Having a say in the way things are
By Cazzy Lewchuk, Staff Writer
With the municipal elections coming up this month in the greater Vancouver area, residents have an opportunity to have a direct say in how things are run. In addition to voting for the mayor, Vancouver citizens will elect city council members, park board commissioners, and school board trustees. These elected officials will undoubtedly fulfill all their promises, never sell out or be caught in a scandal with outside interests, and vastly improve the area of their governance—no matter what their partisan affiliations are.
All cynicism and sarcasm aside, it’s very important to vote. Although not mandatory (like in few countries such as Australia), the democratic right to choose elected officials is something that was fought for repeatedly by many of our ancestors. In addition, millions of people around the world today campaign daily for the right to cast their ballot—many being arrested or even executed in the process. There are few better ways to express your views, participate in the democratic process, and fulfill your civic duties than by just showing up to the polling station on Election Day. Seriously, the right to vote is something far too many people are willing to and have died for, so don’t let it go to waste. Even if you want to spoil your ballot or vote for none of the above, you still should cast your vote.
That said, besides voting there are many ways to participate in your community—whether it be the size of a town or a country. I truly believe that the way we live our lives and the decisions we make as citizens, consumers, and individuals are far more important and effective than the names we check off on a voting ballot. One vote makes a difference—but it’s still only one vote.
How much do you care about the things that happen in your community? How much should you care about the things that happen in your community? Those are questions we’ve all asked ourselves and every one of us has a different answer. Ultimately, the answer should only come from within yourself; I also believe you should never let someone else have final say over how you live your life—even if it’s a famous author or a celebrity who might have written a convincing article in your local college newspaper.
Simply being consciously aware of ongoing issues can serve as a tool of active citizenship. Keeping at least reasonably up-to-date about current events will not only make you well-informed and conscientious, but will also help you understand what you can change. Finding out the news from a reliable source (i.e., a daily newspaper instead of your Facebook timeline) serves to inform what’s going on in the community and what the major problems are at the moment.
It’s best to figure out specifically what you care about the most. In a world full of crap, it’s unrealistic and likely too stressful to take on more than a tiny fraction. It’s much easier to focus your efforts to a cause that truly needs your support. If you care about animal welfare, volunteer at a local animal shelter, or become a vegetarian. If you’re worried about poverty in Africa, find out how to get involved with legitimate charities that are dedicated to sustainability and empowerment. Activism and organizations exist for almost every cause you can think of, and they’re all made possible by the work of average citizens. A government is run for the people, by the people, which is why it’s important that non-elected people do their fair share. We are all part of a democracy and government—whether it’s the governing of our households, workplaces, or neighbourhood.
Direct conversation with politicians or other powerful people can also do wonders. Finding your local office and calling or visiting to discuss an issue important to you is a way to ensure your views are directly heard and understood. Speaking to a CEO, law enforcement official, or head of an organization can affect things more than one might think. Taking initiative and a direct approach can reduce the bureaucracy and frustration often associated with trying to be listened to. It’s true that an authority figure may not have direct power or may even refuse your requests, but you will almost always be listened to. Taking the effort is the key.
Getting involved in the local community does not always mean having a specific cause or issue. Simply going out once in a while and actively participating serves to better the place and cement your position as a citizen. Shop at a local business and attend a community event—a festival, a workshop, or an art production. Communities are meaningless without the people who engage within them, and they offer so much in the way of services and morale. Participating not only rewards the communal efforts of the other citizens who work to organize the event, but allows provides motivation for them to occur again in the future. Tell your friends about the things you’re participating in that interest you. It’s all about engagement.
We all have to pay taxes, live in a community, and navigate through the highs and lows. The least we can do is be active citizens within the society, bettering the experience for all. If nothing else, you’ll feel better about yourself.