Democracy isn’t a spectator sport, so why does it sometimes feel like it?
Many diverse communities across the commonwealth remain politically disengaged. Often, there is so much going on in life that the easiest (and sometimes sanest) thing to do is to focus on things inside your “circle of influence” and not focus on “complex political issues.” I get it, but the fact of the matter is that you have more political power than you think and you should use it, especially at the local level!
An important way to raise up and claim your seat at the table (grow your circle of influence) is to organize at the neighborhood level. Talk to parents in your neighborhood, stay informed about what goes on at City Hall, and volunteer at a community focused non-profit. These are excellent ways to get the ball rolling towards increased political power.
Political power starts on your own block. Think in terms of the housing market. The value of surrounding houses will impact the value of your home. So, if you are the only one on your street who votes in every election, that might be why the pothole or light hasn’t been fixed. If you talk to all your neighbors about getting involved, the impact will be felt by decision-makers whose survival relies on their ability to feel a pulse.The key is to stay on top of what is going on in the neighborhood—whether a new housing development, a gas pipeline, or a bill being considered before the legislature. And then, make your voice heard!
If a vibrant democracy requires participation, why does it seem like political leaders care more about banking votes than listening to voters opinion? It’s a valid question and it’s unfortunate that one must be an active voter to get on the radar of most campaigns. In fact, if you don’t vote regularly then you are unlikely to even get a piece of mail about the candidates or local issues. Political consultants whose only goal is winning rifle through the State Voter File like the Zillow App to mine the most voter-dense areas in a neighborhood. Armed with this data, they base how much you are worth to the campaign. Voting in every election is, “duh,” obvious, but the rubber hits the road after election day when the jockeying begins.
Voting ain’t even the half of it, but it’s so dang important.
Critical to the vibrancy of democracy is competition. Like any free market, if one lacks rivals and operates as a monopoly, the “product,” the “customer,” and “the shareholders” suffer. In this example, the product is public service. The only way the market corrects itself is with everyone doing their part to keep the big wheel turning, and in this, we all hold shares.
This means, for example:
- writing a letter to your elected official instead of posting epic social media rants;
- being conscious of how you spend your dollars so that businesses who do not support your community are not sustainable in your neighborhood;
- attending a community meeting instead of finishing that new series on your streaming service; and
- most of all, getting signatures and putting your name on the ballot!
Most elected positions only require 50 to 200 signatures (which could be gathered by one person in a few hours). If the last presidential election has taught me anything, it’s not to hesitate to throw your hat in the ring. Many elected officials in Massachusetts have never faced a primary opponent, with the longest-serving in office for almost 50 years. This is a symptom of a diseased democracy. Running and voting in primaries keeps the product from spoiling.
To the disenfranchised voter out there, I feel ya. There are many people who try to utilize guilt and shame to pigeonhole unlikely voters into political participation, but this never works. This misses the mark and it also dismisses the concern and real pain of those who have tried and failed, and have been failed by political systems. People in the community have so much more to offer than their votes. When political participation is approached in a way that doesn’t understand individual traumas, the fruit in our hand turns to stone. Because instead of pressuring, and trying to squeeze a drop of blood from a stone, you could provide something much more refreshing. Tapping into the struggles many of us have faced in the community and raising those voices to arrive at a common solution is much more fruitful.
Primary night in Massachusetts has just proven (and hopefully Beacon and Capitol Hill Dems took notice) that change is possible with a clear, genuine, and spirited grassroots effort to connect with everyday people. Let’s show them again this midterm! We will need you to come together with your neighbors to support and advance the gains we have made. I certainly cannot blame you for not voting, but I welcome you back with open arms because we need you and more importantly, OUR KIDS NEED US!
By Ed Shoemaker