Like last year, the voter turnout was low in the April 2 election. While I sat in Sterling City Manager Scott Shumard’s office recently, he shared with me social media posts from the last election. I was shocked as I read the comments – the comments of people not knowing there were elections, posts accusing the city for not publicizing the election so that taxes would rise, stating voting hours weren’t convenient, etc.
After reading some of the Facebook posts, I came away asking three questions:
1. What is the best way for Sterling to communicate with the public?
2. Is the public taking ownership and/or responsibility for their own awareness of issues?
3. Are we taking our freedoms within our democracy at the local level for granted?
Are people overwhelmed with too many forms of communication? I have asked myself for the past 7 months, “What’s the best way for the City of Sterling to communicate with our citizens?” Newspaper sales and subscriptions have decreased. The city has a Facebook page, a website, which is budgeted to be reworked for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, and an app.
Yet, people say they were unaware of elections on April 2, or in general weren’t informed. I feel our society has created a problem by asking “How do you want us to communicate with you?” Are we spoon-feeding individuals information and is social media handicapping people so that their drive or initiative to find information for themselves has vanished? If you own a smartphone, there’s a possibility that your news is filtered so that you only receive personalized information. Therefore, if it’s not within those personalized parameters, citizens won’t see it.
If we set up parameters in which we receive specific information, at what point do we as citizens take responsibility for actively informing ourselves about local government? The answers to these questions involve actively making time to be informed. Making time for one more thing can be a challenge. But being informed doesn’t have to be difficult. Even if citizens checked Sterling’s Facebook page, downloaded the city’s app, reviewed the city’s webpage where the calendar and City Council minutes are located and read the local news, citizens would become informed.
If people are choosing not to be informed, are citizens taking for granted the importance of our democracy at a local level? When I learned of my appointment as 3rd Ward alderwoman, I was so excited. I hunted down an email for my high school government teacher, Mr. Benson, and shared my excitement. In his email response, he stated how important local government is.
Our local government is the foundation on which the state and federal governments are built. Being a city of 16,000, Sterling citizens have the opportunity to have a voice. Yet, only 8 percent voted in the last election. I grew up in a Virginia suburb near Washington, D.C., where the idea of having a voice seemed trivial, but I have learned everyone knows everyone is Sterling – really. Making an impact in a city our size isn’t trivial, it’s realistic. It’s easy to take our democracy and our freedom for granted.
If you are reading this column, please cut it out, take it to work and hang it up. Positive change happens when we are informed and work together.
Note to readers: Mackenzie Hopping is an alderwoman in Sterling’s 3rd Ward.