Politics and public policy can be rather baffling, but the answer to a lot of questions about government and policy can be stated quite simply as â€œthe first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.â€
Thatâ€™s the official definition of Election Day, and itâ€™s the answer to common questions like, â€œWhen is all of this going to change?â€ â€œWhat can we do about these idiots?â€ And my favorite, â€œWhen do I get my say?â€
Iâ€™m not particularly cynical about politics, which is surprising considering all the hard-to-wash-off gunk that Iâ€™ve seen thrown around during campaigns and three decades of witnessing the annoying propensity of even the best-intended elected officials to get bogged down trying to figure just the right way to play something. I still believe in elections, despite the vast conspiracy between politicians and pundits to make them all about who is up, who is down and what the flavor of the week is.
Thereâ€™s a side to elections that seldom gets as much ink and electrons as the horse race, and itâ€™s the side that really matters, especially in local races.
In addition to picking our political leaders, elections are an opportunity for each of us to participate in the conversation about where we are going as a community. Itâ€™s a time when we decide whatâ€™s important and can speak to those eager for our votes in a frank and direct way.
Having a community dialog focused on the best way forward and a hard look at the recent past is essential to charting a path ahead in public policy that reflects our values and beliefs. There are few opportunities when ears and hearts are quite as open to something new, challenging or even contrary to the status quo.
In towns as small as Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Pittsboro and Hillsborough, opinions stated directly to candidates, whether at forums, neighborhood gatherings or via door-to-door canvassing, actually have a chance to sink in.
Money is not the motherâ€™s milk of politics at this level. Itâ€™s getting there, but not yet. The one-on-one with voters or the small group discussions are still where opinions are swayed and impressions made.
The cycle is upon us. Candidates are making the rounds, and forums and meet-the-candidate events are happening almost nonstop.
Year in, year out, the government closest to you tends to make the biggest impact in your life. Itâ€™s also where your individual vote will have the biggest impact. The people who decide what can be built where, how tall buildings are going to be downtown, the funding levels for schools and parks and where and when the buses run are often elected by just a tiny fraction of the eligible voters. Not casting a ballot in a local race or giving an eager candidate an earful means passing up a golden opportunity to actually have an impact.
This is your chance to look a mayor or aspiring alderman or councilperson in the eye and tell them what you really think.
So, speak your mind and let the chips fall as they may. The next time you see the mayors, they might be holding a gavel and you might be asking for something or trying to get them to support an idea or a cause. Youâ€™ll probably have to be polite, or even guarded, about what you say in that case. Election season is the only time when the transaction goes the other way. When the people making decisions about the future of our community want something from you. They want your vote.
Politics, as an old friend has often reminded me, is the art of persuasion. So persuade somebody. Youâ€™ve got a few more weeks until the deadline. Take a guess when that falls.
Note: Iâ€™ll be moderating Orange Countyâ€™s first online candidate forums on OrangePolitics.org. The first forum is this Sunday and features the candidates for Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education. The forum for candidates for Carrboro Board of Aldermen is on Oct. 17 and the forum for Chapel Hill Town Council and mayor is on Oct. 23. All forums run from 7 to 9 p.m.