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Cai Jinqing wanted to do two things while in Provo to receive a Freedom Award from Provo's Freedom Festival a couple weeks ago.

Jinqing, who participated in the student demonstrations in Tianan-men Square in Beijing, China, wanted to see Brigham Young University and the mountains.They had heard of BYU in China, she told me. The school's Young Ambassadors toured the country around 1983.

"It seems like it was the first time for Chinese to get a sense of American culture," she said.

Jinqing has had the opportunity to get her own sense of what this country is all about during the past year while she has been a student at Wellsley College.

She's noticed Americans' light-heartedness, openness and their ability to enjoy life.

She's also noticed we don't seem to care too much about world events.

"I can understand," she said. "Americans live in a very stable society."

Americans don't have to worry too much about the immediate effects of policies and politics. In China, the people do.

Here, political activity is carried on by politicians and the media, she said; the general public is not so involved.

She has a point.

What Jinqing perhaps hasn't had time to observe yet is this: In general, we don't even care too much what happens in our own country, our own county, our own school district or our own city. Stability leads to complacence.

Much of the business of government in this country is carried on with little more than a peep from the people.

Someone once said "Citizens pay their taxes, and then they abdicate. They have lost their skills as citizens; they have contracted them out to public employees."

An example: Provo passed a $73 million budget about a month ago. Two residents attended a public hearing to comment on it. That was practically a crowd when it comes to budget hearings.

And when the Provo School District passed a $48 million budget about a month ago, one resident attended a public hearing to comment.

Still, once in a while, an issue raises the hackles of a sector of the public enough to motivate them to get involved. And it is a beautiful thing to see democracy in action. Take the recently passed secondhand dealers' ordinance, for example.

The City Council held a public hearing on proposed changes to the ordinance. A number of people attended the hearing - primarily secondhand dealers affected by the ordinance. They provided a number of valid criticisms and concerns about the proposed ordinance, which was subsequently modified based on those comments.

Residents have displayed similar concern and willingness to get involved in cable television service issues. But residents should scrutinize all issues closely - the big issues, like the council's decision to give the mayor a raise as well as the small ones, such as prohibiting camping out before the Fourth of July parade and fixing up the bandstand in Pioneer Park.

People can make a difference. Participating in democracy is a right and a privilege. It ought to happen more often, especially right here in America.