On February 28th at 7 pm, the Rockdale County School Board meeting was entirely packed with best-dressed high school students, proud parents, and other attendees. During the first half of the gathering, there was a public congratulating of students that competed in All-State Chorus. I found myself sitting behind a woman that I later learned was named Kim Vier, the principal of a local elementary school. As I questioned her on what the meetings were like, she advised me to keep an eye on the population change after the intersession. Sure enough, the crowd went from “every seat filled” to a party of three. I wondered, is this meeting at all representative of how involved people are in local politics?
I am convinced that the strength and integrity of the United States political system depends on a strong foundation that begins in our cities and towns. These towns are where we raise our youth and do our best to prepare them for adulthood, and yet, when we shove them from the nest most fail in the fulfillment of their civic responsibilities. According to a report by Portland State University, “fewer than 15 percent of eligible citizens are turning out to vote for community leaders like mayors and city councilors” and “city residents 65 and older were 15 times more likely to cast a ballot than younger residents between the ages of 18 and 34”. These numbers are incredibly troubling and show a dangerous outcome for our future as older generations faze out.
Imagine our entire government is a tower made of Jenga blocks and the higher you build, the more reliant you are on the blocks that create the foundation. If less than 15% of eligible voters participate in local elections, then more than 85% of our foundation is missing and unable to hold the rest of the tower. Our structure is quivering and unsecured, possibly able to cause a chain reaction that affects our state administration and potentially devastating consequences on the federal level. There are thousands of individuals that do not vote, and perhaps it is because they believe their votes are not significant or that gerrymandering and fraud are the answers to winning an election. That in itself is a different argument, but perhaps an incentive would be to visualize a world where we took advantage of having grown up in a stable democracy and saw the consequences of our actions (or in-actions).
The New York Times reported in 2017that Democracy is effective in the U.S., but there is still room for improvement. Envision an individual with authoritarian beliefs that is rising through the ranks of American politics, preying on the idea of understanding and representing the under-represented masses. Slowly, but surely, this person is proving successful and inspiring their base to do the same, all while slowly weakening our system. These people do not believe in our values or goals, and they do not wish to uphold democratic norms and institutions. They merely wish to find the cracks where our foundation has eroded over time so that, perhaps one day, everything will come crumbling down and be replaced by a fortress housed by one. This is not an outlandish concept – it happened in the 1930s with Hitler and the Nazi Party, in the early 1800s with Napoleon Bonaparte in France, and could very well infest the United States of America. Hitler found cracks in the Workers Union and exploited them for his benefit. Then, ten years later, he made himself president after a perfect storm of events which allowed him to execute his sinister beliefs. This storm of events is why it is crucial for us to be checked-in to every level of our society: local, state, federal, and even international. We, the citizens of the United States, have a responsibility to be critical of the physical and verbal statements made by our presidents, senators, representatives, and local political figures. We have to hold them accountable for their actions and where they lend their support because it is our job to be the watchdog of our beliefs and it starts at city hall.
Larry J. Sabato once said, “every election is determined by the people who show up.” By presenting ourselves at polls and town hall meetings, by being critical and demanding more from individuals who are supposed to represent our wants and needs, we can fill the cracks in our foundation and work to counteract the erosion of our society. Attend School Board meetings, participate in local rallies, help establish the policy that any group or individual that works to destroy or dismantle democratic systems shall not have a place in our establishments. Let’s not take advantage of the transparency and ability to hold others accountable. For one day, it may not exist anymore.
Photo by Element5 Digital via pexels. “Person Dropping Paper On Box.” Creative Commons Zero License.