poverty and ignore the homeless. They turn away from the victims of crime or condemn them for being victims.

“My motivation in coming forward was to be helpful and to provide facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life, so that you could take into a serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed.”

Civic duty requires a sort of quiet heroism. It normally doesn’t call attention to itself. It usually doesn’t promote itself. In general, it simply involves the acceptance of the responsibility necessary to be a good citizen, and whatever sacrifice that entails.

But sometimes civic duty requires actual courage, actual sacrifice, actual heroism. Sometimes it demands more than a person wants to pay, more than it’s reasonable to pay. Those are times when we discover how sincere and genuine a person’s dedication to civic duty is.

Dr. Ford did not want to expose herself and her family to what she knew would come if she made her allegation against Judge Kavanaugh public.

“This was an extremely hard thing for me to do, but I felt that I couldn’t not do it. My hope was that providing the information confidentially would be sufficient to allow the Senate to consider Mr. Kavanaugh’s serious misconduct without having to make myself, my family or anyone’s family vulnerable to the personal attacks and invasions of privacy that we have faced since my name became public….

In August 2018, the press reported that Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation was virtually certain. Persons painted him as a champion of women’s rights and empowerment. And I believed that if I came forward, my single voice would be drowned out by a chorus of powerful supporters. By the time of the confirmation hearings, I had resigned myself to remaining quiet and letting the committee and the Senate make their decision without knowing what Mr. Kavanaugh had done to me.”

Here’s the thing about civic duty and civic engagement. You don’t do it for yourself. You do it for others. You don’t do it to improve your social status — most civic duty is pretty low status stuff. You don’t do it for money — civic duty doesn’t pay well at all. You don’t do it for attention — most civic duty is ignored except in times of crisis, and if you get any attention at all, it’s almost always negative attention.

“[M]y greatest fears have been realized and the reality has been far worse than what I expected. My family and I have been the target of constant harassment and death threats, and I have been called the most vile and hateful names imaginable. These messages, while far fewer than the expressions of support, have been terrifying and have rocked me to my core.”

You accept your civic duty because you care about things. You care about your community, your neighborhood, your town, your county, your state, your nation, your entire world. You accept your civic duty because it’s the right thing to do. You engage in civic duty to protect public values, sometimes to make a change, sometimes to prevent a change, but you always do it because it’s your responsibility as a good citizen.

“It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. My responsibility is to tell you the truth.”

Dr. Christine Basey Ford is a good citizen. She’s a hero. She’s told her truth, whether you believe her or not. She’s been willing to accept the sacrifice of her decision. No matter what happens from this point on, she deserves our respect.

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