Where do I begin?
Two readers reached out with similar questions last week. One from McHenry County and another from Will, they had different angles but the same underlying query: What can the average person do?
“We all know that politics has gotten the reputation it deserves, but why has society become so complacent that we accept this as a norm? Advocating for change is actually met with resistance these days, and both sides quickly retreat to their extreme corners to continue pointing fingers and calling names. Why have we gotten to this point? I have some ideas, but more important is how do we get back to representing people? How do we put the ball back into the middle of the field and start playing a competitive game again? I greatly appreciate the points you continually make about people needing to contact their legislators, pay attention to what is going on in the process, etc., but that is just not enough.”
Those sincere frustrations are common among General Assembly observers. But consider also the challenges of trying to influence the smallest levels when the system seems designed to discourage such involvement:
“I was wondering what advice you would give someone that wanted to be more engaged in local politics/policies in a way that’s not a nightmare for an average person to understand. I’m specifically talking on the city, MAYBE up to county level. I feel like talking to or even getting information from anybody above that level can be a fool’s errand. Interested in demystifying local government, somewhere I feel I might be heard or have an impact.”
I suggested the second reader find a village trustee – a direct representative or, if the entire board is at-large, the person whose subject specialty is most relevant – and try to start a conversation about one issue and begin to follow that path. Also, review a property tax bill to see where the money goes.
The mystification is part of the problem the first reader encounters. It’s easy to determine who represents us in Springfield and reach out via phone or email. But those Statehouse servants are the tip of an iceberg composed of various ward, precinct and committee people and township and countywide political party organizations that have significant influence on who runs for which office.
Those same folks have a lot of overlap with city and county government, and untangling the web is tricky for a novice outsider – especially ones who reject party affiliation. It’s easy to see why people feel the power of their vote is diluted.
Do you have a story of trying to make a difference? What succeeded – or failed? Tell readers: Where did you begin?
• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.