For Young Progressives, All Politics are Local

With so much focus on Congress, the White House and the Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court ruling, it may be a surprise to many young people that the most significant political, legislative and policy work is being done much closer to home. While national politics are important on a macro level, it is actually the city/county council, school board, or generally assembly that can make or break the quality of life for the average American. This is especially true for young people who want to be a part of the progressive movement. Getting involved locally is critical.

Faced with numerous legislative and judicial losses on a national scale, the right wing has taken its anti-civil rights, anti-choice, anti-worker agenda to the states. And they are winning: In the past few years, 30 states have significantly limited a woman’s right to choose, 14 states have passed legislation making it harder to vote and 23 states attempted to make it harder for its poorest residents to access the safety net programs they desperately need. This is in addition to widespread school closings, the ridicule of public workers and their rights, and deadly “Stand-Your-Ground” laws that have plagued neighborhoods across the country.

The stakes are even higher on the local level. Everything from school funding to emergency preparedness is largely determined by mayors, school boards and city/county councils. In many areas, judges, prosecutors and sheriffs are elected. The best way to keep these individuals accountable is to become engaged in your community.

So how do you get involved? There are several ways:

  • Reach out to your elected officials and community leaders. You can contact them via email or phone with questions or to express your opinion on a pertinent issue in your community.
  • Attend local government meetings. Many are open to the public, and while it may not be the most exciting experience ever, it will give you a great lesson on the nuts and bolts of how your community operates.
  • Join a grassroots community organization; doing so will put you in touch with other committed people who want to make a difference.
  • Campaign for a local politician whose mission you support. Not only  is it a great way to get involved, but you can acquire valuable campaign experience.

And, perhaps most importantly, if you have a strong record of civic engagement, why not consider running for office? If you think you are too young, you may be selling yourself short. Did you know the current mayor of Ithaca, NY was elected at the age of 24?

Whether you choose to join a local commission, engage in grassroots organizing, write your local legislator or launch your own campaign, the key is to find a level of involvement that you feel most comfortable with and learn as much as you can. Young people getting involved locally is key to building the infrastructure for a progressive agenda in your community and across the country.

About the author: Randy Ra Shad Gaines is the Founder and Chairman of the Black Caucus of the Young Democrats of America and a member of the Aiken County Historical Commission in Aiken, SC. Gaines is dedicated to social justice and the practices of inclusion throughout our political process.