Which politician is the most influential in your day-to-day life?
When I ask my 8th graders, most of them respond that the President of the United States is the most influential politician.
They are surprised that the President’s fame and power is principally a result of the media wanting to make money. A story about the president will sell in 50 states. A story of a senator is usually limited to one state. And the story of a city councilman is of such small readership that no significant news source can cover it and still stay in business.
Yet it is the city council who we give the power to make laws that affect our roads, safety, building codes, community design, taxes, parks, libraries, recreation services, water, and sense of community that make so many want to call this town home. If you have a problem with your neighbor’s pet ostrich, it’s the local police you call. If your house is burning down, you don’t wait for the president to call out the national guard. When your kids want to play this afternoon, you go to a local park, not a national park. So even though it’s not covered in the national news, picking your city councilman is probably the most important political decision you can participate in.
(I might be biased as an educator, but my close second would be the school board.)
But what if I’m not running? Can I still be involved in local politics?
Of course you can! And you should! When the men and women on the council are elected, they are not suddenly infused with omniscience. None of us is as smart as all of us together, and we instinctively look for candidates who will listen to their constituents.
If you want to support the arts, the recreation program, the library, or the city celebration, attend those meetings and give your input. You may have ideas that have never been considered or heard of before. Remember that “they” don’t have all the experience, knowledge, or connections that an all-inclusive “we” have.
In the process, remember that you may not have all the knowledge either. None of our laws or regulations was put in place by evil people seeking to annoy the rest of us. Some might be outdated. Some might need upgraded. Some should probably be eliminated. But understanding why it was there in the first place is a good first step in not re-causing whatever made it necessary in the first place.
What if I don’t have the time for a committee meeting?
What is your interest? Joining together with like minded people to serve, create, collaborate, and connect is what being a community is all about. Reach out to those who are like minded- and maybe even some who are not. You might be surprised to find more similarities than you thought with those who you once thought were too <insert favorite disparaging adjective here> to ever participate in a reasonable exchange.
As we come together through reaching out, talking, and participating in a reasoned exchange of ideas, our community increasingly becomes a place where we want to be. We won’t always agree on what the end product should look like, but if we agree on the process of getting there — even if we don’t always get our way — we’ll keep our actions and expectations in the range where we can appreciate, learn from, and be inspired by the differences and diversity that surround us. And that’s worth getting involved.
Bryce Shelley is a lifelong resident of American Fork. He has taught science in the area for over 15 years and enjoys gardening, biking, and eating fresh produce.