Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Howdy, Duty

About a month ago I got a letter in the mail that made my stomach roil. "Jury Duty" was stamped in clear bold red letters across the front. Ben tells me he's jealous, he's never been called and wants to see what it's like. But I've already been called twice before when I lived in NC and I knew it was no picnic. My experiences in NC involved angry government employees, dirty rooms in hard-to-find downtown administrative buildings.

This time however, was a pleasant surprise. Boulder's Justice Center is located on 6th and Canyon, pretty close to the library, the Boulder creek, and a lovely park is right next door. Parking is free right across the street, and signs are up everywhere so getting there was simple. The building itself is actually really nice too. Windows are everywhere, and if the outside looks a little outdated, they make up for it by providing a very soothing decor inside. I entered and a posse of mustached cops greeted me at the front entrance, waiting to tackle any ne'er-do-wells. They were really polite, directed me to where I needed to go, and told me to have a nice day.

When I got to the jury assembly room a nice lady took my forms and I read a book until they started a hokey video whose message was that being a juror really isn't all that bad. The cast of characters included a white-haired, wise but stern-looking judge, male and white. There were a few women, clerks and baliffs, all white, and then a big, bald and burly black man who played the "law enforcement officer" over the proceedings. Certainly stereotyped, but I found it highly amusing (my standards for amusement are low at 8:30 in the morning). The crazy part though, is that the message got through to me. By the time the video finished I was really excited about being a juror. For the first time ever I wanted to get picked for the jury! Let me do my duty, I want to do my part to keep this country running strong.

The video ended and the woman announced that the defendant had a medical emergency so the trial would not be happening. We were all dismissed. We didn't have to return tomorrow, and our duty had been complete. We wouldn't get summoned for at least another two years.

I walked out of the building feeling really disappointed. Not only had I not done my duty, but I wouldn't be allowed to participate again for two whole years! I started wondering if jury duty was the kind of thing you could volunteer for, before quickly realizing that would be a bad system and not really democratic at all.

It was the first time that doing my civic duty wasn't something that I just had to do, it was something that I wanted to do. Our country doesn't ask much of us, really. We pay her taxes, we obey her laws... mostly... and every once in a while we have to go to a justice center, and help enforce those laws. In exchange we get to live the easy life of a nation that has power, wealth, food, shelter, and all that other good stuff. But I think a lot of Americans are apathetic about their country and the kind of work it takes to make it so good. Maybe what this country needs is to demand more from its citizens. Maybe we should be required to do more for our own country and fellow countrywomen and countrymen so that we realize just how much work it takes to be successful.

This is just a random musing that I haven't thought through at all, but maybe all citizens should be required to do a year of duty in a civil group, something like Americorps. After high school perhaps. Everyone who did it would get paid by the government and work with their community to make where they live an even better place. Or they could travel to other states and help there. I think it could bring this nation together, and eliminate so much of the apathy that has a strangle-hold on our country. People would realize that they can make a difference, and maybe if our people help each other, then we could reach out and help the rest of the world too.