Democracy has long been a defining value in the United States. Now that the presidential election is over and our democracy is intact, what can you do as a constituent to stay involved and to make sure that your voice gets heard?
At Rock Solid, we spent a lot of time thinking about this topic. After various discussions internally, it was imperative that the only way to ensure that we as constituents get our voices heard is to go beyond the vote and #GetInvolved.
As we brainstormed about the reasons why we should get involved, the following twenty-five reasons stood out. We want to share them with you, hoping that it encourages you to go beyond the vote and get involved with your local government to ensure our democracy continues to thrive.
Why You Should Get Involved with Your Local GOvernment
1. It affects your day-to-day life
- Unhappy with the city transportation system? Does your street have potholes that need fixing? Do you need to get a streetlight installed in your neighborhood? All these issues are handled at the city and county levels. Local city and county officials are often so overwhelmed that if you don’t bring up the issues that specifically concern you, they may go unnoticed.
2. Affects your personal finances
- The more funding a program receives from the government, the more members of the community can take advantage of it. For example, if your school’s extracurricular activities are well funded, you would not have to pay for your kid’s activities with after-tax dollars as a parent. It would lower the burden on your finances without affecting your children’s education. By getting involved with your school board, you can influence how the funds get distributed.
3. Be heard
- Your opinion matters. Your point of view matters. Your perspective matters. Don’t like how government officials are handling issues in your community? Speak up.
4. Learn about government spending habits
- When I lived in San Francisco, I always wondered where does the money go? Why do 50% of the streets have potholes and are poorly maintained, even though the city has access to millions of dollars through parking charges and government grants. It was eye-opening for me to learn how the government works and manages its money. If you are curious about your local government’s spending habits, join the respective boards and commissions to see it for yourself.
5. Learn about legislative processes
- Knowledge is power, but applied knowledge is even more powerful. Do you know how the legislative process creates a bill? I did not. It all starts with an idea, which can come from anywhere, especially from you. If your local councilperson likes the idea, they submit it as a bill for debate and vote. And when it gains enough votes, it is put into action. I know I am oversimplifying the process, but you get the idea.
- As a concerned constituent, you must understand how this process works because only then you can submit your ideas and see them become a reality.
6. A variety of perspectives make democracy work
- Democracy is defined as a government system by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. But I believe it goes a step further. Democracy is all about the balance of different perspectives. The more diverse perspectives are included in our political system, the more balanced our system would be.
- As you began to join your local boards, commissions, and committees, you will make connections that could lead to fruitful results in the short and long-term. It could even open employment opportunities for you.
8. Community ownership
- More and more cities have citizen advisory boards and structures to identify corruption and ensure that decentralized programs are working correctly. You can encourage your community to get involved in local affairs to be the change they want to see.
9. Power in numbers
- A bill gets passed when there are enough votes. As a community, there is power in numbers. Suppose you are passionate about a particular cause and want to see it through. You can get your community involved and show why the issue is so important to everyone.
10. Showcase your skills
- We all have skills (marketing, accounting, speaking, advertising, etc.) that can benefit your local boards and commissions. By volunteering and joining them, you will get a chance to help them with your skillset and develop new skills.
11. Opportunity to serve
- We have an innate need to help others and make a difference. In San Francisco, I often saw many homeless people on the streets, asking for food and help. I got involved with the local board to help with the issue, and we were able to raise awareness and funds to help homeless people who needed medical assistance. Getting involved in local councils and commissions can serve the community and causes that matter the most to you.
12. Local politics dictates what happens in schools
- If you want to make an impact on education where you live, getting involved in the school board is an excellent place to start.
13. Think federal, act local
- Our forefathers were concerned about the “tyranny of the majority,” so they created a government with a system of checks and balances to safeguard the rights of majority and minority. That lead to the bicameral structure of our legislative branch with the House of Representatives and the Senate. As a constituent, you can and should participate at the local level and support causes and officials who will lead the efforts that matter to you at the federal level.
14. Local politics and local issues often set a precedent for political moves on the state and national levels
- If you are concerned about an issue in your community, the chances are other cities or states might have similar issues. For example, in San Francisco, the unhoused population is quite large and its much the same for other cities like San Diego, Seattle, and New York. By getting involved and raising your voice about issues that concern your community you can make a difference.
15. The most accessible place to change laws is at the city and county levels
- Luckily, our local government is the best place to request amendment or change to local laws that affect your day-to-day life by submitting petitions. As a constituent, you might have to jump through red tape, but it is possible. For example, increasing bus routes, adding a bus stop by your neighborhood, etc. could be put on the fast track if enough constituents get behind it.
16. As a constituent you can hold politicians accountable
- Your local politicians and city officials are the most accessible government officials to a constituent. They are the ones who are most likely to listen to your concerns since they are the ones who need your vote the most. Local city officials are keen on improving the community, and if you share your concerns with them, they could help you make your community better.
17. Run for an office
- My aunt was a teacher for 30 years in the small town of Yuba City, CA. She was unhappy with the way the school board assigned funds. She asked questions, and when she was dissatisfied with the answers she received, she took the matter into her own hands and decided to run for office. You, too, can do the same.
18. Public safety
- I am genuinely grateful for the service provided by our local law enforcement officials. Because of them, we feel safe in our neighborhoods and able to walk home at night safely. Our local elected officials decide how our public safety is managed, how our police officers are trained, and how they are policed. Suppose you would like to volunteer to help our police officers, no better way of joining your local citizen advisory board. A law enforcement organization can utilize a citizen advisory board for advice and input on many issues.
19. Advice on hospital spending
- If you are concerned about city and county hospitals and their care, join your hospital board. A typical hospital board consists of physicians, administrators, employees, and citizens. For example, the hospital advisory council at the State Department of Health, Oklahoma, consists of three citizens. Check with your local city hospital about their advisory board and join it.
20. Inspire others
- Your involvement in your cities boards and commissions will inspire others to join and be part of the initiative.
21. Stay informed on how your council members are voting
- You voted them in; it is a good idea to see how your elected council members are voting for or against the projects that matter to you.
22. Find your passion
- Being involved in various boards, commissions, and committees will expose new areas such as healthcare, schools, animal support groups, charity organizations, and environmental groups. It could help you discover your passion in the areas you never thought about.
23. Ask questions
- Do you want to know why a particular item was added to the council’s agenda and why your petition did not? Ask questions. Attend your local council meetings and ask “why.”
24. Learn how to file a petition for a permit
- If you ask an average constituent, their understanding of the government process would be slim to none. And I was guilty of that. I did not understand how and where to file a petition to get a streetlight installed by our home? Or how to get a permit to add a room to our home.
It took me weeks of research to figure out the processes. As I started to get involved and better understand the government processes and required paperwork, it got better for any future requests I had to make. As a result, my neighbors began to come to me for advice to speed up their petition requests.
25. It’s fun
- I never thought it would be fun to join a local board, but it is. When you see your idea supported by others and coming to reality, the joy is indescribable. So, go beyond the vote and have fun.
Our civic duty is to engage and get involved to lead the change we want to see in our communities. We encourage you to join us on this journey and go beyond the vote.