In a democracy, the people have the power, but only if they choose to wield it. With the mercurial state of America’s representative system in recent elections, it’s becoming clear that more involvement from the people is needed.
However, systems like the Electoral College mean that individuals have only so much leverage at the highest levels of government. To be heard, people must take advantage of their opportunities on the local level.
This is how the system is designed, but we need to make some changes in how we use it to realize its potential.
Closer to Home, but Further from Mind
It can sometimes feel like our country's politics take place in far-away buildings and fancy chambers in Washington. These places can seem inaccessible to the layperson, but in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
You can get involved, quite easily, with the politics of your local government and learn a lot about how things function at higher levels in doing it. The problem we face now is that a lack of interest has allowed city politics to become colored by partisanship, just like politics at the national level.
Take for example a case from the Andover Townsman of Massachusetts. In this example, vocal community members with political experience chose to speak out against changes to voting practice designed to inject partisan politics into local elections.
The motive for this is easy to understand. Politics should be about compromise — finding a solution that works best for all.
However, the small contingents of the country that are being heard at a national level right now make it seem like that is no longer the case.
High and Low Partisanship
Part of the reason partisanship has become such a detrimental force in modern politics is that we’ve forgotten its place in political conversation. We’re putting the party in partisanship first — foregoing even minimal compromise for the sake of earning “points” for our political “teams.”
Ultimately we're all on the same team, and sometimes we forget that. Well-paid politicians with powerful lobbyists to appease often forget it particularly well.
And a lack of ethics at the highest level has turned Congress into an argumentative budgeting committee, rather than a body of representatives who care about American citizens.
We should be vigorously committed to political ideas. Commitment gives those ideas power.
However, we should also be willing to accept others’ ideas and participate in political conversation. This is known as “high partisanship.” If you guessed that our current state more closely resembles low partisanship, your guess is correct.
Change Starts at Home
Unless you’re planning to run for Congress tomorrow, and good luck if you are, the place to begin to make this change is in local politics.
Our country needs people who are willing to listen to ideas and move forward with an agenda that serves the greater good, instead of promoting divisive ideas that only advance the party cause.
Representative democracy is a young system, and sometimes we forget that. It's not perfect. There are very few political systems that stand the test of time, and what we're witnessing now is a symptom of our system's maturation.
We have given it time to develop illnesses, problems we have to face — and fix — or suffer huge consequences.
In our system, the mechanism that is designed to remedy this type of illness is term limits. Those in power can’t remain in power indefinitely, but they can pass their ideas along to the next generation of leaders.
Raising new leaders means starting from the grassroots in cities and towns.
So find out when and where your local government meets. Get involved, get educated and invite your friends to join. Having an opinion and defending it is a good thing, but let it be your own, not something that your political affiliation defines for you.