The national political cycle never stops spinning as politicians start running for office immediately after getting elected, but this diverts our attention from where it should be.
Still, national news outlets eat up the political rhetoric and frame the elections like a horse race, which feeds the machines that churn out content minute-by-minute.
Such an approach to the news harms society, though. It makes citizens less informed, paints journalism negatively, and can be determinantal to the candidates themselves.
A prime example of this is the recent clown show that unfolded in the U.S. House of Representatives as members of the Republican Conference first struggled to name a Speaker of the House, then ousted their leader, and proceeded to squabble like children over who would hold the gavel before finally landing on the obscure Louisiana congressman Mike Johnson.
Though being knowledgeable about what takes place in Washington, D.C., is important, it doesn’t have much impact on our daily lives.
Instead of worrying about the machinations on Capitol Hill, we need to focus our attention on local politics. That’s where we can see and feel the impacts of the decisions made by our elected leaders, and it is where we can affect the most change by participating in the process.
That participation is the core of civic engagement, and our democracy can’t function properly without it.
The influences of state-level politics are also worth considering, but city and county ballots present an opportunity for an individual’s proverbial voice to be heard.
After all, civic engagement means promoting the quality of life in a community through both political and non-political processes. A person who is civically engaged carries a heightened sense of understanding of and responsibility to being an empowered agent of positive change for a more democratic world.
In “Civic Responsibility and Higher Education,” scholar Thomas Ehrlich, editor of the book published in 2000, described civically engaged people this way: “A morally and civically responsible individual recognizes himself or herself as a member of a larger social fabric and therefore considers social problems to be at least partly his or her own.”
We all want our towns and communities to thrive, so it behooves us to participate in the process that will foster growth and progress.
This engagement can many forms. An individual could join a political party or run for office themselves. Likewise, a person could take part in civic activism such as writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper, organizing petitions, volunteering, and more.
At its most basic, voting indicates civic engagement too, and we currently have an opportunity to exercise our democratic rights by casting ballots in local elections.
Whether voting on city council races, local school board members, or a ballot initiative such as selling alcohol by the drink without the requirement of food sales, we can shape our communities by engaging with democracy through the simple act of voting.
We will be able to experience the impacts of this democratic decision-making almost immediately. The same can’t be said about voting in national elections.
To be effective in this process, though, individuals need to be responsibility informed. Consuming the news helps people achieve that.
Likewise, websites and candidate forums allow voters to hear from the would-be officeholders, which helps people get a sense of who they want to support.
No matter how it’s done, we need to know who and what we are voting for, and we need to vote. It’s our civic duty.
By focusing on local elections, we can ensure democracy works at the level most important and impactful to our lives.
Todd R. Vogts, Ph.D., is a native of Canton, a resident of McPherson County, and an assistant professor of media at Sterling College. He can be contacted with questions or comments via his website at www.toddvogts.com.