American educational philosopher Robert M. Hutchins said, "The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference and undernourishment."
In Madison County, democratic apathy constantly exerts its nefarious influence, slinking in the shadows of under-attended elections and government meetings.
But democracy is not dead yet in these parts. Far from it. It flares up here and there to breathe life into the spirit of political participation. Most often, these democratic hot spots are ignited by a group of citizens carrying a torch for one cause or another.
The best known, of course, is the tea party. Whether you agree with tea party politics is beside the point. The party's members have organized, activated and brought pressure to bear on elected officials. This is the way grass-roots politics in a democratic society is supposed to work.
Another, smaller scale example of democracy at work came recently from a group of local citizens who are concerned about financial decisions made by the South Madison Community School Corp. They drafted a letter to the school board and to Superintendent Joe Buck, demanding answers to a litany of questions related to school debt, land purchases and the district's financial commitment to past superintendents.
School board president Chris Boots has promised to provide detailed answers to the questions.
Many school board members truly have the interests of the community at heart and work hard to guard taxpayer money jealously while trying to make the best decisions to assure that local students get an excellent education.
But any school board that avoids public scrutiny might slip and falter in the dark. Some boards might lose their way altogether.
In this case, the authors of the letter believe the school board has made bad financial decisions and are demanding the board justify those decisions.
Some would say that the letter's authors are being unfair, that they're motivated by their disagreement with the district's decision to tear down a beloved old high school building.
So what? The group is asking exactly the sort of questions that citizens ask in a healthy democracy.
"We're concerned about the stewardship," said Helen Reske, one of the letter's authors. "They don't seem to have a plan for the community."
The voting public should demand accountability from elected officials. That's precisely what this group of citizens is doing.
In summary The voting public should demand accountability from elected officials. That's precisely what a group of Pendleton citizens is doing.