It’s happened again, another tragedy in America, and once more we hear the cries for systematic change echo from coast to coast. Instead of berating you with countless policy prescriptions in the aftermath, and whether or not they will deter these events in the future, I would like to offer a piece of advice to those seeking to come out of this with more than just “thoughts and prayers” that I think has been grossly overlooked and underutilized in society today. Rather than entrench ourselves in the emotional mudslinging within social media anytime an event like this occurs, we ought to turn inward, towards our own backyards and communities, and recognize that the path to political change starts locally, not nationally.
We need a new – or rather, old – approach regarding societal problems that have become deep-rooted today. Right now, the cultural norm, whether due to technological advances that put us in closer contact with one another or the process of political centralization, is to call for change on a federal level anytime a problem is observed. This wasn’t always the case, and I rather believe this practice taking hold is a contributing factor in these tragedies. Before social media allowed us to criticize the viewpoints of people on different continents from the comfort of our living room, and before politics became completely centered around what the federal government was doing, people aired their grievances in their local communities. If you noticed what you thought was an urgent problem within your child’s school, for example, you wouldn’t tweet at a senator in Washington, D.C., you’d go to your local school board meeting. And as it turns out, that’s still the most effective route.
Although we seem to be living in closer proximity than ever before, the U.S. is still a massive country. And when every single problem we hope to solve is required to funnel through the President on down to be implemented, it should come as no surprise that either nothing gets done or it takes years to accomplish a marginal change. Remember, the deeper you go into the centralized hive, the more special interest groups you disrupt and energize into joining the conversation and petrifying the process at the same time.
We need to move the focal point of change away from the bloated, ineffective arena of federal government if we hope to make any progress. Doing this is beneficial regardless of which side of the political aisle you side with. Organizing those close to you – neighbors, friends, family, etc. – is much easier, and while social media campaigns like #MeToo feel great when they go viral, your influence is much more impactful when it represents 1 in 3000 rather than 1 in 300 million.
Having a multitude of municipalities experiment with different solutions is also not only the most efficient way of finding what works, but the freedom to diversify on the local level provides citizens with the most accurate representation of their desired government. Right now, national change causes a majority of people to feel left behind and unrepresented, causing massive political divisiveness between neighbors with different political viewpoints. What we’re left with are drastic pendulum swings in the form of policy change every time a new administration enters office, but ineffective solutions for most of the country. It has almost become a sign of failure if they don’t accomplish some widespread legislation, and with this realization of near helplessness from the individual come the hysterics that followed Trump’s election and Obama’s before him – as if their election was the end of the world.
I hesitate to call anyone’s political motivations insincere following a tragedy. However, in a political climate where most activists can tell me what Donald Trump had for dinner last night but can’t name their local councilman, it raises questions on whether people are truly interested in changing the environment they live in. Rather than try to point fingers or assign blame though, I’ll simply point out the obvious truth: it’s your immediate area that affects you the most, not whether a city 2,000 miles away is implementing your desired policies.
I’m not saying it’s fruitless to voice your opinion. If you want to be effective though, it’s often the small steps that lead to big change. Turn off social media and go to a local council meeting. Meet others in your community and talk to them about what they think of these problems. You may find that you have more in common with them than you thought. See first-hand what goes on, and whether your idea is to start reaching out to troubled kids, to get better security measures implemented in schools, or whatever your solution may be, the path to change a nation starts locally.
Thomas J. Eckert
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