And the public, regardless of which flavor of politics it prefers, grew increasingly frustrated at the lack of accomplishment on the part of the men and women we send to Washington as our representatives. For all our displeasure at The Way Things Are, there’s little we can do about it. It’s a big country and organizing meaningful reform is difficult, especially when the big campaign donors stand to lose their monopoly on influence.
Closer to home, that disconnect between the people and the politicians isn’t a foregone conclusion. The center of government isn’t in some far-removed locale. Our representatives aren’t figures we only see on television or perhaps catch glimpses of in town-hall settings. The policies debated aren’t theoretical meanderings disconnected from our everyday lives.
City councils and county commissions are staffed with people we bump into at the grocery store. Their meetings are just down the street and open to the public. The impact of local government budgets and laws will almost certainly be felt in our everyday lives, from public safety to street maintenance to attracting more jobs to the time it takes to receive a license or permit and on and on.
While the saying, “You can’t fight city hall,” might have some truth to it, we can with enough effort influence city hall.
If residents think their local governments can do better, then the chances of actually making these desires come true are actually quite feasible, with a lot of hard work and organization. Thursday at the United Way of East Alabama’s annual luncheon we were reminded of that political reality. The Star named as its Citizens of the Year four local organizations that focused on creating positive changes in our community. The recipients are Women Empowered, REAL Men of Anniston, GETT Moving East Alabama and the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce.
The brief timeline looks like this:
1. The Anniston City Council elected in 2008 becomes an embarrassment as politicians waste precious time in conflict with themselves and others.
2. The public recoils, disgusted at the lack of progress in a city that needs to grow its economy.
3. The Star dedicates a front-page editorial in August 2010, calling on “residents to come together, discuss the remedies available, choose leadership and shape outrage into a clear, sensible program of reform.”
4. The aforementioned groups rise to the newspaper’s call, eventually joining forces to drive candidate forums across the city (and across the county) during the 2012 elections.
5. In August 2012, a new cast is elected in Anniston, each winner with the clear understanding that Anniston residents want progress, not pugilism.
Let’s call it grassroots reform in five steps, changes spurred by a newspaper committed to practicing the best ideals of community journalism.
We are right to celebrate this progress. Yet, now is not the time to relax. Civic responsibility doesn’t begin and end with voting every four years — or in the case of politicians, campaigning every four years. We can’t merely outsource this job to four council members and a mayor. There’s more work for all of us, in growing the local economy, promoting the region’s assets to the wider world, improving our schools and developing the places of great potential, such as McClellan.
That’s a hefty to-do list, one that residents should press local government to act on with a sense of urgency. Yet, the chore is no less burdensome than the one several years back when the goal was removing the city’s toxic leadership. GETT Moving East Alabama’s Julia Segars said Thursday, “This was a movement of concerned people that cared enough to get involved.”
Our message today is that fresh concerns remain that require everyone’s involvement.
Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @EditorBobDavis.