All Politics Is Local

All politics is local. 

I thought of this aphorism today as I watched the opening scenes of the Republican National Convention out of Cleveland.

Don’t worry; that’s the last I’ll mention the RNC.  At least for today.


Instead, this blog post offers you the opportunity to get back to basics.

Political basics.




All politics is local. Think about that a minute. What are your local (political) issues? Let me give you some prompts.


How’s your infrastructure? Have you ever gotten a flat tire or thrown your car out of alignment because of a pothole?  Are the bridges you cross on your way to work each day more than 50 years old?  How does your town deal with your garbage? Do you know where your solid waste goes after you flush?



How are your schools? What’s the graduation rate at your local high school?  How many of your graduates go on to college? Do your elementary students get opportunities to explore art, music, dance, theater? Or are they being “taught to the test?”


How safe are your streets?  How many of them would you walk down,  at night, alone? Have you ever been mugged? Robbed? Threatened? Do you believe the homeless are simply the price we pay for our capitalist economy?


How accessible is health care where you live?  How important is that to you? Does your neighbor have equal access?




“All politics is local,” declared Tip O’Neill, the Speaker of the House of Representatives back when I worked as Campaign Finance Director for my local congressman.  If you’re interested in the backstory, Wikipedia  has it.


Education, employment, and environment; food, health, and housing; infrastructure, recreation, and safety … The list of what constitutes “the good life,” the basics of what some refer to as “quality of life” issues are subjective.


Quality of life issues have interested me since my days as Development Director of the Akron Symphony Orchestra, raising money on the “increasing the Quality of Life for the citizens of Akron, Ohio” promise.


What constitutes a quality life to you?  What are the pieces that enable you to declare, “I have a good quality of life.”


A symphony orchestra? A local art museum? A great coffee shop and movie theater? Safe streets?

Clean streets? A quality education? A police force whose members you can talk to? Access to nature? Bike paths?

A sense of connection to those you interact with daily? A local newspaper that prints editorials you agree with? Respect for our country around the globe? Peace?

Bringing our service men and women home to their families?

Enabling our young people to get a college education without saddling them with paralyzing debt?

Allowing science to  provide documentation for certain Congressional decisions (like the effects of marijuana use on young people)? Elected officials you trust? Sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels?

Our own backyards. Our own neighborhoods. Our own local communities. We want certain things, we demand certain promises be kept when it comes to the way we want to live our lives. We have a vision of the kind of world we want to live in, the world we’d like our grandchildren to inherit.

We do.  We know what we want. That part’s not difficult.   It’s the HOW that creates discussion, debate, dissension.

Can I last through the next three months?


Thanks to for this image.
Thanks to for this image.


How about you? What are the issues that motivate you to get out and vote? 


15 Responses

  1. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Thank you for asking sensible questions.

    And, yes, all politics is local. That’s why I show up at town hall meetings sometimes and in 2002 and 2003 felt it worth my time to spearhead the effort of our tiny community to fight the encroachment of Walmart on woodlands and wetlands bordering our neighborhoods. In the end, we won 13 concessions with more than 4 acres of woodlands spared. They got their SuperCenter – egad!

    Here’s the link

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Marian, I remember you telling me about this and how proud you sounded at having taken that stand and accomplishing what you did. Good for you. That sense of empowerment! There’s just nothing like it.

  2. Ian Mathie
    | Reply

    Potholes? We know where all the local potholes are and drive round them. It’s makes driving more interesting, and it keeps outsiders away from the village. The bridges round here are only about 120 years old and, since they were put up by the same folks as built many of the houses, they should be good for another 120 years. And the solid waste? Well, the sewage treatment plant is about a mile away, between here and the next village.

    The only bit of politicking that raises any hackles round here is about housing. Since central government opened the door by changing the planning regulations and ever since we have been bombarded by proposals to build vast housing estates on any empty bit of land.

    Ten years ago there were less than two hundred houses and a population of 320 in our village. Today already have 350 houses and a population approaching eight hundred. Now the builders want to put in a further 263 houses and the villagers are not happy. Meanwhile, the only employment in the area, a factory that made concrete panels and employed fifty one people, has closed down and moved its operation far away to Yorkshire.

    If arguments over planning count, then politics is surely local.

    Our schools? Education has been totally screwed up by changes imposed by central government and nobody knows exactly what’s happening, least of all the teachers. And our streets are nicely narrow and cause endless amusement when some continental truck driver tries to follow his satnav and gets stuck, unable to go forward or back until someone moves a parked car. We generally deny owning the cars for a few hours, just to annoy the driver and persuade him never to come here again. It’s another local sport.

    Out healthcare is provided by a four doctor surgery at the other end of the village. There is also a dispensary there, so we don’t have to go miles to get our meds. Getting an appointment can be difficult, unless you have something serious wrong with you, then they’re quick and attentive.

    A symphony orchestra? No, but we do have a very well supported free violin school, open to all ages. And a cinema in the village hall once a month at a quarter of the price you’d pay in the cinema in town. The films are generally only about 6 months old.

    That’s what local means round here.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Your local is a bit like mine, I think. Though our potholes don’t last very long and after the devastating flooding that hit us following Irene a few years ago, many of our roads and bridges have been raised and/or replaced to withstand future flooding which we all believe is sure to come. But 150 year old bridges and 300 year old houses? Not here. In fact, the infrastructure in most of the rest of the country is in pretty bad shape. We’ve even seen a few major bridges collapse and during rush hour too, of course, when they are more heavily traveled.

      Our big local controversy up here these days is over wind turbines! Actually, more to the point, over whether or not large scale, commercial wind turbines should be allowed and who gets to look at them. I find them majestic looking, but others, I’m learning, do not.

      Thanks for weighing in. Good luck with those potholes. At least they are on roads where the speed isn’t too high. Yes?

  3. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    You ask important questions, Janet.
    I don’t keep up with local issues as much as I should.

    Did you ever watch Gilmore Girls? They have lots of town meetings in Stars Hollow. 🙂

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      No Gilmore Girls, Merril. But we have Town Meeting Day here in Vermont every March (first Tuesday in). It’s one of the final pieces that helped us decide to move here. I love the idea.

      I’m so glad you wrote. You’ve given me an idea for next week’s post. 🙂

      • Merril Smith
        | Reply

        Uh oh! 🙂
        Here’s a taste of what I think of now with town meetings.

        • Janet Givens
          | Reply

          Ah, well I can see why Town Meetings don’t hold any appeal! Seems to bring out only the worst in folks. Problem here is obvious: It’s at night. There’s no community lunch provided by the local library.

          Democracy by its nature is messy, uncomfortable, and often lumberingly slow. And Direct Democracy (aka Town Meetings) is worse. Sometimes I too yearn for a nice (handsome) benevolent dictator. Or maybe a Queen, like they have in Holland or Denmark. One who’ll make my country pudding and hot tea when we get crazy. Or send “someone” to their room when they get out of line. Oh, wouldn’t that be nice.

  4. Way to take the focus off the circus antics that pass for politics these days. I wish the platforms of both parties would compete to show us better ways to improve all of the above. But policy apparently makes people yawn.

    Good for you for being active locally. I have done a few things as a volunteer, letter writer, calling my congressional reps, etc. But I don’t give myself high marks.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Don’t sell yourself too short there, Shirley. When you volunteer, in any capacity, at least you know what the issue is. Writing letters, calling Reps, whatever the activity, they are roles that are being taken over by the zealots — of both parties — more and more. Our system needs the moderates, the ones who only dabble in it from time to time. And it would appear we need them now more than ever. More on that next week I think. Thanks for weighing in.

  5. Pamela
    | Reply

    Excellent questions, and ones that we need to keep asking ourselves. I tend to be shy and stay out of ‘politics,’ hoping my vote matters. But I stand up and enter local politics if I see bullying, disrespect for others, racial/sexual stereotyping, and policies that, if allowed, would take away trees and add concrete instead. :-0

  6. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    Hi, Pam. Glad to see you here. Your comment about feeling “shy” reminded me how often the political folks I have known tended toward being quite intense. Perhaps they are motivated by their sense of injustice, and anger is a great motivator, but loudness, brashness, seems to be all too common. I’m so glad you brought that up.

  7. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    It’s easy to vote, I find, but much harder to be active and engaged in what’s going on locally on a day-to-day basis. City council, planning and zoning, highway commission, neighborhood association meetings, school boards, etc., etc. It’s a lot, it’s overwhelming, and, to be truthful, wouldn’t result in a life particularly well lived if one were to attempt to be present for it all. Naturally, in a perfect world, we would elect representatives, council people, commissioners, and the like based on their values and positions, who would vote in the interests of their constituents. But all too often, this doesn’t seem to be the case, and special interests end up winning the day.

    It has occurred to me that one of the biggest disadvantages ordinary people have in the political process (outside of the larger problem of influence, itself) is that moneyed interests ALWAYS show up. They are always represented by lobbyists, advocates, legal counsel. They are at every meeting that might in any way touch upon their interests, often driving the agenda for whatever it is they want. They are prepared, with slick presentations, smooth-talking advocates, experts who will testify in favor of their positions. The average Joe, even if in attendance, stands little chance against such machinery. And In the rare cases they don’t get what they want, they will simply be back the next month, trying again.

    When representative democracy breaks down, citizens have to be hyper vigilant and hyper mobilized, en masse, in order to receive fair consideration and representation of their interests. Too often, this proves too steep of a hill to climb, and people end up feeling powerless and disenfranchised.

    It does all speak to the critical need for education and involvement, however — perhaps now more than ever before, or at least any time that I can recall in my lifetime.

    (PS – sorry if that was a bit of a downer . . . I guess I haven’t been feeling particularly encouraged about the state of affairs in recent times).

  8. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    There was a book I once had to read for a class assignment in American National Politics. It’s topic was “politically sophisticated elites.” The assignment was to read the book and write two questions that grew out of our reading. My first question was, “Who are these politically sophisticated elites, and do we want our daughters dating them?” For, to be truly on the inside, to be a resident “expert” on what’s going on is to live a rather limited life, as you pointed out. Alas.

    You are certainly right in the power that special interests have, though I’m not ready to toss in the towel on them for they include many whose work FOR ME is invaluable. I call those “public interest groups” knowing the only difference is whether you agree with their stance or not. 🙂

    The other point I totally agree with is re: education. In our quest to “teach to the test,” and probably long before that, we’ve failed to teach our kids how to be discerning, discriminating if you will; how to make a critical judgment. Our education system spits out clones and I, like you, despair at the direction we seem to be heading.

    So, I’ll go off and have a cup of tea as I catch the opening of the DNC and see what occurs to me to write for Wednesday.

    Thanks for writing, Tim.

  9. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Thanks, Janet, and I agree — this certainly isn’t time for towel-tossing. Democracy may have taken some pretty sharp blows to the head, but it is far from being down for the count. Let’s hope the DNC can rally the troops tonight. The best time to affect local change, legislatively, is during a presidential election year. Go Donkeys!

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