Do your duty and vote — or shut up

Posted on 25 Feb 2010 at 3:28pm
By Hardy Haberman | Flagging Left

Even if you feel powerless to affect politics nationally, every voter counts in the local and state races. But if you can’t be bothered to vote, you lose the right to complain

Tired of feeling powerless over politics? It’s an easy condition to find yourself in, especially if you follow the goings-on in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.

The names and faces of those folks are so familiar, it’s easy to feel you know them. But unless you live in Washington, or have scheduled an appointment months in advance, your chances of actually meeting with them are slim.

And if you are like me, you have representatives who don’t actually represent you at all. For instance, the folks who represent my district are ideologically rigid Republicans and want nothing to do with one of "my kind."

It is no wonder feeling powerless is an ongoing problem.

So why not look closer to home? Politicians running in local races, even up to the state level, are unusually accessible.

These are the people who will be the judges, city council people, school board members, etc. They are not the glitterati of the political world, but they are the people who actually have the most profound effect on our lives.

Though the decisions made in Congress might guide policy on the national level, it’s the local county, state and federal judges who interpret that law.

Equally important is that local elected officials are the people deciding how to spend the state and local funds.

County commissioners issue orders for everything from road repair bids to funding for health and education. It’s these issues that actually affect our lives on the everyday level.

So why aren’t most people interested in local political races? Why don’t they vote in the primaries?

Good question.

I suspect it’s because the media focuses on the national level. It’s much more photogenic (no offense to any local officials intended).

It’s also easier to report. Congress deals in big issues, albeit most times filled with minutia that goes unreported. It’s easy to write a story on some senator using his or her power to block a bill that doesn’t toe their ideological line.

It’s grand-standing at its finest, and the press goes for it every time. And why not? It’s an easy story to write: no troubling facts to deal with, just "he said, she said" kind of stuff.

Meanwhile, back in the city council chambers — or more likely in a courtroom — just a couple of miles from where you live, decisions are being made that will affect you and me directly.

School boards meet and decide to exclude mentions of gay heroes from local curriculums. A judge hands down a ruling denying a gender marker change to a transgender woman. A commissioner’s court drops funding for free condom distribution to help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

These are the matters that really affect us.

Yes, the overarching principals are set forth on the national stage. But the local venue is where the sausage is made.

My point is this: You can not only influence local politics and government with your vote; you can actually meet and get to know these people. Their constituencies are small relative to the national level. Because of this they are keenly interested in what you and I have to say.

At a recent event held by Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, I got to spend a few minutes actually talking to the folks I am considering voting for in the upcoming primary election.  I not only shook hands with, but actually asked questions of and got real answers from these folks.

I suspect that the situation is similar at the Log Cabin Republicans’ functions as well.

It’s not as glamorous as a photo opportunity with a U.S. senator or the president. But it can have an effect.

You don’t have to dive in and immerse yourself in politics to do something that can actually make you feel more powerful. All you have to do is take one or two hours to make an effort to seek out the officials who will be making your lives better or worse during the next few years. Isn’t that worth the effort?

The time most people spend actually participating in our democracy often amounts to that two or three minutes they spend in a voting booth every few years. For some of us, even that is too much to ask.

Yet it is often those same people, who couldn’t be bothered to take a few moments to actually meet with their elected officials or let alone vote that will complain the loudest when laws and rulings affect them adversely. They will spend time grousing about injustice and labor over angry letters to the editor about the "corrupt system" and "not getting their piece of the pie."

Well, as my mother once told me, if you are not part of the solution, shut your pie hole! In other words, put your vote where your mouth is.   

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 26, 2010.

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