Participate in, don’t just consume community
Every time the local elections roll around I read through that little booklet of candidates and find it difficult to decide who to vote for. This year was no different.
It’s unsurprising then, to hear the many reports about low voter turnout in this year’s elections or the number of uncontested and empty positions around New Zealand. It seems, despite the impact local councils and community boards have on our day-to-day lives, a large number of voters are disengaged.
We’ve built communities on social media, in the workplace, and with our friends, but in the meantime we’ve forgotten about the importance of the communities we live in.
In a consumer society it’s easy to expect others to deliver what we want, when we want it. But participating in local communities, and particularly in local government, asks much more of us. We’ve built communities on social media, in the workplace, and with our friends, but in the meantime we’ve forgotten about the importance of the communities we live in. It’s much easier to participate in communities online where the cost of engagement is low, in the workplace where our participation is rewarded with financial benefits, and with friends whose company we enjoy.
In fact, we often don’t realise the importance of council and local community positions until it’s too late. Decisions around the funding and design of services and amenities are made well in advance of work starting, which means by the time we notice things happening around us, it’s too late to have a say. But keeping up with everything that’s going on at a local level does require sacrifice.
I can understand why we’re good at talking about the need for decent leaders
Positions of local leadership are often intimidating, thankless, and usually limited in their scope for change; requiring an attitude of service and humility while retaining none of the glamour of national politics. So I can understand why we’re good at talking about the need for decent leaders, people who care about the issues we care about, and the failure of the status quo to change anything, but are much slower to put up our own hand and volunteer to help build something different.
And yet, it’s important that we do engage. As many others have said, councils and community boards make decisions that impact our everyday lives including where we live, how we travel, our environmental impact, and the spaces our kids grow up in.
We can begin by simply becoming more active members of our local communities.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that next time the local election nominations roll around everyone must put their hand up to be a councillor. Certainly a few more of us should consider it, but we can begin by simply becoming more active members of our local communities. Prioritising attendance (and perhaps volunteering) at community events, supporting the local school fundraiser, noticing unloved parts of our neighbourhoods and engaging with the local board to fix them, and simply choosing to engage in conversation with people next door. The places we live and play will benefit from and increased attitude of participation in community life, rather than mere consumption of amenities.
That way, next time we need to vote we’ll hopefully recognise a few more of the faces in the booklet and have a clearer idea of who we want to vote for.