Everywhere we look, leaders fail us: members of congress we voted for because they were slightly less horrifying than their opponents, United Nations aid workers exploiting the very people they’re tasked with providing aid to, athletics coaches and directors looking the other way as abuse and recruiting bribes run rampant, and on, and on, and on. When we look at things on a national scale, it’s easy to become dejected.
The bad news is that we’re being convinced that this is just the way things are and always will be. We’re told that people and institutions are generally evil and that we’re all only focused on our own interests. The good news, though, is that this is taking convincing. Use the last presidential election as an example. There were numerous efforts to persuade people that these were the two best candidates America had to offer, even though most of us felt like our neighbor down the block was more dignified and trustworthy. These days, people feel like there’s an obvious disconnect between what they want and what they’re offered. Politicians today seem like they’re from a different world than most of us, couldn’t possibly understand the America we live in and don’t actually care about any of us but rather only about keeping their own jobs.
While it’s going to take an incredible movement to change all of this, that doesn’t mean that we have to stand by and wait. In fact, the process for achieving a greater society and a more just government can begin to take place anywhere, with anyone and at any time. After all, many believe that change is achieved from the bottom up.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign worked with the Democratic National Committee to tamp down support for Bernie Sanders (mostly from many everyday people involved in politics for the first time). In local politics, certain political structures are also used to keep out newcomers who pose a challenge to the status quo. The same thing that happened to Bernie Sanders (and almost happened to Donald Trump) is the same thing that happens to candidates right here in Greeley, Colorado: every tactic possible is used to keep the average resident out of public office and instead keep in those who’re most established, most entrenched in special interests and who will continue to perpetuate the establishment politics in order to retain powerand remain among the political elite.
By paying attention and getting involved locally you can show that time’s up when it comes to this kind of politics. If right here, in little ole Greeley, Colorado, during our last local elections, people fed up with politics would’ve stood up and said, “Enough is enough, this is our country and our government. It doesn’t just belong to a certain group of people,” we could’ve challenged John Gates (the now-mayor of Greeley) on his connections to the Republican Party, his law enforcement biases and the special interests he’s cozied up to over the years. He probably still would’ve won, but if residents would’ve come out just to challenge the business as usual mentality in politics and call BS, it would’ve gotten national attention and influenced others who feel similarly in other cities and towns to follow suit.
Local elections for political office aren’t the only thing you can impact, either. Many of the ideas you see on a national level can also be affected on a local level. Local politics directly reflect national politics on just about every subject: from labor rights to women’s rights, education to criminal justice, campaign finance to conflicts of interest, immigration to civil rights and income inequality to free-market capitalism, just to name a few. Not only can discussions on these issues take place right here, right now in Greeley, but so can discussions on topics like science, history, art, literature, technology, philosophy. The opportunity to learn about any subject in the world is right in front of us.
Our internet-based culture offers an abundant number of resources. We have Google, Ted Talks, Open Culture, Kahn Academy and endless documentaries on any subject we desire at the tips of our fingers. It doesn’t matter who you are, how you’ve been labeled, how rich or poor you are, what educational experience you’ve had—none of that matters. Possessing as much or even more knowledge than your peers or learning how to navigate through political structures in order to have your voice heard is a real possibility. Someone invested in the debate over abortion can read up on biology and gather facts for either a pro- or anti-abortion argument. Or, those interested in the subject of climate change, whether skeptics or not, can do research on the topic in order to build a rebuttal against those who disagree with them.
How much we truly care about issues and how much we want a government of “We The People” is shown every day in the choices we make. Either we sit on the sidelines and tell ourselves we don’t matter and that we can’t be like those at the “top,” or we see the opportunity in front of us, the opportunity that comes from living in a democratic society. Take the issue of violence and brutality in this country, which has lately become impossible to ignore. And why? Because victims of a school shooting organized, because Diamond Reynolds filmed Philando Castile bleeding to death, because Ramsey Orta filmed Eric Garner being strangled to death and because Stevante Clark jumped up on the Sacramento Mayor’s desk during a city council meeting. Here in Greeley, we can organize, witness, speak out and become impossible to ignore as well. In fact, at each city council meeting the public is offered time to speak. Anyone can come speak their mind to the top political figures in Greeley. This is one of the best outlets available to us to have our voices heard. The ability to stand up against city hall is real, and we can take advantage of this.