When the world feels overwhelming, look local. A quick perusal of almost any news or social media site can make us feel as though the sky is falling. It’s easy to look at all that needs to be changed, defended, or solved and feel as though anything you could do to make an impact will never be enough. The truth is it won’t be enough. It is hard to create and sustain real change on a national or global scale. It’s easy to feel deflated. That’s why we must look local. Local is where we can have an impact.
An oft-cited saying, most commonly attributed to former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, claims “all politics is local”. While many political pundits will use this to explain the voting patterns of representatives in Congress, the sentiment reigns true in most other instances. While we may not really pay much attention to the news coverage of volatile and raucous school board meetings throughout the country, we probably would pay attention if it was OUR school board. While we may not have paid much attention to the infrastructure package that became law (all +2,500 pages of it), we probably would pay attention if the bridge we drive on every day is being rebuilt. While we might not pay much attention to the debate surrounding CRT in schools, we probably would if our student might lose the ability to take AP History for college credit. You get the idea; people care when it impacts them.
Most of us generally like where we live. While no one gets everything they are looking for in a community, usually, we put down roots in a place we want to live in. By looking local, we can work to improve the community we already love which will make it a lot easier to put the work in.
Local is where we can build, strengthen, and use real, in-person relationships to help create understanding about issues that will help us achieve the goals we think are important.
Local is where we can more realistically meet with community leaders and influence their agendas.
Local is where we can more easily relay the direct impact to stakeholders and community members.
Local is where it is easier to find areas of commonality and compromise within a generally smaller, more homogenous community.
Local is where our money and time can go a lot further to help shift the needle on an issue or topic that is important to us.
One of the easiest, but often overlooked, ways to look local is to register to vote and vote in local elections. Voters tend to think all important and vital decisions are made at the national level. For a variety of reasons, this is not altogether true. In general, our day-to-day lives are most impacted by policy decided at the state and local levels. For more information, you can read here.
The Indiana primary is May 3, 2022, this year. You can register to vote up to 29 days before primary and general elections. Some local elections are held during the primary. You can register to vote and find out more information here. Turnout during primaries and non-presidential election years is often very low and a small number of votes can make a difference. Paying attention to local elections like school boards and county election boards can truly change the trajectory of your community. Case in point, according to Ballotpedia, only 24% of school board elections in the nation’s 200 largest districts were unopposed in 2021, compared with 40% in 2018.
While not all problems and policy debates can be solved easily or succinctly, looking local is one of the best uses of your time to make a difference.