A civil society

There is a defining moment in my life regarding politics. I’d been exposed to national politics from the time that KUOW launched and my father found it on the radio. Prior to NPR, I heard a lot of oldies and Paul Harvey. After NPR, I heard a lot of NPR. So all of a sudden, I became exposed to this wild world of politics and the world. I wonder how my life might be different if my father had chosen to listen to talk radio instead? I think he, like me, just likes “voices in his head” at all times.

Anyway, from about the time I was 11 or 12, I passively took in information about the world and politics. But it all became very, very, very personal when I was a junior in high school. There was major school board drama going on. There was a levy being proposed that was important for maintaining services, and there were good guys and bad guys vying for school board positions. I knew the good guys — the ones who supported the good teachers and my beloved principal and superintendent (the school was small enough for me to know both of them well personally). Also, the good guys happened to be the parents of one of my classmates, and members of my 20-something-big church. I attended nearly all the school board meetings for a year and became passionate about the issues.

I was 17. And then the Big Election to pass the levy took place. The levy failed by ONE VOTE. It was a small district. If I’d been 18 instead of 17, the levy would’ve passed. One person’s decision not to vote radically changed my high school. A bunch of the good teachers left. The superintendent left. The principal left. I think the quality of education really did take a hit. It wasn’t ALL about the one vote, but that one vote made a huge difference.

Since then, I have never underestimated the power of my single vote, and the importance of local elections. The national elections obviously get tons of the coverage, and they are clearly important. But I think the local elections actually have a much greater impact on the quality of the lives of Americans. Your local schools, whether your parks are safe, what the job market looks like in your area, how many potholes you have to navigate — those are all decided by local governments. That cute kid across the street? If he goes to a public school, chances are that a portion of his ability to succeed in life (and pay your social security) depends on whether your community decides to support schools with tax dollars or not. And in a local election, it is entirely possible that a handful of votes will decide that issue.

Yesterday was primary day for Massachusetts. I tried to go out of my way to figure out what the elections were and which candidates best served the goals I thought were important. (I personally talked to both candidates for my party and read their position statements in the local paper.) I still failed to identify one of the contested races — I wish there were an easier way to know what was going on in the local elections.

But we walked, as a family, down to Town Hall. We explained as best we could to our son why voting was important. And we were two of the approximately 3000 citizens of our town who voted.

Being an informed citizen requires work. But it is both an honor and an obligation that we have.

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