I was sitting on my deck one night this week having a fantastic discussion with a few friends, when the subject of municipal politics and the fact that we’re in an election cycle came up. One of my friends said something like “Well, it’s not like it matters, really. Nothing’s going to change anyway.”
This sentiment could not be further from the truth, but it does seem to be fairly ubiquitous, or at least pervasive, within our society, especially among the under-40 crowd, but the people with this type of discouraged and jaded view early in life are, ironically, the people with the most to gain from policy changes and engagement in the process. They’re the ones that will have to suffer with or enjoy the benefits of decisions made on their behalf for the longest period of time, after all.
I can even understand this way of thinking, or, at least how this way of thinking creeps into people. When you think of “government” and the picture you get in your head is of the bigwigs in Ottawa (or even Victoria), it’s easy to feel dejected about the topic. But my thinking is this: I might not be able to make an impact on the Prime Minister in terms of what I want him or her to do or say to represent my interests on the global stage, because he may or may not even listen to what my MP says his or her constituents want (likely not, but that’s for another column, maybe). That system is just too big to think about having an effect by making a phone call or writing a letter, but I can get a city councillor on the phone and tell them what I want or need and how I think they should go about accomplishing that.
At this, my friend said something like, “Wait, you can just call up a city councillor?”
I said, “What? Of course you can call up a city councillor? You want me to call the mayor right now?”
I’m glad he didn’t say yes, as I don’t think Walter Jakeway would have been very happy with my call at 9:30 p.m on a Tuesday just to prove to a friend that I could do it.
“Hey, Walter. Just proving to a friend that you answer your phone when people call. Thanks. Bye.”
My friend’s reasoning for feeling this way (that he could not simply call an elected official), he surmised, is because we’re raised to defer to authority, not to ask questions of it.
We’re taught to listen to our parents and not question them, he said. They’re in charge, and they represent us as we’re growing up, making decisions on our behalf that they feel are in our best interests.
Then we get into school, and we’re deferent to teachers, principals, and everyone else in the system.
Then we get into the work force, and we do what we’re told by those who have been there longer.
He’s got a valid argument.
It makes sense that we don’t think we actually have a say in things.
But in a democracy, I said, the people representing us – the ones we’ve chosen to make decisions on our behalf – need to know how we feel about things in order to be able to do their jobs properly. They need to know what we think about the policies that are being proposed, the changes to the world around us that are being considered, because their decisions on those matters should actually be ours.
They’re supposed to be voicing our collective opinion, and performing our collective action.
That’s why you can call a city councillor, or the mayor, or the head of the city’s parks, recreation and culture, or transportation departments, or the chief electoral officer.
And that’s why you should engage with this process. Because municipal politics is where we see change around us, and it’s also where your voice can be heard.