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Events rouse the sleeping activist in each of us

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002

Comedian Dennis Miller this week put a fine point on a thought that has been rattling around in the admittedly open spaces of my mind for some time: defining the difference between apathy and weariness.

Some people simply don't care about what is going on in the world and their communities, really never have, and seldom find any reason to comment on or think about things until their particular ox gets gored.

Some people have spent a lifetime caring, are beginning usually at midlife or later to realize how little their caring has accomplished, and have simply decided to do what they can about preserving the quality of their lives and letting the rest drift on by.

Practically every day I am confronted with someone who has just realized something awful that I and others have been ranting about for decades, and suddenly finds it of pressing importance because they just got bit on the rear end by it.

Our court system, for instance, has been so choked for so long with a backlog of criminal and civil cases that involvement at the witness, victim or defendant level turns into an exercise in bureaucracy and wasted time that would give Kafka the screaming willies.

People who have never asked a legislator what he or she intends to do about the mess; who, in fact, usually don't know the names of their legislators and haven't voted in an election in 20 years, find themselves stuck in a courthouse 40 miles from home after a hearing has been canceled for the fourth time in a row -- and wonder how things got that way.

People who have never given a second thought to problems involving the health care system, drunken driving or a host of other social ills, suddenly find themselves enlisting in or drafted into activism.

What scares me today is that I don't know what would make things different.

Twenty years ago I would have been a fierce advocate of everyone's total involvement and engagement in every aspect of human existence and looked down my nose at those who refused to be.

Just a passing look at recent events is enough to bring out the hermit in any of us.

Teenage girls in Pasco County (or at least one or the other of them depending on whose story you believe) using automobiles as deadly weapons on a dangerous highway in a high school love-triangle.

A moron/psycho pipe bomber allegedly blowing up mailboxes in several states and injuring six people because of his dual desires to bring the concept of out-of-body experiences transcending death and to paint a giant smiley face on the U.S. map.

A major religious leader implying that a 6-year-old child and his parents had some responsibility for the child's being molested by a priest.

Democrats trying to make a major political flap out of a head and shoulders photograph of George Bush, taken during the initial hours of the Sept. 11 crisis, being used in a fundraising brochure.

A Republican administration taking advantage of the same event to work toward placing the greatest stranglehold on the Fourth Amendment and the right to privacy since J. Edgar Hoover bugged Martin Luther King's bedroom.

Arabs and Israelis fighting the same battle they have been fighting for more than half a century, and, more and more, drawing the rest of the world into their vicious quarrel; soldiers shooting children, religious fanatics blowing up themselves and others over real estate.

I have had to stop listening to news on the radio when I drive because now, when I hear certain key words and phrases like "Middle East," "church scandal," "abortion," "Second Amendment," and, locally, "drought," my eyes roll so far back in my head that I am in danger of plowing into whatever or whomever is in front of me.

The late Robert Townsend, author of Up The Organization, said that every major corporation (or, as I interpret it, society) needs a person whose job it is to roam around the operation and, when he sees something wrong or stupid going on, to stand in one place and scream a barnyard epithet related to the eliminative processes of horses, at the top of his lungs until somebody fixes it. Not a bad idea, but the guy with that job today might stand a better chance of dying of laryngitis than he does of getting anything fixed.

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