National Politics = Culture. Local Politics = Action
By Katie Abrams
Do you ever feel disappointed when reading about our current political system? Our nation is more divided than ever; we are living through a global pandemic, mass protests are occurring around the country, and you can’t forget the murder hornets! With all that is happening, you may ask how politics could be part of the solution? The answer is local elections.
When we think of power and action in our government system, we turn our head to the top of the food chain––the president. Yet, our day to day lives are governed and influenced by local power. Local politics have been erased from our periphery. Only 0.5% of all internet traffic goes to sites covering local news and politics. It’s no wonder we glaze over the importance of local representation. In the United States, there are 19,429 municipal governments. Municipal governments are broadly defined as the governments of cities, towns, boroughs, villages, and townships. The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution separates the powers of the federal government and the states. This separation is crucial to municipal governments because they primarily serve their communities addressing the day to day necessities of life. Municipal governments are responsible for local police departments, libraries, transportation, and infrastructure– just to name a few.
During the 2020 election cycle, there is one presidential race. However, a total of 470 Congressional Races are occurring. In the United States, our Congress is composed of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. In November, all 435 Representatives in the House are up for reelection, as well as 30 members of the Senate. Beyond that, we’re facing thousands of local elections. The reality of our federal government is that no President can represent every citizen in the nation to their satisfaction– that is what local elections are for. Your local representatives are there to represent you, your values, and your ideals. If you do not elect people who represent you, who is your advocate?
Think of local politics as a microcosm of national politics, but rather than deciding overarching laws and guidelines for the country, applying those rules and regulations to your individual community. If you have an issue with the police in your town, would the United States Attorney General call? No, rather, the District Attorney would get involved. If you have a problem with politics, sometimes the best way to create real and tangible change is through local government because of their specialized capacity to focus specifically on what residents need.
We typically believe that the President is who determines the fate of our politics and policies. However, if you accept the status quo without voting––both locally and nationally––, you are giving up your voice. It is not impossible to have government elected officials who accurately represent you.
You never know how the game is going to end, so why throw in the towel early. In 2010, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) did the seemingly unachievable when she won her Alaska Senate race. She was initially defeated in the primary, yet in order to prevail, Murkowski ran one of the most successful grassroots campaigns– winning the election by obtaining enough write-in votes. Her name was not even on the ballot. This is proof that we can fight for what we believe in and win.
Since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd in May, we have seen just how effective local activism can be. For many, the incident in Minneapolis serves as a reminder of the systemic racism so prevalent in America; however, the resulting outcry has created change in individual cities. As a result of the protests, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Portland, Philadelphia, Hartford, and Seattle have already reevaluated the funding allocated to police departments– with San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, New York, and more calling for changes. Although it is fair to be upset by the lack of national change, it is encouraging to know that within our communities there are still opportunities for actionable change through local politics.
Countless municipal elections are scheduled for this upcoming cycle. Yet, when it comes to elections, most people only think of national elections. In fact, when it comes to voting in the average municipal election, only 27% of ALL eligible people vote.
We live in a world where so many young people have grown up watching life-long politicians dominate our election cycle and the political world- even if they reflect outdated ideologies. That is why it is important not to forget local elections! If you do not like your Mayor, your Representatives, or your Senator, vote them out. Continuing to elect officials whose only goal is to be re-elected creates a negative cycle of complacency. Those elected to represent you should be representing you! Not the GOP or DNC, not the NRA or oil industry, or Big Pharma. By continuing to elect people who have shown an astounding level of complacency and complicity by neglecting to represent constituents over financial lobbying, we are aiding the fall of our democracy—watching the integrity and respect of political offices being torn down.
If you dislike career politicians or dislike anything about the current political system, you really do have the power to create change. That is why every vote in every election, not just during a presidential election, is crucial to a functioning democracy. If you are upset about what is happening in politics, vote out people who do not represent you.
In 2020, there are 7 vulnerable Republican Senate seats that if flipped would change the power dynamic of Congress. Those elections are just as necessary to show up for because, like the power of local elections influencing your day-to-day community life; Congressional elections help to ensure representation in federal lawmaking.
So what does it mean to “flip” a Congressional seat?
Imagine a map of the country, states that historically vote Republican shown in red, and Democratic voting states in blue– not every state on the map would be filled in. Some states are what we call swing states. Being a swing state means almost what it sounds like, the state swings back and forth between voting red and blue, depending on the candidate and the election. It is these states that are the battleground for the election.
Whether or not you live in a swing state, your vote matters. Your vote is the voice you are given to sing praises or voice dissent. Each vote you cast is crucial in helping your local, state, and national communities reflect the vision that you as an individual have. Elect people who will do the right thing because it is what their constituents deserve, regardless of political fallout.
Regardless of what party you affiliate with, the most crucial aspect of elections is to vote for candidates who YOU are motivated by. Let me say that again, who YOU, individually, support. Not your parents, or grandparents, or ministers, or rabbis, or friends! Without electing those who represent you and the issues you care about, it is discouraging to engage in politics.
As a citizen of the United States– whether you are politically active or not, and regardless of your political beliefs– as a democracy, it is your privilege and right to be able to cast a vote. Do not take that for granted. Work to make every neighborhood you inhabit the best version possible, remove people from all levels of office who are working against your goals. Acknowledge your rights. Use your voice.