I’m not going to say if it upsets you when there’s a mass shooting or police brutality, because you’re human. You don’t have to do a performative dance of grief for every person killed, every city that has to rise up and say no, enough, for me to know that you feel it. But if you’re American. If this is your country, in which all this is happening. That if, not the first one. If you’re American and of voting age.
Vote in your local elections.
Every news outlet in the country is trying to sell us the next presidential election as a two-year story–as the two-year story–and if that works, they’ll pitch it to us for three next time. Not even senators–say nothing of representatives. Just presidents, presidents, presidents. And not presidential policy. Future possible presidential policy. Hypothetical presidents. That is The News Cycle; that is what Serious People Who Care About The News care about.
When it all goes down, when it’s your city or the city next door to it, the president can send in the National Guard if it comes to that, the president can make sad speeches on the TV and reach out to bereaved parents–and we are at a place, as a country, where we know that it’ll be time for another sad speech and some more bereaved parents next week. We know that their grief will be as real and as fresh and as meaningful as last week’s bereaved parents, and the president can reach out to them with five minutes between climate change talks and trying to get those Indonesian fires under control. Hey, remember those? Giant, rampaging fires ruining the air quality of much of the south end of Asia and destroying huge precious forests? No, never mind, in eleven months one of these yahoos might be on a major party ticket; we have to run footage of them at a pancake breakfast.
But when it all goes down–the part for which they’ll interrupt the pancake breakfast–the people who make the immediate decisions about what will happen in your city or the city next door–those people were either elected or their hiring or appointment was set up by elected people. For the most part, that is who runs your city and county government. By the time the presidential election rolls around, you have a pretty good guess which way your state will swing, although you should vote anyway. But who will your ward want for alderman? Who will be your rep on the city council? In many places you will be voting on sheriffs. Sheriffs, come on, we have all seen how important they are. You will be voting on judges–even if it’s just to retain or deny them their seat. Think about that. The judges, the people who issue warrants or quash them? YOU CAN VOTE FOR THEM. You.
The people who decide in budget meetings whether your police force should spend its money on community relationship training and a little trailer to haul around a speed detector sign, or whether that money should go to riot gear. You elect those people. Or you don’t. Or you say, oh well, there’s nothing important to vote on this time. Meaning: it’s not a presidential election. Meaning: I have not been force-fed years of coverage of these people eating pancakes. They are slightly lumpy and do not spam me with glossy ads of themselves and their glossy children. They have improbable names and there are lots of them. This part of participatory democracy is work.
Wail your anguish on social media, by all means, or don’t. I trust that you have a human heart, that you feel that anguish either way. But if you only have $20 to give, or you only have an hour to volunteer, is it going to matter more to the presidential candidate or the person who wants to make sure your city has a good council member? And if it all goes down in your city next time, God forbid, don’t you want to look at the people who are making the decisions and think, well, I did the best I could to get good ones? Because sometimes there’s not much a good mayor or a good alderman or a good sheriff can do. But then there are those other times, and we’ve seen too much of them lately. I’d like to hope we’ve seen too much of them to keep ignoring the most immediate scale of action we have.