The global is local. I may not be able to change things at the federal level, but change at the local level is possible and doable.
The election of Donald Trump as the 45th president and the near domination of the GOP at almost every level of government has me thinking a lot about what it means to be in a representative democracy. As I see the President-Elect assemble his cabinet, I do not see any person or persons who represent my vision or me for a future. While I can’t speak for the majority of voters who voted for someone else other than Mr. Trump, I doubt they see themselves or their interests represented there.
At this moment, North Carolina’s elected representatives in the state house are stripping the powers of the incoming Governor, a Democrat, who after an extremely competitive race ousted the GOP incumbent responsible for supporting regressive bills that resulted in concrete hardship, both economic and social, for the state. These very same legislators are also the ones who worked to curtail the voting rights of African Americans and young people. They did not succeed.
This anti-democratic move, so like the recent election of Mr. Trump, is a fight to see who will be represented in our government. This has me thinking a lot about my very own local elected bodies. And how like the election of Mr. Trump, I do not feel represented by those who sit on either the City Council, nor the School Committee. I do not see myself, my values, nor my Lowell represented there. There have been a few glimmers in the last twenty years, but they are fleeting.
I’ve lived and worked in Lowell for almost two decades. From the moment I first came to Lowell, I have loved its diversity. The mix of history, culture and perspectives from across the globe are like no other in the Commonwealth. I have thought this is the closest I will get to a mini-NYC in New England. Lowell is big enough to contain many lives and many stories, but small enough to belong and be known, even if one is constantly referred to as a “blow-in” or “outsider” by some. Lowell is fortunate to have committed civic actors who care, love and strive to make the city a better place. Lowell’s nonprofit sector is amazing and I don’t think we fully understand how rare it is the collaboration and partnership that happens here. But most of all, Lowell’s people sustain me. They are the reason I continue to remain invested.
Despite my love of Lowell, every local election cycle I am disappointed. I don’t doubt the fact that those who run and are elected to local bodies love and care for Lowell as much or more than I do. I don’t doubt that they are driven and aspire for what they see as best for the city. Yet, every new Council and School Committee draws its winners from a very small and limited group of the City’s populace. While they are committed public servants, their perspectives are narrow. I do not see all of Lowell represented there. The vibrant ethnic and immigrant communities, the young, the artists, the newcomers or blow-ins, the neighborhoods and so many more perspectives are missing. They are not represented. And because a diversity of backgrounds and experiences are not on our elected bodies, our local public institutions and policies suffer. Lowell suffers. We may be amazing in so many ways, but we could be even better if more of us were represented.
So while I feel despondent about the federal government representing me and I see limitations in so many places, I feel confident that Lowell’s politics could and can be better. We are about to enter into a new local election cycle and there is an opportunity to expand who represents us. There are multiple pathways to make this happen and I urge us all push to make our politics more representative. It might not be easy, or without conflict, but I believe it will benefit us in the long term. I am thinking through what I will do to make this vision a reality, and if you are in a place like Lowell, or even Lowell, what will you do?