The common trope among young voters, particularly in the United States, is a hesitancy to participate in the electoral process. There are, of course, a plethora of reasons for this tendency, chief among these being the usual “one less vote will not count,” or “one vote will not make a difference.” Sectors of voters look back to 2016—when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the electoral count—as evidence of a rigged system, further solidifying the belief in the insignificance of politics and being politically active. Yet, what this approach to the body politic and the public duty of citizens fails to recognize is that the power of public activism to bring about change lies in the ability and willingness to be politically involved, not necessarily at the national level, but rather at the local level.
Local politics are, for lack of better language, the driving force behind everyday American life. In the United States, the electorate has the tendency to look to the federal government for nearly all issues, most of which can, should, and ultimately are resolved at the local level.
The local machination of American politics, whether in towns, cities or counties are responsible for real and compoundable decisions that directly affect the lives of regular citizens. The water one uses and disposes of, the roads one drives, the public bus system one enjoys. These are all in consequence of political decisions made at the local level. When a house burns down or a backyard floods, the individuals directly responsible for providing assistance or aiding citizens in navigating relief options are not members of the federal bureaucracy, but rather public servants elected to mayoral offices, and city and county councils.
For far too long, schools have indoctrinated our children to believe that their inability to take the streets every four years to vote in national elections translates to taking their rights and duties for granted. Though this is oftentimes true, by undermining local politics and local elections in favor of producing massive turnouts at the national level, society has taught the children of tomorrow to ignore and disregard their direct future.
We teach our children about the progress brought about by Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Cesar Chavez. We teach our children of Civil Rights and Voting Rights. Yet, seldom is it mentioned that the United States abandoned the dark alleys of States’ Rights and marched, hesitantly, through the bright gates of Civil Rights not only because Dr. King marched in Washington, but also because his movement stormed town halls, blocked highways, and walked through the streets of the segregated South.
Local elections affect every aspect of American life—from small town to big cities. While Congress and the Supreme Court take months and years to make progress in our laws, local governments make constant decisions that affect our children’s education opportunities, their immediate environment, as well as their quality of life. At the end of the day, local elections are about the core of American identity at its simplest.