Make sure you consent to be governed

Betsy PickleOpinion

I really, really, really want to write about today being Election Day in Knoxville, but if you are the type of person who reads newspapers – digital or print – you don’t need to hear what I think about the city council election and who the best candidates are. You’ve probably already voted or plan to today.

But I do think it’s important for us to remember why we have elections and why we vote – or should. These are things that, by and large, we learned in school when we were young and not necessarily interested.

(If you don’t mind, I’ll skip the part where European countries decided to explore and steal the continent to the west from its indigenous people.)

In the 1770s, many residents of the 13 British colonies along the Eastern Seaboard began to bristle at the capricious controls of King George III and Parliament. George either ignored them or tried to hold a tight rein.

The settlers wanted a form of rule that recognized the challenges of the new land and responded accordingly. They wanted input, and they wanted representation. When they didn’t get that from Britain, they decided to organize (kind of like a union).

They elected delegates (white men, of course) to come together to discuss their complaints and look for solutions. The first Continental Congress was held in 1774. The next one, in 1775, tried to present some compromises to King George but also put its trust in another George – George Washington, whom it selected to lead a new Continental Army.

Things got worse, and in 1776, they set up a Committee of Five to write a Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft, then the committee tinkered with it and Jefferson rewrote it as edited. It was presented to the Congress, which accepted it with further revisions and then adopted it on July 4, 1776.

A portion of the first section in the Declaration is the most familiar part of the document and the segment most widely quoted:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …”

Pretty lofty stuff there, huh?

A list of 27 grievances against George III follows, spelling out the would-be nation’s justification for asserting its independence. Interestingly, one of the complaints has to do with immigration.

“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of New Appropriations of Lands.”

Hey, the Founders encouraged immigration. What a concept!

But I digress. Let’s go back to “the consent of the governed.” In today’s case, who are the governed? Residents of the city of Knoxville. How are they governed? By a mayor and nine city council members, six of whom represent districts and three of whom are elected “at large.” In the primary, members of each district vote on their district’s representative. In the general election (like today’s) citizens of the town are allowed to vote on each district’s representative. Five districts’ members are up for reelection today.

Now if you scrutinize the phrase “consent of the governed,” you might wonder why people who don’t live in a district are allowed to vote on the member for a district other than their own. To me, it makes sense. We’ve had enough experience in this country and even in this city with political “machines” that get entrenched and become too powerful for the district’s residents to oust. People outside a district may be better able to recognize a problem like that and remove it than people who are under its thumb.

Also, although a member represents a district, they are supposed to work together. It’s a council, not a free-for-all.

Another thing about that “consent of the governed” has to do with “informed consent,” in my opinion. Do you buy a certain brand of makeup, handbag, shoe or hat because a celebrity endorses it? Are you brainwashed by clever and repetitive advertisements? Do you even notice?

Stop and smell the cash. Or, as it was said so potently by Deep Throat in the 1976 film “All the President’s Men,” “Follow the money.”

When relatively anonymous candidates who’ve barely shown an interest in neighborhood or community concerns before pop up with similar slogans and agendas and appear in advertising together, is that a coincidence? Or is an outside group funneling money into our local elections to achieve a mass brainwashing that independent politicians couldn’t achieve on their own?


The United States of America became an independent country so that a foreign entity wouldn’t control its government and its people. That’s why we vote.

And that’s how I write about today’s election without talking about today’s election.

Betsy Pickle is a veteran reporter and editor who occasionally likes to share her opinions with KnoxTNToday readers.

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