There’s a ubiquitous stigma associated with politics. At the global level, most citizens cannot relate, nor able to familiarize themselves with the confluence of strife and international law driving global politics and economics. At the federal level, we can relate to a certain extent, perhaps not enough to feel we have a voice, but we at least have this a priori assumption that politics in the United States is too distasteful and corrupt to get involved in. Then there’s the state and local level of politics. For most of us, especially among the youth, local politics is a superfluous vacuum for which we refuse to waste our time with. But, if we as citizens want to have a voice, an effective voice that can create substantive change, local politics is where our experiments and voices emanate. The most intriguing question of democracy in the 21st century is are we willing, with myriad ersatz distractions straying us away from core issues of our future, to relinquish the all too common excuse of ”you can’t fight city hall”?
When I say ”politics” or ”voice”, I don’t mean once every four years we commit gung-ho at the voting box to choose a Presidential candidate who, for many of us, is akin to voting for the next American Idol winner. Politics, namely in Ancient Rome and Greece among other societies, intend the word politics to correlate with civic engagement. Civic Engagement was the core ingredient that maintained these flourishing ancient societies, and it has helped to maintain every other. In contemporary politics, civic engagement at the federal level has an unattainable connotation (to say the least). Conversely, if one focuses on the effect we have as citizens on state and local politics, one clearly sees that democracy is alive and well.
Think of local politics as the forum with which your voice, as a constituent for city council members, has immense persuading power. In the latest city council elections here in Los Angeles, a little more than 10,000 people cast their ballot with some districts having multiple candidates. This means that, unlike federal politics that relies on big private money to disseminate views on issues that we much of the time feel very distant from, city and the majority of state politicians hold immense value on each and every citizen in their district (there are instances where big money dominates- it doesn’t mean it can defeat people power, however). Sure, there are some constituents who incessantly hamper city/state departments, but in the overall scheme of politics, this is beside the point. Politics is a public service, and the city and state represents our closest relationship to democracy.
City and state politics are the trendsetters. While our current Congress and Senate have made the infamous ”do-nothing Congress” seem like a re-enactment of the Constitutional Convention, the onus has been put on the states to keep pace with the current trend of American politics. Colorado legalizing marijuana, Vermont and Maine requiring GMO labeling, California as well as Vermont passing laws to reverse Citizens United and get money out of politics, are all success stories among myriad others, and have paved the way for the federal government to take action in the near future.
Many tend to believe- mostly those detached or discontented from the political arena- that we can’t fight city hall, i.e. politics will be politics. But let’s remember that these initiatives were pushed through by citizens, just like you and I who, without curators orchestrating a more obfuscated agenda, passionately felt this was best for their democracy to progress. Activism, organizing, and dedication to the progression of democracy, has immense power at the local and state level. We must abrogate the notion as citizens that state and local politics have little first hand effect. I will explore this notion in further articles; however, the more critical take away here is that if we utilize our influence, power, and passion toward local politics, we have an opportunity to pave our own society. Advocating on issues in federal politics is essential, don’t get me wrong, but the foundation is created locally; and that’s what we must take advantage of.
Let’s remember that civic engagement has always been there to progress our democracy, and in the honor of those who succeeded in crafting the United States we know today, let’s unite and take on city hall together.