This summer, I interned with the Republican Party of Los Angeles County. One of my tasks was to take a county with a population larger than that of 45 states and go through every education board, water board and town council to find Republicans for possible future candidacy.
This specific task took weeks of grueling work, yet I am grateful to it for showing me one frightening reality: virtually everyone running your city government will not be alive to see the next election.
That’s right. Our entire local system of government is occupied by people who were born 30 years before Hawaii became a state.
I understand that the national election is far more popular than local politics. Politicians say stupid things, we debate the future of our nation and every four years we watch history being made. However, as individual Americans, the national election does not significantly affect our day to day lives. Aside from a few nationwide edicts, such as Obamacare or tax alterations, most of our interactions with government happen on a local level.
Do you dislike how the police operate? Do you worry about how our schools are being funded or how our teachers teach? Do you cringe at the current state of your infrastructure? What about traffic? Homelessness? Corruption? The DMV? Crime? If you care about any of these things, I have bad news. They will not be solved on the national scale.
Could the president sign some new legislation to spend a few billion on developing infrastructure? Sure. But the effectiveness with which that money is used rests entirely on local governments.
Most political parties have three divisions: a national level (the RNC), a state level (the Republican Party of [Insert State]) and a county level (The Republican Party of [Insert County]). The division of labor is pretty self-explanatory. The national party handles the presidential election and a few nationally important races, the state party handles state races and the county party handles elections for positions such as town council, supervisors, etc.
That means two-thirds of every major political party is not dedicated to presidential elections. As odd as it seems, there are huge political parties, right now, strategizing on how to capture what we consider the smallest and most insignificant parts of our government.
This may seem pointless to anyone who does not live in a big city.
I am from Southern California, specifically a mid-sized town of 40,000 called San Gabriel. It’s a good town but it’s nothing special. However, the real estate deals that San Gabriel’s city councilors have their hands in are worth millions of dollars.
That random name you checked in that local election you ignored? You just put that person in charge of tens of millions of dollars. You just put him in charge of appointing your police chief. He now controls what businesses build where. Didn’t want that Walmart? Then you shouldn’t have banked on Bernie Sanders tackling gentrification and actually paid attention to the people campaigning to run your city.
The simple fact is that if we ever want to see tangible change we as voters can not care about politics just once every four years. We can not leave the management of our cities solely to people who will not live to see the changes they cause. We must get involved in local politics and local parties. Go to city council meetings, pay attention when your councilman speaks, do your civic duty and do not allow the largest sector of government, and the billions of dollars that go with it, to go unchecked by the American people.