When it comes to civics, I am a nerd. I’m not afraid to admit it.
I get excited when I receive a jury summons in the mail. Coincidently, I get a little bummed out when I call the court hotline before my summons date and discover that I am no longer needed. My imaginary role playing of “12 Angry Men” becomes a fleeting fantasy.
I also enjoy attending city council meetings. And not just the traditional public meetings, but also the work sessions, budget discussions, planning commission hearings, committees, and any other weird one-off meetings that are open to the public. I’m always that weird guy who is sitting in the back, taking notes, frustratingly shaking my head, or mumbling my disapproval under my breath.
But what is even more frustrating is the fact that I’m usually sitting alone.
I know that people have opinions about politics. Open up the comments section anywhere on the internet and you will find a girth of people with opinions on how things ought to be. The old saying goes that opinions are like a certain anatomical feature located on lower half of the human body (trying to keep it PG here): everybody has one. But, after spending any amount of time on the internet, it seems that everybody has more than one. The ratio is slightly skewed.
But yet, there I sit—alone in the back.
Ask any rando on the street what his or her thoughts are on the President, and you will likely get an earful. And it doesn’t matter if the individual approves or disapproves of the head of state, the opinions will flow like steam—blistering, scattered, and imprecise.
However, this conversation becomes increasingly murky when you solicit thoughts on other elected leaders—especially when you start at the federal level and work your way down to the state and local levels. Right now, without looking it up, can you name your Senate and House representatives—both on the federal and state levels? Who is your County Commissioner? Who represents your municipal council district? Or do you even live within one? If you cannot name more than one name, then I strongly encourage you to take a longer look at your ballot next time. Elections involve more than one person every four years.
Interestingly enough, even if folks cannot name representatives, they still have opinions. A lot of these opinions are premised with a rhetorical question, “You know what we need to do?” The use of the royal “we” in this statement is intentional because it absolves the responsibility of the individual. It really should be read as, “You know what somebody else needs to do?”
It’s time that we all ask, “You know what I need to do?” This question is tricky because you also have to answer it.
Last Election Day, I answered that question. I made the conscious decision to become more active politically on a local level. I had already upped my game during the previous cycle, but I came to the conclusion that I could do more. I’m a firm believer in the “put up or shut up” mantra. And I have never been really good at shutting up, so that I only leaves me with one option.
So I started showing up to everything that I possibly could. During the process, I ended up getting elected as chair for my local political party affiliate. I also was nominated to my city’s planning commission. And now I’m running to get elected as City Council member.
Now, I’m not saying you should dweeb out about the civic process like I do. Some might call me borderline obsessive. Getting involved isn’t hard; it’s just a matter of showing up every once in a while. Your presence—even if you don’t say a word—is a friendly reminder to elected leaders that 1) they are public servants and 2) somebody is watching them.
If you have ideas for how to improve your community, don’t keep them to yourself. Get down to your local town hall meeting, and share your thoughts. Everything is made up by who shows up. If you’re absent, somebody else will take your place—somebody who likely won’t share your same thoughts.
“Think globally, act locally” is a contrived platitude that has lost all original meaning. Everybody is moderately good at the first half of the saying, but struggles with the second half. And though it is virtuous to care about desperate people with disparate circumstances in faraway lands, don’t forget that your help is needed in your very own immediate neighborhood.
Try to “think locally, act locally” for a change. And if you choose to do so, I’ll save a seat for you in the back.