Local politics is our national oxygen

Gracy Olmstead writes on Why America needs to revitalize its local politics:

…what would happen if at least a few of Washington’s elites returned home and invested in the communities they left behind? What if, instead of running for Congress, some of our politicians considered running for some local office? What if the journalists trying to make it in Washington, D.C., decided instead to invest in a local paper? What if, instead of covering the next Trump or Hillary Clinton rally, they decided to attend their local town hall meeting? What if those of us who live in or near the beltway spent a little less time fixating on the presidential election, and focused instead on city and county politics?

We often think of these things as being not nearly as important as national politics. We scoff at local matters as small and provincial. Where is the glory in covering a school board meeting? But the deleterious idea that what happens in Washington matters more than anything happening in the rest of the country is the root of our problem.

French political scientist and historian Alexis de Tocqueville believed America’s highly unique government worked because its citizens were active in the political sphere. They voted and attended town meetings, involved themselves in private associations, and went to church. But all these things have faded in popularity as our news and politics have become more centralized. Many of us don’t take the time to talk to our neighbors, let alone go to a town hall meeting. And when no one shows concern for the local sphere, it’s easy to feel unimportant and helpless, which results either in apathy or bitter anger — both of which we’re seeing in this election cycle.

Where do we think that national leaders take their cues from? They take them from local leaders. Local businesspeople. Local intellectuals. Locals.

Every “big” notion that Washington gets into its head ultimately comes from an experience of what works (or doesn’t) on the level of a state, or a city, or a smaller community someplace across this continent. If we stop cultivating local leaders, and local businesspeople, and local intellectuals—and most importantly if we stop communicating the experiences of the localities to the national leaders—the only place national leaders will have to turn is to their international peers.

If we want to make an impact, it’s easiest and usually the most important to try to do that on a small level. In time, it can filter up on the big stage of national politics if it’s worth holding up as a model for the nation.

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