Opinion: Politics in your own backyard

Last semester, I took a class on books related to the economic and cultural issues relevant to the last election.

The structure of the class was loose and discussion-based. Sometimes our whole class would be dedicated to a chapter of a book, other times not at all. But in every class we always discussed one thing — our hometowns. I found myself telling stories about the Atlanta suburb I grew up in that I hadn’t thought about in years. In the class of about 15, I’d known three of them in January. By April, I could tell you about the places everybody came from.

The fact that your hometown impacts your political ideology really isn’t anything ground-breaking. But the class discussions brought one frustrating question to mind: why do we pay so little attention to our local politics?

Overall, we’re cynical when it comes to politics — a recent Gallup poll showed only 32 percent of Americans are satisfied with the government. While some believe it’s hopeless, the answer to a better political future is in our own neighborhoods.

Not every president started their career with a mere seven-figure loan from their father and an NBC show. Many of them and their cabinets got their starts in smaller scales of government. Before he was president, George H.W. Bush was the Republican Party chairman in Harris County, Texas. Joe Biden started his political career as a council member of New Castle County in Delaware.

Your voice can be heard locally, especially if you’re in the Orange County area. Recently, Carrboro’s mayor hosted a bike ride-along for anyone who had questions for, or just wanted to talk to, the town’s elected officials. It’s the good kind of personal — not the name-calling and character-assassinating that have become daily headlines, but the personal kind of politics where those serving you can know your face, and you feel like your own voice is an important part of the conversation.

Take the issue of education, for example. Betsy DeVos has been a hotly contested cabinet member from the start, with everything from her lack of public education experience to her stance on school choice being criticized from people on both sides of the political spectrum. Given state actions like her recent appointment of Wayne A. Johnson, the CEO of a private student loan company, to head of the Office of Student Aid, it doesn’t look like she’s listening to her legion of naysayers any time soon.

I know several people who have been calling their senators about their dissatisfaction with DeVos, along with other issues they have with the policies from this new administration. And that’s great. But if you want to have a influence in the schools you or your children are going to, local politics are key. Speak out at the school system’s next board meeting. If you hate what’s happening, talk about it with your neighbors. There’s strength in numbers, and organizing to denounce a policy vote someone in or out is easier when you already know the people of the community.

From Comey’s testimony to the secret healthcare plan creation, recent political events look more like a reality shows pulling stunts for ratings than a part of history my future kids will read about in their textbooks. Regardless of your partisan views, I’m pretty sure no one wants this for the next 50 years. So continue to keep up with whatever controversy the president is bound to tweet out next, but get to know more about your local mayor. Vote in presidential elections, but also municipal elections. Facebook ranting seems to be the most popular way for people to participate in politics, but this can make an actual difference.

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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