Editor's note: This article continues a series of periodic profiles on The Nerve's Citizen Reporters. Watch an accompanying video report by Nerve intern Katie Geer by clicking on the link at the end.
Greenville resident J. Don Rogers was inspired to participate in The Nerve’s Citizen Reporter program for the same reason he was inspired to join the Greenville Tea Party.
“I’ve been watching over the years a slow disintegration of America’s founding principles,” he says. The only remedy, Rogers believes, is communication between the American people and their elected officials.
The Citizen Reporter program offers a widely available opportunity for that communication.
Through the program, grassroots activists involved in civic life across South Carolina join forces to help The Nerve hold state and local government accountable by monitoring and reporting on elected officials and public employees.
Citizen Reporters can contribute to The Nerve in a number of ways, including writing traditional news stories, filming meetings, interviewing elected officials for a written or video piece, or sending Freedom of Information requests to state and local government entities.
Citizen Reporters also can attend and write about committee meetings of the General Assembly and meetings of their local city council, county council and school board.
Rogers says being a Citizen Reporter is empowering.
“Citizen Reporters have a unique role that’s only available because of two modern tools: video and the Internet,” he says.
Rogers has concentrated his efforts as a Citizen Reporter on transparency, pushing committee and subcommittee chairmen in the Legislature to begin maintaining roll call voting records of their panels.
As reported in this previous Nerve story, his efforts have paid off, resulting in the kind of impact that engaged Citizen Reporters can have.
Although Rogers does not have a background in journalism or writing, the 73-year-old says that “over time I learned how to communicate effectively in writing and speech.”
Rogers earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of South Carolina. He subsequently enlisted in the Navy where he served as a lieutenant junior grade, and spent time in Barbados and Grand Turk in the West Indies.
When he returned to South Carolina, he enrolled in Furman University and obtained a master’s in psychology.
Rogers was born in Newberry, but moved to Greenville with his family as a child. His wife, Pat, is also a native of the Upstate. They have been married for 43 years and have two sons.
After graduating from Furman, Rogers took on various jobs, from teaching at Greenville Technical College to restoring antique log buildings. He also worked for different management consulting companies, and at one time acquired a franchise to sell microwave ovens.
All the while, Rogers harbored a passion for politics. He was there at the inception of the Greenville Tea Party a few years ago, “before the first rally,” and has been a member ever since.
Rogers says he was motivated to get involved with the group out of concern about what was happening in state government and at the national level. “I knew that all that I valued most was in peril.”
He describes his involvement in the Citizen Reporter program as a “gradual thing.” Rogers had worked with The Nerve’s parent organization, the South Carolina Policy Council, on several issues as a member of the Greenville Tea Party.
The organization, he says, included Policy Council research and data among materials it used to craft legislative scorecards, which charted the voting records of lawmaker. “With the help of the Policy Council I have become more familiar with political issues in South Carolina.”
As a Citizen Reporter, Rogers often visits the State House during the legislative session, saying he does so because of how strongly he believes in “informing people about what their representatives are doing in Columbia.”
But Rogers is more than just a staunch advocate of roll-call voting and government accountability. He seeks a government that is transparent, but most of all limited. And he says he espouses a libertarian mantra that he considers simply “patriotic”:
“I’m interested in the universal objective of all patriots: advocating to limit the power of government.”
“A patriot advocates for people power and for containing the natural inclination for governments to grow,” says Rogers. “It’s an eternal struggle.”
“The purpose of the Constitution is to limit the scope of government to its enumerated powers,” continues Rogers, “and every constitutional officer swears an oath to protect the Constitution.”
Rogers says government exists only to secure the rights of its citizens. “The original purpose for government was very clear,” he says. “Originally, government was intended to protect the rights of an individual in society.”
Rogers’s involvement in the Citizen Reporter program is a testament to an unwavering belief that the most important component of a democratic society is an informed citizenry.
“It’s as important as freedom is,” he says. “A society in which citizens do not talk about politics cannot remain free.”
Reach Weston at (803) 254-4411 or firstname.lastname@example.org.