Massachusetts Congressman Tip O’Neil, coined the phrase “All Politics Is Local” sometime between 1977 and 1987 while he was Speaker of the House. He intended the phrase to mean that politicians have a specific responsibility to know and represent the every-day concerns of their constituents no matter how menial or particular. In February of this year I had the privilege of sitting with several Black pastors and leaders as we listened to Dr. Vincent Bacote discuss a variety of topics. At one point he uttered the same phrase: “All politics are local”. He went on to explain that he meant that all meaningful political engagement begins at a local level. Who are the people who hold positions of power in your immediate area? Are you in a position to hold them accountable for their actions? Do you know the members of your City Council? Do you know you Municipal Judge, your Mayor, the Chief of Police, the School Board, your City Manager?
It seems these days that everyone has strong opinions about government and politics at a national level. Certainly, all branches of our national government are important and having a strong opinion about them matters. However, I do wonder if we hold to and even vocalize these opinions about something so big and so distant because it feels safer. I will never meet the President of the United States or a Supreme Court Justice or a Congresswoman, if I had to guess. These people are far away and hold a tremendous amount of power over our national security, identity, and ecosystem.
On the contrary, I run into our City Council members all the time. They literally live in my neighborhood and shop at my grocery store. They occasionally come to my church and we attend some of the same events around town. When I see them or speak to them at City Council meetings, I know that I’ll likely interact with them soon on a more personal level. This reality means two important things to me:
- What I say matters: If they receive it and consider it, the result might affect me and my family immediately. Local government makes decisions all the time that affect the day-to-day lives of residents in that municipality.
- How I say it matters: I will likely bump into these people in power so the way that I speak to or about them matters. It’s easy to slam the President because I will never meet him. It’s far more difficult to be disparaging toward someone who lives two blocks away.
Next Tuesday is election day. It’s not the one everyone is talking about. It’s not the one everyone is waiting for. Everyone is waiting for and talking about the first Tuesday of November, 2020. But next Tuesday, in Englewood, CO, four of our seven City Council seats are up for grabs. Two incumbents and six new-to-politics neighbors are running to fill those seats. No matter the outcome, the implications are not only important, they are immediate. The outcome of this election will affect our family, church, and city almost right away.
We can’t simply take local politics for granted and spend all our time waiting for presidential elections. In the meantime, people in power sit on a dais and vote on items that affect everything from infrastructure to budget to commerce to disaster relief. You might not agree that all politics are local but you can certainly see that local politics have immediate implications for all of us.
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