The 2016 presidential race has been what seems to be the absolute worst reality TV event of all time. Since the most beloved candidate in decades, Bernie Sanders, has departed from the race, the American people have been stranded with the two most polarizing candidates in American history. Between the DNC leaks exposing Mrs. Clinton and the DNC of doing everything from rigging the primary, to insulting the voters she’s been so desperate to win over; and Mr. Trump being, well, himself, US citizens are in a panic scrambling to understand how the hell it has come to this. There has never been a more divisive election season in the history of the modern world. Both campaigns are guilty of resorting to Survivor-like reality-TV tactics and have completely perverted not just the election process, but democracy itself. Say what you will about either candidate, despite the fact that there are very real pressing national issues to address — neither candidate has remained focused on those issues. They have, instead, invested their time in character wars, fear tactics, and childish bickering.
So what does that mean for our country? While, yes, the presidential seat is very important, it is troubling that people seem to be forgetting about the rest of the race: down-ballot candidates. People are undoubtedly concerned about the future of our country, and the world, and have now succumbed to the anxiety brought on by fear of one presidential candidate or the other. Have so many forgotten how our government works? Amid the “grab ’em by the pussy” comments, and allegations about Russia being behind the hacking of DNC and Clinton Foundation leaks, we still have an open seat on the Supreme Court, and congress voted to override President Obama’s veto on the 9/11 victims bill, among many other things I am sure. And guess what? A whopping 88% of Congress is up for reelection this year. Let me say that again, EIGHTY-EIGHT PERCENT. That is, all of it but a very small percent. An overwhelming majority. This gives the American people the opportunity to stack the deck! Literally!
Let’s put this into an analogy that most people can understand; football. What is happening right now is the entire nation is fighting over which quarterback to play, while the rest of the team—the entire rest of the team practically—are cardboard cut-outs; mere placeholders for open positions. What will happen on game day, if we don’t replace those cardboard cutouts? Think about this! We have an opportunity to completely rebuild the team, and everyone is hung up on the QB. While some candidate lists exist, such as the berniecrats list developed for progressive candidates, resources remain limited. Especially for the hundreds of grassroots candidates struggling to fundraise against corporate-funded competitors, it has proven very difficult to get the word out for these down-ballot races. We have very little time to remind voters that the best — and only — defense against a bad President, is a strong and ethical Congress. The likes of which we’ve been going without for a very long time.
When was the last time you went to a city council meeting? Who is on your school board? What has your mayor done for your community lately? How about your Governor, have they improved your state at all? These are the people who directly impact YOU at home, where you live, at the ground level. While presidents lead the nation on the international level and act as a spokesperson, it is Congress and local government that direct the most change and influence on a personal level to each American citizen. This is why Flint, Michigan is still a problem years later. It’s why our infrastructure is crumbling, why our criminal justice system is a joke, why police officers are getting away with murder, and being murdered in retaliation. It’s why the epidemic of poverty is spreading across the nation, while corporations and business executives make out like bandits: exploiting tax loopholes, leaving the working class with the burden of giving US dollars their value because taxes do not fund spending. They simply drive our currency. Too many politicians and public servants don’t even know or understand that last statement, and that is a definite problem when most key conflicting partisan issues involve taxes and government spending. People have to understand these institutions don’t run themselves. Being vague about “they” in reference to all levels of government perpetuates this gap between local leadership and the Federal government, which then allows free reign for corruption to infect it all at every level. Without accountability from the local level, on up through Congress and beyond, this vague and corrupt gap between the government and the people it governs, will continue to grow and destroy democracy entirely.
So what do we do? For starters, go to your next city council meeting. Find out who your local leaders are, and start holding them accountable. Reach out and try to speak with them. If they don’t want to talk to you, that is a good indication of a problem. It seems scary and uncomfortable at first, I know, but think about this; if leaders in your community do not wish to be a part of the communities they lead, what are they really doing? Fortunately, in my personal experience, I have had a lot of success reaching out and talking to my local officials. Most people want the same basic things: decent education for our children, safe streets, clean water, affordable housing, and a prosperous local economy. There should be no mysterious agendas. There should be no evil ulterior motives. This is very basic stuff. We should not be so detached from our neighbors and communities that we’re too afraid to find out what is going on. Don’t waste your political power filling in bubbles at random down the ballot, but expect your presidential choice to enforce zoning laws in your community, or install new stop signs at suddenly busy intersections. It is our civic duty to hold our elected officials accountable at all levels of government. Don’t get lost on the big seat. Remember the President can only do so much, especially if we elect a brand new progressive Congress to keep them in check. Change isn’t going to happen from the top down. It’s got to come from the ground up.
For help finding resources on local elections and candidate lists, please reach out to us at Real Progressives! It is not too late to educate yourself on your down-ballot candidates!