What’s the quickest way to take away someone’s voice? Drown it out. Dilute it.
Someone can only yell so loud before their voice breaks, they soul crushes, and the opposition prevails.
If someone vocalizes an opposing view but no one can hear it…did it ever even happen?
For anyone who knows me or follows me on social media, you know that I’m not a huge fan of my local government. I don’t like the current mayor of Houston, nor do I appreciate the fact that I happen to live in one of the most gerrymandered districts in the state of Texas, which is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country.
I’m not a fan of the Texas state government, either, a body that is more disappointing than not, which carries out its conservative agendas in the heart of Texas liberalism, the capitol city of Austin.
That said, I try to pay attention to it. No, it’s not shiny and enticing like our national government is. No, it’s not mired in world history and reeling from wars and border disputes like international affairs and foreign relations are. Still, it actually affects my life in a way that is direct and specific, so…I guess it matters.
When I first moved to Texas, I was in the 6th grade. I had just started junior high and I took world geography for my social studies class. Come 7th grade, I’d have to take Texas history – an entire academic year’s-worth of history dedicated to this new state that, honestly, I didn’t even care that much about at the time. I was still very, “Nah, I’m not from here. I’m a Yankee.”
If you could picture a caricature of a Texan, one that would terrify a 12-year old girl from the heart of New England, that guy was my Texas history teacher. Tight jeans, cowboy boots, button-down shirt tucked in, and a huge belt buckle with – you guessed it – an embossed Texas on it. The only thing missing was the cowboy hat, but I imagine that didn’t fall in line with the school’s dress code.
I hated that class, which was unfortunate because I generally loved my history classes. Still, there were some interesting moments. Comparatively, Texas really does have a robust history, and I guess we must have learned something about our local and state governments. Can’t really remember that last part, though.
At some point in my academic career, I know I took a government course (maybe senior year of high school? College?), but again, I couldn’t tell you anything meaningful or relevant I retained from it. I suppose that’s my own fault.
It’s funny, though. There are so many real-world relevancies that get overlooked in school. Apart from the obvious topics, I guarantee you I didn’t learn about gerrymandering in high school. Maybe it got a brief mention in college. The electoral college? Delegates? Super delegates? Nah.
The Battle of Carthage? Yeah.
While I’m a firm believer that no knowledge is wasted or unnecessary, if I was designing a curriculum, certain things would take priority over others. Texas history wouldn’t have made the cut, at least not for an entire school year.
Local government actually reminds me a bit of my high school student government, which I was never a part of. Rather, the way I used to think of local government reminds me of the way I used to think of student government.
I didn’t do a whole lot of extracurriculars in high school, not because I was too cool (because I certainly was not), but more because I was aloof and didn’t like aligning myself with anything that I didn’t care or know that much about. I’m still like that, too. Identity, personal conviction, and commitment are all things I think about often. I don’t like being tied down or labeled. Even now, I’m hesitant to call myself a liberal, a leftist, a libertarian, an anarchist, or whatever else people have called me because one word isn’t ever enough to encompass even an aspect of one’s personality or beliefs.
All of that to say that while I wasn’t one of the emo kids, most of what went on in high school didn’t seem to matter much to me. I think I’d gotten disillusioned after watching too many teen comedy-dramas in junior high. Once I got to high school and didn’t see any Heath Ledger, Shane West, Josh Hartnett, or John Cusack-types walking around, I was over it pretty quickly.
As far as student government is concerned, though, it’s all very hyper-local. The issues kids fight and lobby for don’t matter much outside of those walls, and even within them, they still kind of don’t matter. How much meaningful change can students actually enact without getting the school board involved, or at the very least, the school’s faculty? They can’t even change the dress code on their own. All they really did, at least from an outsider’s perspective, was choose the prom theme, and for the record, I can’t even remember what ours was.
So, what was the point?
I was more cynical back then, but one thing that was true then and remains true is that I don’t like inefficiency. The idea of dedicating myself to something that has little to no chance of making any kind of dent anywhere was and is a thought that actually gives me anxiety. While the irony is not lost on me that I’ve been droning on about my primary and secondary school education for the better part of ~1100 words, and despite the fact that I regularly contribute to a blog that maybe someone reads sometimes, I believe in purposeful action even if it means having to wait a bit longer to see results.
With high school, you’re out of there in four years (hopefully). A benevolent high school student would understand that our public school systems are practically the foundation of our nation and would work hard to make the experience better for future generations, but again, there’s only so much they can do while you’re there. With local government, though…this is your home, a place where you and/or your family will presumably be for a while. The inner workings of the government directly affect your day-to-day. You can ignore it if you want, but you can only smile your way through the incessant traffic on 290 for so long before it pisses you off.
Living in Houston, Texas, my local government is hard to overlook. Every time my car gets torn up by the potholes on Navigation Boulevard, I remember how our current mayor literally campaigned on the promise that he’d fill them. Every time I can’t walk around downtown without looking at the ground to make sure I don’t trip over the broken shards of sidewalk, or every time it rains (not just pours) and the flooding in my neighborhood is worse than the last time because of increasing levels of development in the area that don’t seem to take flood plains and adequate drainage into account, or every time there’s a plume of carcinogens sitting over the city for days at a time without so much as an honest explanation or address or warning from city officials – my local government slaps me in the face.
These are very surface-level grievances, too. These are things that even Houstonians who don’t pay attention to local government are starkly aware of. I’m sure you have some top-of-mind concerns for whatever city you’re in, too.
Beyond those, though, there are more dire concerns. For anyone who cares at all about climate change, Houston is and will continue to be directly affected by it in a very real and tangible way. In fact, Houston is often used as an example of the implications climate change is already having on people’s lives and how costly ignoring it can be.
I actually grew up on the southeast side of Houston, right along Galveston Bay. For those of you who aren’t from around here, the bay is an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico. The water’s lovely, but whenever a hurricane comes through the gulf, the storm can kind of funnel the surge through the bay into Seabrook. If you look back at the damage Hurricane Ike did to Seabrook, Kemah, and some of the other towns along the bay, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
With the increased intensity and frequency of these storms, apart from the excessive flooding caused by a number of factors, the deterioration of the seawall in Galveston is more than a significant cause for concern. Of course, as with anything in government at any level, obtaining public support for an issue, cause, and solution is one thing. Getting funding for projects, especially large-scale projects is another. For something like bolstering the seawall, a solution needs to first be proposed, and then tons of research needs to go into it before the solution can even be presented to government officials. These problems are never simple, either, and they often involve several separate issues that all need to be addressed and balanced. Finally, resources need to be allocated towards its implementation.
It’s a lot. To get an idea, check out this study regarding protecting and restoring the Texas coast.
Still, that public support part – that’s you. That’s the part you can actually participate in and contribute to. That’s where your voice and efforts could actually make a difference. Not to mention, your local representatives (the ones you actually vote for in the general elections) go to Washington, D.C. and affect change on the national level while looking out for your local interests (in a perfect world, at least). That’s literally the whole idea behind the House of Representatives, so it’s a good idea to know who you’re voting for.
On an even smaller scale, though…
Judges? You vote for the people who could possibly rule over your future court cases.
You also vote for the people who run your local government agencies. You want to elect competent people who actually care about the jobs they’re doing.
Speaking of those agencies – find out who’s in charge of what! Find out what they each actually do. If you have a grievance, chances are good that there’s a department in your local government and/or a specific official who’s directly responsible for it.
Oh, and their contact information is readily available. Feel free to drop them a line every once in a while. If there’s one thing that publicly-elected officials know, it’s that the opinions of their constituents matter. They care about their re-election campaigns, if nothing else. Your voice doesn’t only matter on Election Day.
Personally, I have an active letter to the mayor that I’m constantly drafting, editing, and adding to. I’ll send it to him one of these days…