The Power of We: Building a better community beyond the ballot box

The following is a Flintside opinion piece by Flint native Brian Larkin. Have an idea for an essay or opinion piece you'd like to write for Flintside about life in Flint? Email [email protected].

This past election we turned out in substantial numbers to vote for all types of offices from governor to judges, congress to commissions, and many positions in between.

The members of our local community who ran for political office this past election season should be commended, whether or not they were fortunate enough to be elected. It is no easy task to gather the support, the petitions, complete the paperwork, canvass, campaign, and genuinely put yourself out there before your community requesting their vote of confidence to let you serve. Let’s make no mistake about it, public office is service.

From school boards to commissions, and executive offices like mayors, supervisors, and clerks, you are constantly in a position to try and provide solutions and hope for your neighbors. Our democracy is made up of several positions which, at their best, work cooperatively together to help execute the vision we as residents have for our communities.

However, elections are not the only way we shape our community, and I would argue that far too much emphasis is placed on the election process as a goal, when in fact I believe it should be viewed as the starting line.
 
I highlighted already the good aspects of our elections such as residents standing up to help make a difference. But there is also a darker side to this process that many of us observe all too often — the divisiveness that spreads throughout our society, from national elections like the presidency all the way down to our local officials.

Here in Flint, we have witnessed so many individuals vested so strongly in getting someone elected that they view anyone not directly aligned with them as their enemy. Colleagues, co-workers, friends, and even family resort to name-calling, public fights, and outright bitter discourse all in an effort to support or denigrate the candidates of their choice. Then, after all the votes are counted, we have broken relationships and half a community dejected and feeling as if those in power don’t reflect their desires.
 
There is so much energy in this community. You see it on message boards, at town halls, and during public meetings. Our residents have passion, want to be heard, and care deeply about their communities. It is time we take this passion and direct it toward making a difference in our day-to-day lives.

Far too much of our dialogue is around hoping institutions of power will eventually "take our side." I propose that we do not need to wait for any particular office to deliver us the future we deserve. The time is now and the power is collectively within all of us to take small steps day by day to make it happen.
 
Here are just a few ways we can get started:

1. Attend board, council, or commission meetings. Not just when we want to complain or push back against something but to really understand who the elected officials are and what they are doing in their roles.

2. Volunteer. Several committees and commissions throughout the county have seats that go unfilled and can utilize the voices that reflect the entire community. Also, local community beautification efforts focused on parks, vacant lots, and gardens can always utilize more volunteers and are great ways to get active.

3. Connect with your neighbors. Whether it's participating in a neighborhood association, organizing a cleanup, or throwing a block party. If you don't have an organized group where you live, start one. No one cares more about your immediate surroundings than you. Now is the time to connect with like-minded individuals and help create changes right where you live.

4. Vote. Voting is such a powerful and important part of our society but it is not the sole activity. Let us take the energy that runs high from August to November every couple of years and direct it toward creating the type of community we all want to be a part of.

Not everyone has the same gifts and abilities, however, everyone can make a difference. From your home to your block, your neighborhood to your community, let's each try to find new ways to engage and help enhance the quality of life in this place we call home.