Lack of engagement compounds self-esteem issue
In the three years that I’ve been writing this column (albeit only recently on this page), nothing I’ve written has produced more feedback than last week’s column about the lack of self-esteem in our community. I heard from everybody— city leadership asking to meet with me, business owners sending me lengthy histories of this community, angry people telling me where I could stick it, and a whole lot of people giving me a virtual high five. It was fantastic. Because people — even those who were angry — were engaged.
We have a lack of public engagement when it comes to our local government. And I get it. People are busy with their jobs and their families. Trying to make ends meet takes up most of our time and what’s left is spent actually enjoying ourselves — whether it’s hanging out with our friends and families or playing in this amazing recreational area we call home. And that leaves little time to understand the issues facing the city and county— especially when those issues don’t pull at the heart strings. It’s easy to get involved in an organization that helps grieving children; not so easy to get people interested in the wastewater treatment plant. So we have a problem.
City and county committees are often hard to fill. When vacancies come open, it’s up to the others on that committee to beat the bushes, canvass their friends and find qualified candidates to fill those seats. Last summer, there were two vacancies on the Downtown Development Authority board. Nobody applied. It took three rounds to actually fill those seats. Those boards and committees make important decisions for our community. When we don’t have strong leadership on those boards, they don’t make very good decisions and that hurts our economy. Those decisions affect our property values, our ability to recruit businesses, and how we take care of each other. Committees are a great place to learn about the inner workings of city government, which might then lead someone to run for elected office — another place we’re failing.
Only seven candidates (four incumbents and three opponents) registered to run for four seats for the Grand Junction City Council election in April. This will be the second time that City Council member Duncan McArthur has run unopposed. This is not good. Even if McArthur is the greatest City Council member who has ever served, contested elections are good for our community and develop better leaders. They force candidates to have platforms and to debate those platforms against their opponents. They give the public a chance to get engaged in the process, figure out what they want in our leaders, and then a place to exercise that choice. Contested elections breed engagement. Uncontested elections breed apathy.
So I was stunned when, out of nowhere, thousands of people showed up to the Million Woman March in Downtown Grand Junction to protest the president. This past week, letter writing parties were organized in people’s homes all over town and hundreds of people gathered in protest of the president’s policies. So much time, energy and money spent on issues at the federal level when what we really need is help right here at home. I’m not dismissing the importance of these marches and letters, but I can’t help but wonder what could be accomplished if we had that kind of engagement on a local level. Because right now, we don’t.
And before I get a second round of passionate letters, this isn’t about Trump or partisan politics or federal policies. It’s about making sure that this place that we call home is being steered by all of us instead of just a few.
Get engaged. Learn the issues. Vote. Serve on a committee. Run for office.