All summer long, political candidates were working hard for your vote. They sent you direct mail pamphlets. They came to your church. They invited you to fundraisers where you paid $100 to eat tikka masala and listen to the wonderful sounds of a jazz band. They put posters up at your corner store, and some of them even used that robo-calling thing to reach you at home. You hung up on it though, but the point is that for the last few months the candidates vying for the local positions on the ballot have made it their business to be “all up in your face.” On Election Day, candidates pay people to hand out flyers in their support outside of polling stations just so that they can hold your attention all the way up until you physically enter your polling station to cast your vote.
Then you vote, and just like that Election Day is over. But what happens after an election?
What happens to the candidate that came to your block party? Remember him? He ate a cheeseburger from your barbecue food and promised to always answer your call when you needed him. Have you tried calling him yet?
What happens to the candidate that you knew from high school? Remember her? She asked you to post support for her run onto your school’s Facebook page and to tag yourself so that others could see it, too. Have you guys spoken since then?
How about the candidate that came to your church? Remember him? He came late and sat right in the front and spoke for seven minutes about how your church was his church home and how you all need to vote for him. Has he been back to church since then?
Electing your local, state and national officials is only one part of civic activism, and yet it’s the part that garners the most attention because it’s the part where they, the candidates, get you, the voter, to vote them into office. But your civic duty doesn’t end when the loser gives his or her concession speech. In fact, voting is the bare minimum of your civic responsibility. Voting counts, but only if you work to hold the officials that you vote into office accountable for their promises and their responsibility to their constituents. If you think that you can just vote and then sit idle while your elected official saves the world, then you miss the whole point of civic activism.
Do you know what civic activism looks like? It looks like attending your Community Board meetings. The liquor licenses that bars and lounges receive, the eight-story buildings that go up on your block, the co-naming of blocks in your neighborhood, these are things decided at your Community Board meetings. I remember when bike lanes started popping up in the neighborhood. I had neighbors who were appalled, and they blamed gentrification for the bike lanes, not knowing that these are the kinds of things presented at Community Board meetings.
Attending your Community Board meetings are a great way to interact directly with your local elected officials. City Council members frequent Community Board meetings in order to gauge neighborhood concerns. However, that can yield an opportunity to let your voice be heard about anything you wish to see addressed. Have you ever heard of Participatory Budgeting? Well, you would have if you attended a Community Board meeting. Participatory Budgeting gives community members the opportunity to vote on how certain monies will be spent in that community. Even though you cast a vote every November, your voice can be heard year-round when you attend your Community Board meetings.
So, I’m glad that you voted, and a lot of you definitely did vote this year. It took me an hour and a half to cast my ballot at my poll this past Election Day. I’ve voted in every election since 1996, and I don’t remember my poll ever being that packed! It looks like the yearning to oust Trump is “Making Voting Great Again,” and that’s cool with me. But just as faith without works is dead, so is a vote with no follow-through. This ain’t a beauty pageant guys, it’s the state of your communities at stake. So now that you voted, continue to keep your voice part of the process by attending Community Board meetings. That way when you witness an elected official renege on all those promises they were talking at that one church service they made their business to attend, you will be able to vote them out in the next election cycle with confidence.