Leadership and change begin locally

December 20, 2016

 

Peter Johnson

Peter Johnson

As I write this article, 12 days have passed since the election. A large percentage of the U.S. population is in a state of disbelief and shock. For some, this represents a positive change for the future and for others, a huge step backward.

Many voters have told me they despised at least one — in many cases both — candidates, and national poll numbers support this.  As I talk with people who voted for either of the two major candidates, I hear the same passion and in some cases, anger, from both sides.

A discussion recently became heated a woman told me she was tired of holding her tongue and not speaking her mind, and she wasn’t going to do it anymore. Great, now channel that passion and frustration in a positive direction.

As Americans, what can we do if we are not happy with the status quo in our local, state or federal government? Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

If you are Donald Trump, when you are fed up with the system that you feel is broken, you run for president. I recognize that not all of us are in a position where we have the name recognition, contacts, access or money to wake up one day and say, “I’m pissed off at the system and I’m going to run for president.”

Most of us can have a much greater impact at the local level. Many voters feel a great disconnect between local politics and the federal government, but really, “all politics are local.”

Take the speaker of the House (second in line of succession to the president of the United States). He must satisfy the needs of his constituents or he will not get re-elected. Current Speaker Paul Ryan represents the1st District in Wisconsin, which has no major cities with a population roughly the size of San Joaquin County. The folks in his district can change the leadership in Congress through their votes. How many of them realize the power they hold?

Deciding our political leaders is not about showing up every four years to push your candidate and when the smoke clears and a winner is declared you go back to your busy life.

It’s also more than making bold statements. Colin Kaepernick, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, didn’t vote in this past election, and he explained it this way.

“You know, I think it would be hypocritical of me to vote,” he said. “I said from the beginning I was against oppression … I’m not going to show support for that system. And to me, the oppressor isn’t going to allow you to vote your way out of your oppression.”

Guess what Mr. Kaepernick, the oppressor is the voter. If you don’t like something, change it. Voting allows you to have an impact. If you don’t believe this, ask Donald Trump. Vote in candidates you like and vote out officials who are not serving the American people. Interestingly, after Kaepernick made his statement, it was discovered he had never voted in any election.

Edmund Burke, who served in the British House of Commons during the American Revolution, once said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” It is important that we understand how we got to this place in time and the of circumstances that led to this moment.

Going forward, we must let some of that baggage go and look at the big picture. We need to narrow our focus to local politics.

We, the people have a very powerful voice, but we will only be heard if we step up to the plate constantly and consistently and not just every four years.

Years ago, I met with then-mayor Joan Darrah to get her support for my school board candidacy. She asked me about issues that I knew the school board didn’t have jurisdiction over. She just needed to understand me in case the school board was a springboard to higher office.

She got it. Politics is local, and we have more power than we think if we choose to use it.

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