Does anything rev the proverbial engine more than local politics? The whisper of a transit budget proposal. The heat of a public comment period. The downright siren call of a freshly printed city council agenda. Get me a bucket of ice …
… for the red-hot engines of DEMOCRACY! Getting involved in local governance is titillating for a bunch of reasons. You’ll better understand how your local political system works; you might actually get your local politicians to listen to you; and if you can’t, you know who to campaign against in the next election cycle.
Flex your power and get your voice heard with this advice.
Diving in is easy
Your first move: Google your city’s website. Hot! It probably has an events calendar, which will include public committee and commission meetings. If you want to go old-school, pick up your local newspaper for dates and times. Then show up to the meetings that look interesting.
Find contact info for your elected officials, like the mayor and city council members, on the city’s website. Facebook put a long, fruitful career of social media stalking facilitation to use by listing your local officials, and their digits, in its newish Town Hall feature.
Most local pols have specific times when they meet with the public. Find out when and where those meetings are held and get some facetime. Browse the city’s website to see local initiatives, and then let your representatives know what you think. (Remember when you learned about the barriers to clean energy in your community? Bring it up!)
Your voice — and vote — can have an epic influence
“Nothing scares a politician more than the prospect of losing,” says Nathaniel Stinnett, founder of the Environmental Voter Project. Local officials will take your calls and value your opinions, because a few votes can make a difference in local races. And a well-researched letter-to-the-editor can sway more than a handful of votes.
Local government has more power than you think
State and city legislators often make the kinds of big, lasting choices that affect the things you’re most riled up about — like preserving open space and deciding whether to shift to clean energy. “So many of those decisions are made locally,” says John Reuter of the League of Conservation Voters.
Example: In Gwinnett County, Georgia, the county commission may put a measure on the 2018 ballot to dramatically expand local public transit, either by connecting with nearby Atlanta’s mass-transit system, or by expanding what Gwinnett has already got, levying an additional sales tax of up to 1 percent.
In the past, “the county commission has dug its heels in and refused to put it on the ballot,” says Brionté McCorkle, assistant director of the Sierra Club’s Georgia Chapter and a candidate for the Atlanta City Council. But this summer and fall, local residents will have a chance to change that. They can attend an upcoming series of public meetings to let local politicians know what kinds of transit they want, where transit hubs should be, and whether to join Atlanta’s system, McCorkle says. Meetings like these are just one way to fight for a future that doesn’t suck, right in the place you live.
Access, influence, sway? Put a ring on it, ’cause you just got civically engaged.