The belief that good government flourishes when it is well-supervised by citizens has been deeply held in this country since its founding. As firmly entrenched as that value is, Americans shouldn’t forget that the rights that uphold their informed participation require constant tending.
Sunshine Week, March 11-17 this year, focuses attention on the open-meetings and open-records laws that give ordinary people the right to observe the workings of government. Such laws are foundational to our representative democracy. Coloradans’ rights are strong because of decades of advocacy by journalists, government watchdogs and lawmakers who believe in transparency.
Such laws are upheld, though, by the insistence of the public on pushing open illegally closed doors and digging for documents someone says cannot be found, and then on taking action based on what they find. Those basic laws are not permanent guarantees; Colorado residents know what can happen when deep-pocketed outside interests breeze in with a new agenda. Don’t assume you have a right to information that affects you; be vigilant in ensuring that everyone does. Local elected bodies follow those laws most closely when they know constituents will call them on violations.
Access to information is only the first step; accountability requires something more. Those who seek to govern must be willing to stand in the light, and when they falter in their commitment to do that, the light must come to them. They must care what their constituents think and want; they must be responsive, and they must know that constituents will insist on that.
In the past few decades, technology has made uncovering information much easier, so a new way of discounting the truth has developed. Those whose actions are being questioned no longer bother discussing the topic but jump straight to accusing the messenger of being wrong, dishonest or even incapable of understanding information that cannot be disputed.
By all means, argue the issues, but don’t attempt to gaslight the American people.
Batting away negative revelations by declaring them “fake news” is a new low in government of, by and for the people. Information really is power; otherwise, what would be the purpose for withholding it?
Insisting on governmental transparency should not be political. Americans have plenty of history that teaches what can go wrong when secrecy is allowed to prevail unchecked. Especially in an era when the rights of individuals are threatened by governmental obeisance to corporate interests, no one can blindly trust that the government will act in his or her best interests.
The right course is to participate in ensuring that it does, and that requires knowing what public officials and agencies are doing and why they’re doing it. Keep shining the bright light of public oversight into the shadowy corners where abuse can hide.