In 2019, mono-culture has all but disappeared. However, there is one thing that still has our collective attention: national politics. Forget sports, politics is our pastime. Between the never-ending death march of 24 hour cable news and the sheer size and scope of the Internet itself, we can now participate in our national pastime whenever it suits us, all day, every day.
Dividing the entirety of the United States population into two ideological camps and then spinning every aspect of news and culture through one of two lenses has been a profitable enterprise. It’s also potentially dangerous. Recent tweets by President Donald Trump and US Representative Steve King seem to suggest that if our ideological warfare ever became actual warfare, their side has the weapons and the power to prevail. Progressives have different fears. It seems more likely that the next US Civil War will be over water or other natural resources, rather than whether or not the government is your health care provider. Regardless, the idea that the country is at its most polarized since the nineteenth century is so ubiquitous, the idea itself is taken as fact. Which is ironic, considering the uncritical acceptance of “facts” is a major contributor to this apparent polarization.
Generalizations on such a mass scale are inherently clunky. Yes, generally speaking, people in Gulf Shores, Alabama think about their world differently than people in Portland, Oregon. But are they, the people, really that different? I’d argue that an examination of local politics might reveal a country that’s not as polarized as we’re being sold. If we look at politics at the local level, we find differences ideologically-speaking between liberal and conservative communities, of course. But we’d also find some very important, fundamental similarities. In both liberal and conservative communities, people want to be able to afford to live where they live, in a safe environment that has educational opportunities for their kids and economic opportunity for themselves.
Looking into local politics is an easy way to subtract yourself from the polarization narrative. If you live or work in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, there is an election for the neighborhood council taking place on April 6th. In my community, two competing blocs are vying to lead Silver Lake’s representative voice. Each bloc is made up of region representatives and at-large representatives. There’s perhaps not as much daylight between the candidates on some issues facing the neighborhood as I’d like. However, the field of candidates is refreshingly diverse, especially in the Silver Lake Progressive bloc.
Voting is a quick way to feel involved locally, but you can also try attending a neighborhood council meeting. Cynically speaking, neighborhood council meetings are boring, lackluster affairs akin to mandatory work meetings at which your three least favorite coworkers keep asking stupid questions. Now imagine that those three people are in local government and you’ll have a pretty accurate picture of how neighborhood council meetings operate.
However, neighborhood councils do have power, real power, over shit that matters more to your daily life than the President’s latest batshit tweet. And that’s the larger point. While we’re busy feeding at the outrage dispenser, people in your community are making decisions about issues that affect your daily life. I’m not saying what the President of the Unites States thinks or says is irrelevant, only that it’s less relevant than the attention we attribute to it. As left coast lefties, we may disagree whole-heartedly with the political ideologies of other communities, but whether or not Ohio outlaws abortions after 6 weeks doesn’t actually affect your life, here. Is it fucked up? I think so. Such laws disproportionately and adversely affect poor communities—never mind the fact such a law would be misaligned with the actual law of the land. It’s also morally reprehensible for the government to restrict opportunity, which is what anti-abortion laws do. Power placing roadblocks in front of the powerless is not just cruel, it’s fucking wrong. And to claim it’s in defense of the defenseless is particularly disingenuous, given that 12 million children live in food insecure environments. But. Can I, as a resident of Silver Lake, do anything about abortion law in Ohio? Short of moving there and getting involved, not really.
Who I vote for to represent me in my community actually does matter. On a mirco-level, I encourage my fellow Silver Lake residents to vote on April 6th. Check out the Silver Lake Progressive bloc and the Silver Lake Together bloc and see where you align. You’ll find it interesting that even in a community as nationally politically homogenous as Silver Lake, there are still some very real differences. But mostly, we all want the same things; we just have different ideas on how to get there. And that’s ok.
On a macro-level, I encourage everyone to get involved in local politics. At the very least it can be a reminder of what we, as a nation, have in common: we all want to live in places that reflect our values. America is fucking huge, with many different types of people. To imagine a country of this size not polarized is silly. But to stoke malcontent for profit, that’s war-mongering. Let’s question that narrative. It’s not doing us any good.
If you live or work in Silver Lake, you’re eligible to vote April 6th at St. Francis of Assisi Church. Go here for more info.