Who will be our next President?
I hope I didn’t lose you right there. This isn’t a conversation about our President at all. But, my guess is that you know what the President does – or should do – or can do – or doesn’t do. Not this current President in particular, but the office as a whole.
While less likely, others of you may also know the role of our congressmen, senators, governors, judges, the House of Representatives, the Senate; and you may even know what a mayor is, although you’re not sure what he or she actually does.
You see, people are likely to vote for these offices, especially that of the President, because we think about political issues on a national or state level. We are taught what our national and state governments do or don’t do during our years in school. We are encouraged to exercise our right to vote. And when we turn on the television or read the newspaper, these offices are often the topics reporters talk about.
But there are offices, local governments, both at the county and village level that also impact our lives. In fact, they impact your life and our life more than you may realize.
But first, I’d like to take a moment to talk about this word: political — or politics.
It’s a heated word. You may be already dreading the moment you have to see your uncle at Thanksgiving because he likes to talk politics. You may have a friend who strays away from topics around politics. Or you just don’t turn on the news because you don’t want to think about politics.
I do that. I hate watching the news. I, too, hate “politics.” After the election a week ago, I was flipping through a couple news stations; the numbers were in, we knew the majority of who won what, so the conversation had turned a little bit to the dirt on this person, the wrong viewpoint of that person, the scandals that have happened here and there. This is what we refer to as “politics.”
And it infuriates me because those talking points and sensational stories are not politics, they are scandals. So, yeah, we don’t like to talk about that or participate in that or think about that. It’s not who we as a people are.
And that is what the word politics should represent: who we, as a people, are and how we will build our common life together.
That’s what we are going to talk about here: our common life together.
On a federal and state level, the legislation of our common life together often looks at issues that affect us, the American people, as a whole.
Recently topics have included: worker’s wages, the environment, marriage laws, health insurance, sexual harassment laws, equality among races, religions, gender and sexuality, among others. The federal and state governments also provide a stable or unstable economy, which affects business growth or decline and the number of jobs available.
As a mother of three teenage children, we have conversations about federal and state issues often. But when I sat down with my oldest and her friend, who were just about to turn 18, we started talking about what local governments do.
I asked her friend, “what happens when you turn into your mom’s driveway?” She didn’t know. Then I asked her, “what happens when you turn into your dad’s driveway?” She still wasn’t getting where I was going, so I asked her, “What is different between the two?”
She told me that she had to go over a curb and up an incline at her mom’s house, and that her dad’s driveway was flat without a curb.
And I said, there’s local government for you.
A board, at some point in time, agreeing with a planner, voted that your dad’s driveway would be flat. I asked if his front yard had ditches for the rainwater, and a duct under the concrete. She said, “Yes.” I then asked what happened to her mom’s rain water. She told me that it travels alongside the curb and into a drain.
Again, I told her that a board, at some point in time, agreed with a plan, and voted that the homes in that subdivision had to adhere to those standards.
She was floored.
A similar conversation happened in my kitchen when five, soon to be senior students, gathered around the island in our home, talking about Chromebooks. The girls were opposed to the requirement that they had to have them for school work, citing that they would rather take notes and do homework by hand.
A week prior, they had learned that a local government, a school board, had voted in the spring to approve the 1-to-1 initiative.
One of the girls said to me that she didn’t even know what the school board did, but wanted to find out more.
After watching local boards for nearly 10 years, the truth is that what happens at the village board, school board, county board, fire district board, and library district boards impact the day-to-day lives of local people more than any other government.
Your community growth, whether residential or commercial, is dictated by local municipalities. How many and what type of neighborhoods are going up and when? Where are the residential areas and the commercial areas located? What specifications do those developments have to meet? What will happen to your brush and leaves in the fall and spring? When do roads get fixed? What is the schedule for salting the roads and removing snow?
Teacher contracts are negotiated by school boards and unions; within these contracts, teacher pay, hours and working conditions are dictated. Working conditions are those conditions that directly impact students. School boards also approve school policies and procedures: how many days and hours students will be in school, what happens if a child is bullied, what happens if a child loses his Chromebook? They look into the future and identify building projects that may need to be done and approve curriculum changes.
Local fire districts make decisions on what equipment needs to be purchased or maintained. They dictate training hours and response services, which lead to response times.
Local boards also oversee the happenings of the administrative teams: the Superintendent, the Village Administrator, the Fire Chief. They hold the responsibility of approving hires and making decisions on the release of employees.
But above all, local boards are tasked with being the eyes and ears of the people they represent, just as state and federal electives should be.
Ultimately, the only way they can represent the views of their constituents is by providing a space and time for those constituents to ask questions and voice their opinions.
And constituents have to be educated and engaged in order to do that.
You see, the beauty of our country, or the promise of our country, is that everyone gets a vote and a voice. We get to say, here is what we want our common life together to look like, this is what is important to us, and this is who we want to be and where we want to go.
Like all elections, the 2018 midterm elections, was an opportunity for people to do just that; to say this is what is important to us and how we want our lives to look.
But we, as a people, are not finished. We have another local election coming up on April 2, 2019.
While this publication will never endorse a candidate, we do want to encourage people to participate in elections; whether you are willing to step up and run for a seat, whether you help to organize opportunities for people to vote and always to exercise your right and privilege to vote.
The question isn’t who has done this or done that, but instead, who is the candidate with the vision and the stance to make our common life together what it should be?
If you don’t already have a vision for what our common life together should be like, I encourage you to think about that over the next months and years. Get out and talk to people, get to know them, look at our infrastructures, visit our schools.
All of us live in this community for a reason. Those reasons are all very common. And from what I have seen, this whole thing only works when we, the people, participate.