You may think that City government, or County government, or even state government doesn’t matter. You may think that it’s too hard to keep up with what’s going on locally. While the local news of the day may not be splashed across the first five minutes of the national news, or on the 24 hr cable news channels, keeping up and getting involved is not only easy, but vitally important.
Folks, forget about local and state government because news about them isn’t on a constant loop on the TV. But State and Local governments are where the majority of Federal dollars that go directly to the betterment of the community flow. Many decisions on how those dollars are spent are made at these levels of government. If you don’t keep up you’re missing an opportunity to do something for the good of your community.
None of this is new. This is the way it is, and has been for decades. The difference is, it’s easier than ever to get involved and there are a bunch of different ways to do it, and none of them require much time or effort, just a little resolve.
• First, join a neighborhood association, or talk to your friends and neighbors about forming one. This distributes the work of keeping up with what’s going on and establishes lines of communication for building coalitions. A lobby of one will only get so far. By joining forces with those around you, you increase the chances that you will be successful.
• Second, meet your elected officials. Your district information can be found on your voter registration card. Don’t have your card handy? You can check your district here. From there, finding your elected official is easy. Just go to the City Council Members page, the Shelby County Commissioners page, and the General Assembly website. Put their email addresses and office numbers in your contacts on your phone and email so you have them when you need them. Send them an email introducing yourself and talk about some issues that are important to you.
The Election Commission Website also has a list of all the elected officials from municipalities and governments in Shelby County.
• Third, keep up with what’s going on. Memphis, Shelby County, and the State Legislature all have a way for you to keep up with the bills and agendas, as well as watch the proceedings from the comfort of your home.
You can keep up with all the election information by joining the Shelby County Election Commission’s new alert system. Simply type in your email address and select the lists you would like to subscribe to. Voter Registration and Where to Vote seem to be the ones that pertain to most folks, though if you really want to get deeply involved there are other feeds you can follow too. This information can also be delivered by text message, which is really cool for those of us who lose things in our overcrowded email boxes from time to time
• Fourth, expand your sphere. This means getting out of the house and neighborhood and into the community. There are several ways you can do this, and it doesn’t necessarily take a whole lot of time or money. There are public meetings and groups and all sorts of organizations that are involved on the local, state, and federal levels. It may take some time to find just where you fit in to the puzzle, but you can’t wait for someone else to find your spot for you. Sometimes you have to make your spot, and being there, involved and engaged is the fastest and most effective way to do that.
• Finally, don’t get discouraged. It may take a while to find a place and get the things done that you wants to see, but don’t give up. Keep pushing. You may find that what you want causes a problem elsewhere. Be open to the realities, adjust and resubmit. Maybe the people sitting on the legislative body aren’t folks that will support your cause, find someone who is and support their next election campaign, or recruit them to run.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, and as the Tea Partiers are finding out, simply electing your preferred candidate only does so much. There has to be some consensus, which is the cornerstone of our Republic. If you do all the things listed above, you’ll find that consensus.
This may sound like a lot, but honestly it isn’t. It doesn’t take a lot of time and you can do it in stages. As you get comfortable with one stage, take it up a notch.
The most important thing you can do is communicate. Communication breaks down barriers and long-held assumptions. You’ll likely find that there are many people of all shapes and sizes that feel the same way you do. You may find that what you thought was really isn’t.
In the end, you’ll be better prepared to make an impact.