Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Opinion | Participate in local politics

CW / Elijah McWhorter
Jack Rudder, former speaker of the SGA Senate, presides over a meeting.

Our nation is unhealthily obsessed with national politics. Being in an election season, this year is where our obsession balloons beyond its usual extreme. However, when we focus on national issues, we often neglect the state and local issues we have more influence over and that impact us to a greater degree.

Particularly in local elections, voter turnout is abysmally low. In Birmingham, for instance, the municipal elections of 2021 had a voter turnout of only 25.28%. This low turnout is the trend nationwide, with half of the 30 largest cities in the country having voter turnouts below 20%.

While the 2020 election had the highest turnout nationally since 1900, the trend of high turnouts nationwide when compared with local elections is consistent and represents a fundamental flaw in our modern political ethos: We act as if national issues matter more than local ones.

Local issues take a backseat to national ones because the news we consume, especially among young Americans, is increasingly nationally focused. As people cut the cord to cable TV and as social media becomes a larger and larger source of information, access to local news decreases, and the news we consume reflects national politics to satisfy the largest audience. 

For students, campus politics is much the same as local politics insofar as we seem to pay little attention to the issues closest to us. In the most recent SGA presidential election, only 26.01% of eligible students cast a vote

As a society, we must divert our attention away from national issues and toward local matters. Even if the SGA may not seem to impact our lives as students, new and returning students should make an effort to engage with the issues on campus and follow local issues because by practicing civic engagement locally, students can begin to develop habits that will keep them engaged with the political process as they age. We do not want a society in which our fellow citizens know nothing about the issues that face their local communities. Further, aggrieved citizens need to remember that local political authorities have important responsibilities and can use the tools at their disposal to help address their issues in ways national policy cannot. 

Local politics influence your school board, your waste pickup, your roads and much more. While national politics includes many important issues including Social Security, abortion and immigration, these issues are not all that matter. At a time in which people are viewing politics from an increasingly nationalized lens, local issues become of secondary importance. 

From the local school board that oversees the facilities that in many ways are raising the next generation (for better or worse) to the city council that deals with fixing potholes in our roads, the local matters are not as glamorous as our national ones; however, these seemingly mundane local issues may be even more important. Especially if you choose to sit on the sidelines of local issues, you will leave the door open to those that are the most fanatical to have a decision on how your children (or future children) will be educated. 

It is well known that those who develop the habit of voting continue to do so throughout their lives. The earlier you start, the more likely you are to be a civically engaged citizen who can influence the community around you in ways voting in a presidential election will not. Simply taking into account the size of the voting pool, the impact of a single vote locally is far greater than that of a single vote nationally. 

It is easy to see that your vote is far more impactful in local matters than in national matters. As former SGA Sen. Eyram Gbeddy noted, “The SGA has a six-digit budget that goes to student organizations every year. More importantly, the administration views SGA as the voice of the students. What SGA says is taken seriously by UA.”

Part of the moral and ethical rot at the heart of the American political scene is that viewing politics from a national perspective removes our connection to our fellow citizens and devalues community action. Community is, ultimately, the most important unit in politics, or it should be. One such community based organization is the Black Warrior Riverkeepers. 

The Riverkeepers make it their duty to protect the Black Warrior river from harm caused by industry and other sources of pollution. As an organization, they saw that federal law was not doing its job and decided to take action themselves. One such action was to get neighborhood councils to pass resolutions opposing the opening of a coal mine adjacent to the river, ultimately resulting in the project being halted.

Local action truly does induce positive change in ways federal law does not always obtain. While the Black Warrior Riverkeepers is one example of a successful community based organization, there are many opportunities for local civic engagement both in Tuscaloosa and elsewhere. Even something as simple as voting in local elections would set you apart from many of those who seemingly care only about national politics. While we should care about our nation at-large, we should never forget the power and importance of community in politics. 

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