A Community Vision (Series - The First Pillar): Recognizing the Detachment of Local Government
The first step in addressing a problem is admitting that you have one in the first place. As we enter our journey here in this series about a vision for a community, we must look at everything that is wrong with our society’s current conditions at the local level. While I am certain that I will overlook something here and there, please know that I am coming at this from a place of sincere devotion to our collective. First in these 10 Pillars of Community is recognizing the detachment of local government from the people it is supposed to serve.
Out of all forms of government none are supposed to better represent the interests of the people than local government. This is because of the obvious close proximity at which they serve. These people are your friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, landlords, and possibly even tenants. So, it stands to reason that their actions in government perfectly represent the will of the people, right? Not necessarily.
Local elected officials are elected for a number of reasons, but the issues for which they campaign are often a smaller contributor to their election than two other monster factors: party label and name recognition. This is also why Congress regularly has the worst approval ratings in government despite the overwhelming majority of Congresspeople being consistently reelected every cycle.
People aren’t inclined to support candidates who are unfamiliar. However, if you are a coworker, friend, neighbor, or relative, the likelihood of you getting that person’s vote usually depends on what they think of you personally in addition to some consideration for your party label. In the absence of a voter knowing who you are, they are likely to default to the party label as their primary guide.
What does this have to do with the detachment of government? Simply put, the issues aren’t the major driving force behind whether someone is elected, unless we consider the mainstream perception of issues represented by the major parties, or if the matter is otherwise of major controversy. This results in a handful of well-connected citizens attaining power irrespective of their willingness to actually serve the people.
When they campaign, they merely have to excite the people who are likely to vote for them or against their opponent, regardless of their behavior or plans in office. These people tend to get comfortable where they are and their complacency in office – a byproduct of a lack of need to actually go door to door and listen to a diversity of viewpoints – is what creates the detachment to which I am alluding.
Furthermore, the people are coerced to perpetuate this broken system by our elected officials, political parties, education system, culture, and the media. We are led to believe that we only have two serious choices and that this is some chess match between red and blue. Only those few citizens who are directly involved in politics actually take the time to learn the issues and the candidates who claim their support or opposition. Meanwhile, the many problems which exist continue to be largely ignored until it can’t be ignored anymore.
On the whole, there are a declining number of citizens who vote regularly. Why is that? Why does the premier democracy in the world not lead the way in voter participation? The truth is found when you actually devote time to reading and listening to the people. You hear it when you canvass a neighborhood and when you watch news coverage involving citizens being asked about an election. People have lost faith in a system that they have long concluded doesn’t listen to them.
So, to these people, the solution is to just stop caring and give up. Unfortunately, there are some in government who could care less about the slipping turnout numbers, especially if the end-result is that they remain in power. In essence, this reduction in participation is a rubber stamp by the people for the will of the superminority. It is also contributing to the continuation of this detachment of government from the people. By not caring about our government you are giving them permission to not care about you.
In closing for this first installment of the series on “A Community Vision”, the first pillar of creating an adequately functioning community starts with the community members itself. It’s hard work, but it is essential. We MUST be willing to partake and demand better. We have to vote and follow-through in order to avert the emergence of detached governance. We have to make the community we want.
Until next time, thank you for reading.