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In our opinion: Caucus week: Every citizen's voice matters

Published: Tuesday, June 30 2015 4:17 p.m. MDT

A table full of people and political pamphlets listen as state representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck addresses the crowds gathered at the State Capitol during a Democratic Party caucus in Salt Lake City Tuesday, March 23, 2010. (Deseret News archives) A table full of people and political pamphlets listen as state representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck addresses the crowds gathered at the State Capitol during a Democratic Party caucus in Salt Lake City Tuesday, March 23, 2010. (Deseret News archives)

The form of government under which our nation has thrived for two-plus centuries is based upon the continuing protection of individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

In America, the dignity of the individual is more important than institutions, organizations and collectives. In return for the protection of that dignity, individual Americans are simply asked to live as good citizens, with certain obligations like paying taxes and if called upon, to serve in the military or on juries. But voting in elections and participating in the political process, although protected under law, is not required.

Because it happens to be optional does not mean that such participation isn't among the most solemn and important duty Americans can perform.

As such, the recent apathy that has afflicted our political process, particularly in Utah, is more than disappointing. There may be many reasons people do not participate, but there are few excuses.

We are now days away from a unique opportunity afforded to residents of only a few others states. Democrats and Republicans will hold neighborhood precinct caucuses, respectively at 7:00 p.m. on March 13 and March 15. Caucuses choose the delegates who in turn represent precincts at county and state nominating conventions. Because of the way this unique nominating process works, the caucuses offer those who attend a rare and remarkable level of voice and influence.

It is an opportunity that civic-minded people, of any political allegiance or ideology, should seize.

Many of those who choose to take an active roll in the process regard doing so as something of a moral imperative, and many religious organizations have long encouraged citizen participation in the political process as a way to validate the role of individuals in a democracy.

In 1998, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops formally encouraged active involvement, saying, "Every voice matters in the public forum. Every vote counts. Every act of responsible citizenship is an exercise of significant individual power."

Prior to the 2010 election, an article published by the Episcopal News Service suggested that voting could be seen as an act of faith and Christian duty, adding, "If we listen, and speak and vote, we can choose the world we want, and choose leaders who will work with us to create it."

The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day (the owner of this newspaper) has taught, "Participation in the political process affects our communities and nation today and in the future." Last month, the First Presidency issued a letter to all Utah congregations specifically encouraging Latter-day Saints to attend their local precinct caucus meetings. The LDS Church is facilitating participation by suspending all church meetings on both caucus nights.

The Utah caucuses offer a powerful opportunity to validate the role of individuals within our democratic republic. Both political parties host user-friendly websites that make it easy to register and find the right meeting to attend. Participation requires the sacrifice of only a couple of hours on a single evening.

If you value the role of the individual citizen in our society, there is no shortage of strong arguments for why you should attend the meetings. The question then becomes, what are the reasons to stay home?

For information about the Democratic Party caucus meetings on Tuesday, March 13, visit utahdemocrats.org or call 801-328-1212. For information about the Republican Party caucus meetings on Thursday, March 15, visit utgop.org or call 801-533-9777.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company