' THINK GLOBALLY, BLOG LOCALLY '
You pick up a newspaper or turn on the nightly news, what do you see and hear? A bunch of bad stuff you (seemingly) can’t do a damn thing about – massacres in Syria, economic crisis in Europe, a U.S. budget deficit seemingly out of control, gridlock in Congress, on and on it goes.
You think to yourself, I’ve tried before and it didn’t work. I voted for change in 2008, but now all I seem to see is more of the same. I wrote to my Congressman about legislation I wanted passed, but it died in committee. I even went down to a rally on the National Mall, along with tens of thousands of others who felt (roughly) the same way, and the result was…the same ol’ same ol’ situation, as far as I can tell.
In other words, at this point you find yourself any or all of the following: cynical, jaded, disillusioned, disappointed, frustrated, exasperated, and generally resigned to not having any impact on the way things go in our country. Why even bother? Why not just focus on your job, your family, your life, and try to ignore everything else? Why be an active, engaged citizen of a country whose political system only seems to listen to the wealthiest, most powerful, and best connected?
These are all fine questions, as far as they go. The problem is, they entire way of thinking is, in the end, counterproductive not just for the country (and the planet) as a whole, but also for the specific issues you care about – a healthy environment, GLBT equality, a fair and just society, a woman’s right to choose, you name it. Opting out, sticking your head in the sand, wallowing in cynicism and despair: all of those might be tempting options when we get frustrated and cynical. However, they’re simultaneously the greatest gift we can give to the entrenched, powerful, wealthy special interests whose greatest wish is for “the masses” – that’s you and me, the 99% - to stick their heads in the sand and let them – the 1% - run things. To my way of thinking, that’s not acceptable.
So what do we do about this situation? I don’t have a quick-fix answer, but one thing I do know is this: if we want to have an impact, the best place to do it is at a more local level, where our voice is proportionally much stronger, than at the national or international level, where are voices are just one in 7 billion (and counting). What I decided to do, for instance, after John Kerry lost to George W. Bush in 2004, was to get involved at the state level. Among other things, I started a blog, called “Raising Kaine,” back in January 2005. The unofficial slogan of that blog, and of my subsequent political blog “Blue Virginia,” was “Think Globally, Blog Locally.”
Did it work? It’s hard to measure these things, of course, but after the 2005 elections, in which my progressive activist friends and I helped to “blog Tim Kaine into the Virginia governor’s mansion,” Kaine himself told several of us, in a reception at the governor’s mansion, that he was grateful for our efforts, and that it made a big difference. In 2006, we undertook a seemingly quixotic effort to “draft” former Reagan Administration Navy Secretary James Webb to run for U.S. Senate against George Allen. Most people said it was hopeless, but guess what? That’s right, the “draft” succeeded, Webb ran and won the primary (despite getting outspent something like 6:1 by the institutional candidate), then went on to win the general election and help take back the U.S. Senate for Democrats. After that election, Webb and his senior strategist, Steve Jarding, both made it clear that our efforts – and when I say “our,” I’m talking about the 14,000-strong “ragtag army” of volunteers for Webb - made all the difference, and that without us, Webb probably wouldn’t have even gotten on the ballot, let alone knocked off an incumbent Senator with a huge war chest and a 30+ point lead in the polls.
The bottom line is this: acting locally, at the state or county or city level, your voice and power are much stronger, relatively speaking, than at the national or international level. Here in Arlington, Virginia, for instance, an upcoming Democratic caucus for a County Board vacancy will probably only draw 4,000 voters, or just 2% of Arlington’s population. Given that there are six candidates running, it’s very possible that the winner might garner under 1,000 votes, winning by dozens of votes or even fewer. Thus, your vote, and your involvement in either running for office yourself, or working to support one of the candidates, could easily make the difference in choosing the next Arlington County Board Member for Life (once elected, these people rarely lose in “solid blue” Arlington).
But what difference will THAT make, the cynical voice in your head asks? Well, depending on what your priorities are – from fair housing to gentrification to immigration to green buildings to stormwater runoff to…whatever you care most about - it could result in significantly different outcomes, for better or for worse, in the county. Also, perhaps – just perhaps – if it works at the county level, and is seen to work by others in neighboring jurisdictions, it might spread beyond the local level to the state, and even the nation? Hey, you never know until you try. And yes, just based on the numbers alone, your ability to make a big difference at the local or state level is a lot greater than at the national or international level. Will doing so change the world? Perhaps, perhaps not. But, at the least, perhaps it might help change your attitude a bit for the better? Perhaps you’ll “just” have some fun, “only” make a bunch new friends, and “merely” feel more connected to your community? There are worse things that could happen. Or, perhaps your actions at the local level could start the proverbial butterfly’s wings beating, ultimately resulting in a hurricane in the halls of Congress – or beyond? One thing’s for sure: you’ll never know until you try.