It's interesting scrolling through Facebook and watching my friends and neighbours freely talk about the upcoming US election. But here we are with less than a week to go before our local municipal elections and not a word. Not a single word from anyone I know regarding their local concerns. The opinions and conversations are circulating through town in whispers. Yet, this is an election that we can control. The system of municipal government, whether in Lunenburg or whether in Halifax is relatively small. People can make a difference. Engaged citizens can have a real impact on the decisions being made.
I understand what is happening. Everyone knows that after the election we will need to live with each other. That candidate might be your neighbour or your cousin or your neighbour's cousin. If you run a business in town then you may need to communicate with your local politicians and if you dared to publicly support one candidate over another then things may not go so well for you if you have an issue in the future. If you support one candidate, your neighbour may stop talking to you. Unfortunately, there is good reason to feel this way. This is exactly what happened in our last municipal election. And when people speak up, they are shunned.
Everything is personalized. Our politicians do not have the tools to separate the issues from themselves and most citizens do not have the skills to communicate the issues without personalizing. It's a real problem because what we end up with, what we have, is a town of disengaged people who vote based on perceptions of nice or funny or local or rumours. We need to learn how to speak to each other. We should be doing it in person, not online. We should be talking and we should be listening. But we're not. People have chosen not to care. There's a basic truth - What we put in, is what we get out. If we are asleep, our politicians will be asleep, too. If we don't care, they don't care. If we are not willing to communicate with them, they will not communicate with us. They are us. No better, no worse.
A small, local government for a small community should be a benefit. It should make engagement more authentic. But, instead it has become a handicap. People are afraid to talk.