Ten Reasons Why We Should Pay Attention to Local Politics
For me, the machinations of the machine we call “American politics” seemed like nothing so much as an overrated reality television show starring criminals and people fully indoctrinated into a failing two-party system. I really didn’t see how I could make a difference with my vote, and I didn’t think it was even worth voting.
Then I discovered a really amazing aspect of our political system. The local governments in our cities and towns make real decisions that impact our lives, and they are often available to average citizens. City council meetings are open to the public and accept public commentary. The councilmen and councilwomen will often lend an ear to concerned citizens, even when they don’t agree with us. That’s their job, and when they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, it’s much easier and infinitely more beneficial to one’s local community to oust a member of City Council or a bad mayor than to get rid of a state representative or a senator. After all, it takes less signatures, less votes, and less work. Following are ten reasons why we should pay attention to local politics.
1. Local politics affect our everyday lives. Not happy with the bus system in your city? Worried about potholes? Annoyed that your back yard keeps being flooded when it rains? All these issues are handled by the local government officials. Depending on how your city or local charter is written, these issues may be handled by your city council or by another local governing body. The details managed by these folks can really pile up, especially if you live in a poorer locality. Often, if you don’t bring the issues up to them, then they will probably never know.
2. The folks elected to local positions in our cities and towns act as our first line of government. They are the most accessible part of government to the average citizen. They are the faces you can actually talk to regarding any issues in your city or town. The City Councils in most cities and towns work to make their communities better places. If you don’t talk to them, tell them your concerns, and share your vision for the future, no one will ever hear your voice of dissent.
3. Participation in local politics can prevent tyranny. In America, we believe in democracy and representative republic. This is because, at the local level, true democracy is possible and perfectly doable. If we don’t participate, democracy inevitably turns into tyranny. The People ultimately rule any democracy, and together, we can work to create communities where finding common ground isn’t all that uncommon.
4. If and when your local system is hijacked by those who are considerably richer than average citizens, your local government’s charter is written with safeguards to allow the People to change the laws, rules, and even the functions of government simply by exercising your right to petition, right to vote, and right to freedom of speech.
5. Local politics and local issues often set the precedent for political moves on the state and national level. If you’re concerned about a specific issue, chances are others in your state and the nation are feeling the same way. For instance, the poorest localities were hit hardest by the recent economic crisis. Still, many of those towns rallied to create new industry and effect change on the local level to solve their problems.
6. With local politics, it’s a lot easier to rally support or opposition for local issues. For instance, if you live in a town with many untended potholes, chances are you’re not the only one angry about it. If you talk to your neighbors and friends, even when you talk to strangers, you’ll likely see that they’re worried about many of the same issues you are. After all, you share the same space.
7. Local politics, especially at the state level, determine what happens in schools. Education has played a central role in the health of American culture for some time, and many agree that our schools are in dire straits. Parents and teachers don’t often know what to do about this, but they should know that their local systems have built into them safeguards to protect education. If you’re not happy with state-funded education, the first place to start can be local school board elections.
8. The easiest place to change laws you don’t like is with the local and state government. Luckily, our localities have the ability to change law by petition, and although many cities and localities may try to battle this, slowing average citizens by using a mountain of administrative red tape, eventually, anything with enough support will be given a place on the state or local ballot. A great example of this is the movement to legalize marijuana in Colorado. Amendment 64’s passage onto the Colorado State Constitution, while controversial and still debated in many localities, was an act of the People calling for a change they saw as necessary, and many worked together to create this transformation.
9. As concerned citizens, it’s easier to hold politicians accountable locally than nationally. For instance, in Colorado, we recall elected officials all the time when they renege on election promises or make a move politically or in their personal lives with which we don’t agree. Don’t like what your state officials did? You can write a letter to them, visit them in person, start a petition to recall them, and even simply vote them out of office when the next election comes around. The number of signatures required to get rid of criminal or displeasing officials at the state or local level is within the reach of dedicated folks, and regular citizens can be the change in these kinds of issues.
10. Think globally, act locally. Yes, it’s a well-worn phrase. Still, even though local change may take a while to trickle up to the federal government, the possibilities we create when we take a stand locally can create many ripples that actually affect the world. Especially with social media and the Internet, bringing the local to a national audience has become easier. Local issues can create a background of case law the federal government cannot, in integrity, ignore forever. Local issues and local change can bring global issues to the attention of the national media, creating awareness and more conversation around the topic.
The impact local politics has on us and our regular, day-to-day lives is clear. However, for whatever reasons, folks are still reticent to become involved or even interested in local politics. Perhaps they’re jaded. As a nation, we seem to be failing in so many ways that I would argue the only way to take back the country for the People is through true democratic methodologies. I pose perhaps the most important question of all: if we don’t take a stand locally, then who will take a stand on issues that concern us, the regular citizens?