“Ordinary men and women may often feel unmotivated to exert their citizenship, either because they cannot tell the difference between the different alternatives, or because they have lost faith in the political classes, or because they feel that the really important issues are not in their power to decide.”
So said Patricio Aylwin Azócar, the first president to serve after democracy was restored to Chile.
Our area is miles away from Azócar’s Chile, both geographically and philosophically. We need not fear violent reprisals if we speak out against those in power. And around here, citizens of all political persuasions often do just that.
We see it in packed town and village halls where issues such as fracking and natural gas are being discussed.
We see it in the pages of this newspaper and on our website, on issues ranging from dispute with one’s neighbor to discourses on the meaning of life itself.
We saw it in Albany last week, when busloads of area residents joined thousands of other New Yorkers in calling for the repeal of the NY-SAFE act.
We are proud of this vocal and engaged citizenry. And yet when it comes to local government, many of these impassioned voices often fall silent.
As easy as it is to fill a bus with people to travel to Albany or Washington to argue on hot-button issues such as gay marriage, gun control, abortion or fracking, it can be a struggle to find even one or two people willing to sit for local office. And even when there is a full slate of candidates, the polling places are too often empty of voters.
It’s no great mystery why few are willing to serve. For one, a term in office is a much bigger commitment than a trip to the capital, and board meetings are a lot less glamorous than rallies and protests. For another, there’s a reason they call them public “servants” and not, say, public freeloaders. Elected officials have a big responsibility, and a lot for which to answer.
The idea of a disconnect between the major issues of our day and the workings of local government cuts both ways — dissuading people from seeking office and deterring people from voting. But this idea is only an illusion.
While your local village board may not be taking up abortion rights or gun control, we can promise that it is making decisions on things that affect you personally — your home, your business, your school or your neighborhood. If we could take just a fraction of the passion and commitment we see among our citizens and apply it to local government, our village elections would transform from humdrum to dynamic.
And that would really be something of which we can be proud.