Sunday, August 02, 2009

Don’t Blame Politicians For Our Lack Of Involvement

Arthur Webb
The Memphis Tri-State Defender

Two situations came to my attention recently that caused me to think of the widening communications gulf between elected public officials and the constituents they purport to represent.

The first occurrence related to a letter my daughter received in the mail from her city council representative. The letter, she said, came with a generic salutation that read, “Dear (subdivision) resident;” My daughter does not live in the subdivision referenced in the salutation. She expressed to me that she felt insulted in that the nearest boundary of the subdivision to her home was approximately a mile away. She went on to accuse the representative of being unfamiliar with her district and as a result of that unawareness, being unable to adequately represent the residents of the district.

The other occurrence relates to a conversation I participated in at a neighborhood restaurant I visit. As often happens the conversation turned to the perception of elected officials placing a higher priority on addressing the needs of the “backer” community that provided the resources that facilitated their being elected than on addressing those of the community in general. And, as usual we went on and on with first one of us and then the other egotistically espousing our awareness of the problem but offering little by way of legitimate solutions. It never ceases to amaze me how often we get caught up in these kinds of discussions — spending inordinate amounts of time elaborating on things any student of Politics 101 understands — that being “the squeaky wheel gets the oil.”

But then maybe it’s easier and less threatening to simply complain in that type environment. I mean where would we find time to exhibit our knowledge of world affairs if we were busy interacting with our neighbors and working to address some of the issues facing our communities?

The question I asked of my daughter was, “When is the last time your council person heard from you? Her response was a hesitant, “I’ve never contacted her.” Therein lies the core of the problem. But let me quickly inject that this is not a characteristic that’s peculiar to young adults. Those of us who’ve been around a few years are afflicted with the same malady — a lack of willingness to communicate and to get involved.

I mean, we don’t even know our next door neighbor’s name to say nothing of not having conversation with them. How then can we know what our shared community concerns might be? Void of this kind of communication how can we plan for protest if our needs, once presented, are not addressed? Yes, I said protest or is that an antiquated tactic for change that passed with the decade of the 60s?

The only practical line of defense communities have against so-called representatives who appear to care more about elevating their personal lifestyles and self aggrandizement than servicing the needs of their constituencies is community organization. Without that organization, my daughter will no doubt receive more mail addressed to someone other than herself and I and my restaurant buddies will continue to receive nothing more than meaningless stimulation from our conversations that highlight the obvious but solve nothing.

(Webb is a noted journalist and an internationally recognized scholar and lecturer on the subject of African American history and socio-economic affairs.)

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