July is the month in which we celebrate the birth of this country's independence and the subsequent development of democracy, American-style. This year's celebrations will be tempered by and, at the same time, strengthened by the collective loss our nation suffered on Sept. 11.
It is a July unlike any other. Certainly, security at civic events throughout the country is at an historic high. With so many law enforcement experts forcing themselves to "think like a terrorist," the idea of attacking America in the throes of a patriotic celebration surely crossed their collective mind. Even the once simple joy of attending a community fireworks display has been tainted by the threat of terrorism.
But, the spirit of democracy remains untarnished and speaks to Americans in many ways. Out of defiance or bravery or pride, the dearly held traditions of Independence Day carry on in big cities and small towns throughout our nation.
Since September, we've been writing a lot about how technology can be harnessed to enhance physical and cyber security. Surely, many of those systems are being deployed even as we spend a few minutes with the pages of this magazine. And, many more have been called to service to ensure public safety over the long holiday weekend.
It is not a comfortable feeling, this periodic call to high alert. But then, there are scholars and writers who say the essence of democracy is discomfort and the ability of the people to change the things that don't feel right, exchange the familiar for a chance at something better. This is something that Americans will do en masse this November as more than 35 states have gubernatorial elections.
Of course, it is not only the names embossed on the doors of governor's offices that may change. Hundreds of appointees in powerful posts in state governments also face a very uncertain future. These changes will come in the midst of perhaps the greatest overall uncertainty this nation has ever faced.
Will this new national condition inhibit our desire for political change? Will newly elected governors and state officials have regard for people and policies that are serving the public good or will they feel compelled to exercise their newly won power regardless of what may be lost? This danger may be particularly acute in the arena of digital government. Across the nation, there are many examples of excellent leadership in government technology -- states in which strong IT projects are causing the positive transformations promised by the digital revolution. How will the potential infusion of new leaders impact these efforts?
As we consider the potential for major turnover of leadership in government, we have the opportunity to do so in the context of the democracy we venerate this month. Inherent in our political structure is the mechanism to ameliorate the potential impact of sweeping change in this new arena of information technology. Already, some state and local governments are considering adopting policies, perhaps even legislation, to guide succession planning. Shane Peterson takes a thoughtful look at this new dilemma in his article in this month's magazine.
In Canada, there is a political party that, in America, would appear to be an oxymoron: the Progressive Conservative Party. For our northern neighbors it means being fiscally conservative while being socially responsible, perhaps even liberal in thinking. But, as we change the captains of ships of state, we might adopt a bit of what appears to us to be oppositional philosophy. Might we be progressive in changing our political leaders while conservative about wiping the slate clean after the elections? It is up to our leaders, those in office now, and those who assume their roles in January 2003.
Just as threats to the safety of our homeland have increased so too has our commitment to the tradition begun on American soil in 1776. We are a government based on the premise that freedom matters. Democracy gives us the freedom to be openly critical of government and still to be proud of our country. It gives us the freedom to celebrate change and honor tradition.