"The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off."

Gloria Steinem

Friday, November 1, 2013

It’s Municipal Election Time: Get Out and Vote!

     In just a few days, each of you has an opportunity to make a statement about how you view your local community.  It’s municipal election time.  If you don’t read this post soon, it might be pretty much academic, and that would be a real shame.
    Let’s be realistic.  You probably won’t have a wide variety of opportunities, and you may be unhappy with the opportunities you do have.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make the best of them this time, and see what you can do to make next time better.
     Perhaps the saddest thing about the electoral process in our country is the low turnout; municipal elections see the lowest turnout, making them the saddest of all.  To the academic mind, this seems strange.  Local government is responsible, directly or indirectly, for community safety, street repair (and plowing), code enforcement, and a host of things of direct, personal interest to the voter.  It is also the smallest body politic in which we cast votes, meaning it takes fewer people to have a real effect.  This is the only redeeming corollary to the problem of low turnout:  if the total number of votes cast is small, the number needed to win is even smaller.  That makes the local odds the best anyone who ventures into politics will ever have to face.  Thus the occasional independent candidate does enter the lists, and the success rate in local elections is much higher than at any other level.
     For all that, the task of making an impact for good on the local level remains huge.  The numbers a candidate needs to win appear small, until you actually go out and try to find them.  A major part of the reason is apathy.  There is absolutely nothing new about this, of course, and apathy remains the real enemy, just as it always has been.  Some people just can’t be reached, but you keep on trying anyway.  I hope.  If local history suggested any differently, I would say so, but it doesn’t.  The more things change…
     Apathy may be the community activist’s primary enemy, but it is by no means the only one.  Another problem stems from what I castigated several posts ago as “the wrong attitude.”  That particular post produced the most negative comments of any (so far), but I stand by what I said.  Many of you may be tempted to “throw ALL the bums out,” and vote accordingly.  That is an attitude toward which I have greater sympathy these days, in view of recent events in Washington.  Still, I don't recommend you apply it even on the national level, and absolutely not on the municipal level.  Your vote counts too much.
     What is coming up shortly is an election, your constitutional opportunity to replace those who need replacing.  You make (or you should make) that decision after becoming acquainted with the local situation, on an individual basis.  An informed, selective “No” is always justified; an across the board “No” may on occasion be, assuming it is based on accumulated facts, but an uninformed, reflexive “No” never is.
   That’s why I find the efforts of the local community activist groups so encouraging.  They know full well the problems of apathy and attitude, and get involved anyway.  Each group is taking its own approach, because different communities present different conditions and require different approaches.  Each group of the Facebook Alliance, from the Schuylkill Valley to Bellevue in Western Pennsylvania and from Norristown to Allentown, are all active in making people aware of the election, what the issues are and who is running.  Some are endorsing or at least promoting specific candidates.  Others are not.  All, however, post appeals to vote on Facebook, and continue to inform their residents of the conditions the existing officials tolerate and the new voices that want change.
     Most important of all is how so many local groups are trying to educate people, making them not just voters but informed voters.  They post election information, organize events, and invite municipal officials, representatives and candidates to participate.  A most encouraging sign is that the different activist groups are doing this good work jointly, in addition to keeping each other informed.  I can’t mention each event in each town, but want to offer major kudos to Norristown Men of Excellence and Norristown Nudge for jointly organizing a Candidates Forum, as just one example.  There are many others.
     While I want to commend the usual groups for their more than usual effort, I also want to place a spotlight on those who have emerged from other groups to lead these information crusades.  The Facebook page “Bridgeport, Pa.” is a general discussion group, not primarily an activist one.  A few members of the group joined together to generate resident interest in the upcoming election (not to mention the appointment of a new Chief of Police).  This was not an attempt to take sides, but to inform borough residents of who their candidates are and where they stand on local issues.  They went about this the right way, openly discussing the process, and seeking input from other members of the discussion group.  They first asked other residents for the issues they want raised and the questions they want put to borough candidates.  They assembled the responses and cast them into ten questions.  They put the questions to the candidates for Council, then posted the questions and responses one by one.  The fact that each candidate answered each question is a tribute to just how open and fair the process was.  This judgment is reinforced by the fact that one current councilman responded, despite his not running for office again.  The online discussion they raised was the important thing, of course, and Bridgeport residents were the beneficiaries.  There are also signs that resident activism might continue after the elections, a very encouraging development.

     So, once again, dear friends, into the breach, even though this democracy thing can be really annoying.  Winston Churchill, who knew a little about the subject, once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government ever conceived by the mind of man, except for all the others.”  Win or lose, we should keep that in mind.