In the fight against terrorism, we cannot be simply reactive. While it is essential to plan for the aftermath of a terrorist attack, we must also develop strategies that make such an attack less likely. The United States must work every day and at every level to help prevent another attack on the American homeland.
The government's role in this struggle is clear; this is the only element of American society that has the authority and the capability to perform certain functions, such as military, intelligence, and law enforcement operations, and yet this cannot be the extent of our preparations.
All Americans have a role to play in securing our families and our future. Life in the United States comes with many freedoms and many rights, but it also demands some responsibilities.
Right now, these responsibilities include a duty for public service and civic activism, to make our voices heard and to contribute our unique talents. As individuals, we accomplish so much. We are parents, professionals, volunteers, activists, and supporters. We lead, inspire, and organize on a daily basis. It is not only those people with great abilities who can support the war on terror. It is not just those who are famous, who have great wealth, or who speak many languages. Instead, it is those seemingly mundane skills that get us through our everyday lives that strengthen our nation when applied in cooperation with our neighbors and in dedication to the public good.
1. On the Federal Level
Based on the authority accorded it by the Constitution, the federal government has the sole legal jurisdiction over many parts of the American war on terrorism. Only the federal government can conduct military, intelligence, or diplomatic missions. It has sole authority over foreign policy, as well as specific authority over numerous domestic policy areas. Because of its national scope and its ability to project power overseas, it will naturally be a leader in the field of homeland security.
But this broad jurisdiction does not render the federal government is so complete an authority as to be unresponsive to the American people. Remember that American government officials are elected by and accountable to their citizens. The realities of electoral politics force them to listen to their constituencies if they want to remain in office.
If you believe in a cause or feel strongly upon an impending policy choice, alert your lawmakers, through phone calls or an e-mail. Write letters to your local paper and find other people who agree with you to make your point even more forcefully. If voters do not tell their elected representatives about their wishes and opinions, there is no reason to expect these representatives will not simply vote to support their own individual agendas.
As Americans, we have the right to demand good leadership from our elected officials but we also have a part to play. We must tell our leaders where we stand in order to hold them to the high standards we deserve.
2. On the State Level
State governments also have a role to play in protecting our country from terrorism. Law enforcement, for instance, is a responsibility shared by the federal and state governments. State authorities conduct investigations and prosecute individuals who violate state laws, which include a variety of statutes pertaining to weapons and terrorism.
State authorities also are actively involved in immigration issues. While the federal government directs naturalization and immigration procedures, state authorities control the issuance of driver's licenses and many local worker policies that directly affect illegal immigrants.
State governments set a precedent that determines how vigorously a policy or a law will be enforced, giving them enormous influence over many key elements of our nation's security. Because of their smaller scale and local character, it is often less intimidating for individual citizens to become involved in policymaking and legislation.
State lawmakers are more likely to be our friends and neighbors, the man who sits across the aisle at church or the woman with the law firm next door. They are often closer to their communities and easier to reach than their federal counterparts. This accessibility may make them more responsive to constituent requests, as well. Using the same methods as with federal lawmakers (letters, phone calls, public activism), a small number of concerned citizens can push their state officials to be more responsive and representative of community perspectives.
3. On the Local Level
While city and county governments have little obvious influence in the fight to defend America, they are actually essential members of the homeland defense team. They are responsible for implementing effective emergency procedures and they develop relationships with the private sector to help insure stability and preparedness in case of crisis.
Local governments include many of the first responders, such as police, fire, and medical teams, which will cope with the immediate aftermath of any disaster. They also assume a leadership role in protecting local infrastructure and utility service and assist in the quick restoration of such services following a disruption.
For Americans who wish to contribute their time, talents, and energy to securing our continued safety, local government offers an accessible and available option. Local governments operate immediately within the communities they serve, reading the same newspapers and experiencing the same problems. Citizens may attend city council meetings and directly participate in debates over potential policy choices. The various groups and committees, such as school boards, a chamber of commerce, or neighborhood watch groups, that all work together to insure community stability and safety contribute to a devolution of authority that offers a greater number of ways in which citizens may become involved and influential in policymaking and implementation.
Of course, citizens may make their wishes known through the same communications methods used at the state and federal levels. But they may also become involved in a much more direct way, by speaking at meetings, circulating petitions, volunteering for community groups, or even running for office. If you are interested in public service, the local level is often the most accessible entry into a new field.
4. On the Public Level
Even with all levels of government working together, there is a limit to its capabilities in waging the war on terrorism. At some point, the American public must assume some of the responsibility for its own protection. Through effective organization, all American citizens can contribute to this effort. Familiarize yourself with the assorted civic and volunteer organizations that play a role in securing our homeland. Volunteer for organizations, such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army, that will help in the immediate and long-term response to terrorist attacks.
More interested in education? Consider one of the numerous organizations dedicated to increasing awareness in American children and their foreign counterparts of the destructive nature of violence and highlighting the special characteristics they share that transcend cultural or religious boundaries. If you feel drawn to a particular issue, find a group that works to pass legislation and increase awareness for that cause.
Most importantly, take responsibility for your own education and awareness and find reliable information sources to learn about the history of terrorism and radical Islamism and keep abreast of developments in Congress.
Education and awareness are the keys to fostering activism and involvement. Think about your own transition; the chances are good that you used to live in quiet contentment, unaware of the threat to the American way of life growing outside our borders.
When 9/11 showed the country that we are no longer safe from those who would do us harm, you probably found yourself wondering about the terrorists who would do such an act - who they were, what they believed, and why they wanted to cause us harm. Years have passed and, while you know more, there are still so many unanswered questions.
This uncertainty and fear are not yours alone; millions of other Americans are plagued by a nagging concern that they do not know all that they should to prepare for another attack. Fortunately, this is not an unsolvable problem. First, learn the broad facts, the background of terrorism and the objectives of the American response. Then, if you feel driven to help your friends and neighbors secure our families, select a specific area that interests you most, whether it is political activism, community support, international aid, or educational activities. Even a prolonged, intensive study can help the common good if you then pass on what you have learned to your family and community. Just become involved, in whatever way best suits your talents and interests.
The power of the American people when dedicated toward a noble goal is unstoppable; we only have to begin.