Editorial: Local engagment matters

Editorial Board

The weeks and months leading up to the 2020 presidential election were a frenzy, as people frantically pushed get-out-the-vote initiatives and registered new voters. These initiatives were indeed critical, and certainly paid off with the election of a new administration. We owe a great deal of this success to urban and predominately Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities that turned out in huge numbers to support the Biden-Harris ticket. 

While we can take a minute to applaud these efforts for a successful 2020 presidential election, we should similarly consider what it means to be politically engaged. Presidential elections are important, especially considering the effects of the top-down nature of our government. Moreover, presidents have the ability to sign executive orders that can vary from stimulus checks to expanding offshore oil drilling or protecting undocumented immigrants. These initiatives are unequivocally essential. However, there is a severe discrepancy in engagement in presidential elections as compared to most other races, especially those at a local level. 

The 2020 election experienced record high levels of turnout, with 66.3% of eligible people voting. Meanwhile, only 27% of eligible voters show up for local elections. While participation in these local elections can increase dramatically when coupled with a national election, by themselves, they are typically forgotten or ignored. 

At a state level, these local elections could be determining the state congressional representatives, governor, secretary of state and so forth. At an even more local level, they decide who serves as the mayor and city council members. These offices play a major role in our everyday lives, certainly more so than the federal offices determined by presidential elections. Local elected officials address safety and transportation concerns, and they can also push for sustainability efforts and increased transparency from public police departments. Additionally, they can address unemployment, pollution, creation of public spaces and utilities.

For a more personal example, Kevin Conwell is the Councilman for Ward 9, which includes most of University Circle and Glenville. Over the past few years, he has introduced or supported local legislation to prevent the attack on union workers and promote lead-free housing for families on the East Side of Cleveland. 

There are also local laws enacted that can have a dramatically negative impact on daily life. In January, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 175, more commonly known as the “Stand Your Ground” bill, into law. This law allows anyone to, when they deem it necessary, use deadly force in self-defense without first attempting to retreat—and yes, it really is that ambiguous. In other states, this law has typically led to increased use of unnecessary force, especially against people of color, and done nothing to further prevent crime. 

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan responded to DeWine’s decision in a letter, stating, “In 79% of Florida Stand Your Ground cases, the assailant could have retreated to avoid the confrontation, and in 68% of cases, the person killed was unarmed.” In an age where there are already a disgustingly high number of murders, especially of unarmed Black people, the Stand Your Ground law is only likely to worsen crime and increase the incidence of racially-motivated murders, be them conscious or unconscious. 

Regardless of whether students are registered to vote based on their Case Western Reserve University address, or their hometown address, local political engagement is critical. As students at a powerful institution that influences the neighborhoods and people around us, we have a responsibility to be aware of our community—including problems facing the community and all it has to offer. 

The first step in engaging with the community is doing just that. For students in Cleveland, smile and wave to residents and people you pass on the street, be courteous of your surroundings and remember that while we may see ourselves as temporary inhabitants of the area, there are many people who call the neighborhoods around CWRU home. Beyond simple respect and kindness, we should also be politically engaged. That is, learn the name of our councilperson and mayor, learn who is making decisions for the community and consider the implications of such policies on the residents of Cleveland. It is especially critical that students have an adequate understanding of the social and political issues in (at least) University Circle, Hough, East Cleveland and Glenville so they can not only be informed voters, but informed residents. And, if you’ve never heard of some of the neighborhoods just listed, that’s okay, but take a few moments to look up where they are and all that they do and have to offer.