Viewpoints

The Power of Our Voices

1/2/22
By: Michele Dappert

 

A commonly held belief among my peers (as a young person in Talbot County) is that even if “politics” impacts their lives, they just don’t have the time. As someone who first got involved in local issues as a student at Easton High School and now works 45+ hours a week,I can understand that frustration. What I fear, though, is that the immense benefits that come from getting involved are rarely considered.

Let’s start by defining “involved.” If you’re like me, you have been inundated on social media by state and national candidates begging for donations, votes, and volunteers. These are clearly important levels of engagement; but the results of their leadership may seem slow to reach us, while engagement at the local level can yield results that clearly matter to us.

Our Talbot County Board of Education determines a school calendar and curriculum of study; but our County Council is responsible for oversight of virtually all community services, including emergency services, schools, community centers, and parks. Attending their public meetings provides us with the opportunity to not only have direct contact with our elected officials, but with policies that impact our daily lives. And best of all, these meetings are streamed on YouTube.

We are the “digital native” generation, and the wealth of knowledge at our fingertips enables us to be informed on any issue that appeals to us. And whether it’s the lack of affordable housing, climate change, or gun safety, informing ourselves is the first step in empowering ourselves.

As Lexi Pratt of the Pratt Institute advises, “Understanding politics, or specifically the topics that tend to collect in the political zone for analysis and debate, is a definitive way to navigate your own moral and ideological compass.” When you learn about different issues it is inevitable that you will find yourself pulled towards one argument or another; and understanding your value set and developing the tools to defend them is one of our most powerful forms of self-expression.

Now, many argue that our politics do not represent them. Can this really be a surprise? The average age of a Talbot Count Council member is 52; the average age of a Maryland legislator is 54. And roughly just 2,678 of 4,495 of us between the ages of 18-31 voted in 2020. We may understandably feel disengaged, but participation is our opportunity to make positive change.

Finally, when we participate at the local level, we can have an impact upon our world. Government policies at federal and state levels can seem out of reach or take months (or years) to impact our lives. But when I was 15 the laptops provided to us at school were being defunded due to the lobbying of our elected officials. That’s when I (and many others) didn’t feel that we could just wait around a few years, and we managed to ensure continued access.

Your voice has real power in your own community. It can be hard to understate the value of learning this at a relatively young age, but in my case it has inspired a life-long interest in activism. In yours, it could drive a passionate career of community service or result in improvements in your life and the lives of your children. These are challenging times. The important thing now is to realize that your voice matters.

Michele Dappert is a Board Member of the Talbot County Democratic Forum.

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