The Importance of Local Politics

Former Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, is best known in our time for his adage that “All Politics is Local.” The statement itself is quite simple, but carries with it a call to action and a statement on the nature of the ‘local.’ It is quite easy to get caught up in the grand and the national. It is a little hard not to watch with dread as the nation takes steps to legitimize things oppositional to your beliefs and of those close to you. The recent government shutdown, for many, was a prime example of how dysfunctional and out of touch Washington was, and still is, with the ‘average’ American. The idea of an ‘average’ American is important because that is ultimately who national policy seeks to serve, at least in theory. When there is dysfunction and infighting in Washington, it is a sign of a nation trying to find who it is. However, as anyone who has watched Parks and Recreation can tell you, chaos in Washington politics is nothing compared to the chaos of local politics.

There is pretty clear reason why this is. Local politics determine the characters of those who you immediately interact with; who your children will interact with. Perhaps the most pressing local issue is that of gentrification; where a whole community is at risk of drastic income change and population fluxes. Local neighborhoods are at risk of losing what makes their community unique and special. While this is a largely urban phenomenon, the question of character still remains in every community. The majority of monuments and mascots are small and locally based, along with street signs and school names. Still, today, the majority of laws and ordinances that you must follow are local or state; rather than federal.

It is these elements that contribute to the creation of a local identity, just as they do towards the creation of a national identity. However, while the national identity can often be far away and fairly abstract, the local identity is always present. A local identity is made up from the shops you go to, and the places you loiter around where you’re bored. The reason why I emphasize this is because it is not as immediately noticeable as our national identity. For many, this local identity is so much a part of them that they see that it exists until it is threatened. There is a reason why in Red Dawn the Soviets airdrop into a small heartland town instead of Washington D.C. It is easy to yell at politicians who are far away. It is easy to reverse discussion on local issues except in the case of rather, dramatic hypotheticals.

However, whether one likes it or not, local politics is constant and ongoing. It is difficult because of how personal much of the subject matter is. If we view our communities as being some extension of ourselves, than discussions about our communities are discussions about ourselves. Anyone can tell you that constantly discussing yourself and being examined can be exhausting. That is why local politics often attracts the most passionate and stubborn. This can be both good and bad. However, for many this means that are having to deal with choices that they did not make. Local issues are difficult and draining, but ultimately are vitally important for maintaining our identity.

Local issues are important because they determine our character. However easy it is to be distracted by flashier headlines and larger issues, we must remember that those larger issues are made up of smaller ones. Highways are made up of intersections, and as with any machine, small malfunctions can lead to catastrophe. It is easy to see that dimming beacon on the hill and fear, but it means quite little if the fireplace is running out of coals.