To my fellow Chattanooga voters who, like me, stood in line, filled out a ballot, and snapped selfies with our “I Voted” stickers,
The Electoral College convenes today, casting each state’s electoral votes for the President and Vice President. So now that the voting is over, it’s time for us to get to work.
It’s easy to think voting is the most important civic duty. We put it on such a pedestal that we begin to think it’s our only civic duty. This is in part because, for months, political campaigns have been telling us one thing and one thing only: go vote. It’s only natural that we’d submit our ballot, drive home, and consider our job well done.
But this is unfortunately not true.
To consider voting a job well done is to think like a campaign and not like a citizen. A campaign thinks only about votes, but a citizen thinks about the health of the community and does something about it.
It is in the nature of a good campaign to stoke passion in its voters. But all that passion doesn’t get extinguished at the ballot box, and so we’ve got a lot of pent-up emotion we need to put somewhere. The good news: there’s a place to channel all those emotions, and that place is Chattanooga, Tennessee. Getting involved in local politics or community organizations is the strongest way to effect change for the good of your neighbor, so let your election-season passion fuel your politics where they count most: locally.
If we pause for a moment, take a drive around our city, and speak mask-to-mask with someone, we’ll learn something. We’ll learn that there are issues in Chattanooga no president will impact—but that will impact our community. Local civic engagement is the key way to work through those issues.
Turn toward your fellow Chattanoogan by volunteering (our city is home to numerous nonprofits), by learning the ins and outs of local elections (we have an upcoming mayoral race), and—in creative, COVID-aware ways—by eating meals with our neighbors (hospitality is an antidote to our alienation from one another).
But of course, if this were easy, everyone would do it. Honestly, community involvement takes sacrifice. Casting a vote is less burdensome than being involved in our actual, real-life community, and local engagement begins by counting the cost. Can I give an hour each month to my neighborhood meeting? What Chattanooga issue am I particularly equipped to improve in a small, tangible way and how many of my resources can I give to it?
But whatever form your civic engagement takes, don’t let voting be the end of it. Earn that “I Voted” selfie: get involved in the Chattanooga community.