Elections: All politics is local

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It occurred to me, when I began to write an article about the Black Lives Matter movement, the advice I had to offer up applies to people of all colors and identities. It seems we spend entirely too much time focusing on our uniqueness — black, white, brown, rainbow, young, old, Christian, atheist – that we forget we are all Americans first and foremost. With seemingly every “group” imaginable pushing a private agenda while attacking those who do not agree with them, we have succeeded in dividing ourselves to the point where next year we are liable to be selecting between a socialist or billionaire blow hard to be our next president. Meanwhile, we are missing the bigger picture.

If the presidency of Barrack Obama has taught us anything, it is not that we have reached a point where we are okay with electing a black person as our president, but rather, we have reached a point where we think our president is entirely to blame or credit for the lives we have. The fact is, whoever we elect president next year is more likely to have less influence on our lives than the people we elect to be our next mayor, city council member, or school board representative.

Our president can only get done what he or she is able to accomplish through working with our Congress. Since each of us only has a say in electing one representative and two senators, who we elect on a national level tends to reflect what we feel strongly about, but in reality has little local impact on our lives. For instance, if you oppose war and elect a senator based on their opposition to it, it won’t make much of a difference in your life. Half of your tax money will continue to go to the military in some form. And as sad as it is to say, most Americans do not know any of the thousands of young men and women who have died in our most recent wars.

Still, we will go into next year’s elections knowing far more about the lives of the family members of our presidential candidates than we will the political positions of our local political candidates. This is why we would be better off skipping the Republican or Democrat debates and attend a local city council meeting and see who is calling the shots in our own backyard.

A local school bond measure or increase in bedroom taxes has far more of an impact on our lives than whether or not our next president is a Democrat or Republican. The allocation of local resources which are decided by locally-elected officials will determine what kind of police, fire, and emergency services you receive, all of which you will feel the result from. What streets get repaved, what neighborhoods are allowed to fall into disrepair, and what local development projects are approved will affect your life more than who sits in the Oval Office.

Whomever our next president is, he or she will enter office knowing 40 percent of the nation will never get on board with what they propose, another 40 percent will support anything and everything, and the remaining 20 percent will be left to voice an opinion and decide matters. Meanwhile, our locally-elected officials will be fortunate if 40 percent of the community recognizes their name, let alone their face or position on local matters. We seem to think these people make little difference in our lives and are most likely going to vote for them based on things like their party affiliation, what church they attend, or whether or not they remember to mow their front lawn every week.

If we use what has happened in Ferguson, MO as an example, we see local elections do matter far more than we realize. Why is it in a community where two-thirds of the people are black you end up with a white mayor, white police chief, white police department and white judges and a whole lot of angry and frustrated black residents? My guess is it is no different than in my mostly white community where residents wonder why there are so many senior services offered while others go without. In both cases, local elected officials end up representing the wants and desires of the local voters and not the local population.

Protestors in Ferguson, MO demonstrating over the killing of an African-American teenager by a white police officer. (YouTube)
Protestors in Ferguson, MO demonstrating over the killing of an African-American teenager by a
white police officer. (YouTube)

In the case of Ferguson, if more white people end up voting for the local officials of their choice than do blacks, they end up with a white-dominated government that represents the desires of the people who voted them into office, leaving the nonvoter behind. In the case of my community, if 85 to 90 percent of the seniors take the time to get to know who is running for local office, what their positions are, and actually go hear them speak before casting their ballot, despite their decreasing numbers, they will dominate local elections. Local elected officials care less about the rants and insults we post on Facebook than they do who actually votes. They also tend to care less about the protests of people who choose not to vote over the wishes of those who take the time to vote.

We have become a disconnected society because we have decided to place all our political eggs in who we elect as president, while forgetting to recognize the quiet influence and power our local leaders wield. To expect a single person to single-handedly turn our lives around for the better is only to set yourself up for a huge disappointment. We would all be better off if we turned off CNN or Fox News for a few months and invested more time into understanding local issues and the people who want to tackle them because after all, they will have a far greater impact on the quality of life we enjoy than whomever we elect president next year.

(Top photo of Los Angeles City Hall by Claudia Gestro)