Welcome to the first ever mailbag!
My original plan was to roll this into an episode on the podcast. But between the holidays and our second kid making an appearance this month, the recording schedule didn’t pan out quite as well as I hoped.
What you’ll read below is a collection of questions you’ve sent in over the last few weeks. I tried to keep my answers on the shorter side but forgive me for a few of the lengthier answers. And hopefully I’ll get a chance to sit down and record some longer thoughts in a podcast episode.
Without further adieu, let’s dive in!
Why do you mostly only cover the politics side of the town? Politics, even local, is one of those topics I try my hardest to avoid.
First, it interests me the most. I’m a political geek. My college degree is in political science. I love talking about checks and balances, co-equal branches, federalism, and all those other ideas most people haven’t heard about since school.
Second, local government has the most impact on our day-to-day lives. From taxes to schools to jobs, our local government sets the priorities and future of our community. As citizens, we get a say in how our government works. That comes with a responsibility though – to stay informed, to debate honorably, and to forge consensus on moving forward.
Eric Liu, the founder and CEO of Citizen University, has this great quote:
“Because remember, all citizenship is local. When politics becomes just a presidential election, we yell and we scream at our screens, and then we collapse, exhausted. But when politics is about us and our neighbors and other people in our community coming together to create experiences of collective voice and imagination, then we begin to remember that this stuff matters. We begin to remember that this is the stuff of self-government.”
Elections are over. What do I do now when it comes to making progress locally?
There was a really great community letter – Go Beyond Just Voting – Fayetteville Weekly – that offered some really great advice. Here’s some of the things you can do:
- Calling our mayor on issues important to you.
- Calling our commissioners on issues important to you.
- Working with commissioners to introduce local legislation around issues important to you.
- Showing up at committee and commission meetings to hold commissioners accountable.
- Talking with neighbors about what they want to see happen in our community.
- Writing letters to the community to bring up issues to others that might not know about them.
- Registering new voters for the next election.
- Running for public office in the next election.
My best piece of advice – find your tribe and get involved. There’s plenty of issues and causes in our community that you can advocate for. Focus on one that you’re passionate about, organize others around that cause, and start putting in the work to move our community forward.
What’s the most effective way to contact my local public officials on issues I think they should hear from me on.
My first step is to try to meet in-person to talk. Most of our local leaders are happy to take time to talk with people in our community. Sit down with them, explain what you’re thinking, and start that conversation.
If it’s tough to schedule a meeting, give them a call instead. Same idea as the in-person meeting – explain what you’re thinking and start that conversation.
Last step – send a letter or email. At our local level, those are often read by the public official themselves.
A few key things to remember with all of these contact methods:
- Be polite and direct. This isn’t a time to wander around the point. Their time is valuable just like your time is.
- Be prepared. Do your homework and know what you’re talking about. Have the issue outlined along with various ideas for solutions.
- Don’t go it alone. Talk with friends, family, and others in the community about the issue you’re trying to raise. Have them contact public officials with you.
One last note – social media is easy to miss and/or ignore. I’d focus my efforts on those contact methods above rather than Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, at least as a contact method. If you’re working on a public campaign to raise awareness around your issue, those social media apps can be useful in getting the word out about it.
I recently volunteered at our animal shelter and saw the need for more local funding for it. Where’s the best place to start at changing how our county and city governments fund that organization?
The county budget committee. Everything money related starts or at least flows through that committee. You can find a list of commissioners on that committee here.
Like we talked about above, do your homework and put together something for the committee to look at. You’ll then want to talk with one of the commissioners, preferably one that believes in this like you do. They’ll bring it to the committee for consideration.
Depending on the reception you get there, you’ll want to consider bringing in more people to help you raise awareness around this issue. That’s more people who can make calls, write letters/emails, and generally just talk with commissioners.
The big thing to remember – change is slow and change is hard. It’s not going to be an “ask once and it changes” type situation. You’ll need to continually follow through with raising awareness and talking with commissioners. But you’ve got to start somewhere and when it comes to funding, that somewhere is the budget committee.
I want to be more involved in local politics. But I’m a single mom – I just can’t make it to the monthly meetings. What can I do instead?
There’s this feeling that to have a say in local government, you have to show up. And yes, it does help to attend any public meetings that you can – committees, work sessions, board meetings, etc. But it’s absolutely not a requirement for being involved.
First, watch the BMA (Board of Mayor and Alderman) and County Commission meetings. I typically embed those in the recaps each month, courtesy of Fayetteville Public Utilities. You can also watch them via the FPU Livestream here. That way you can still see what happens during those meetings.
Second, pick a cause or issue that you want to see movement on here in the community. Do you research and put together an idea for how to move that issue forward. Start talking to others in the community to spread that information around. Use some of the ideas from above on contacting public officials and start engaging with them on the issue.
One last note – start talking with our public officials on how to make things more accessible to people who can’t be at every public meeting. Every citizen should have the power to participate in our local democracy, no matter their situation. Our public officials need to hear your story because you’re not the only one in that situation!
You’ve covered both the city and county elections. What’s a few things you’ve seen effective, for those of us thinking about running for public office in the next few years?
In small towns like our community, retail politics is key. That means you need to be out knocking on doors, visiting businesses, and talking to as many people as you can. Face-to-face conversations are the most effective way you have of introducing yourself to voters and getting them to vote for you.
When you talk with voters, talk with them about your story – where you think our community is right now, where you think it should be going, and why you’re the right person to help make that happen. And make sure to listen more than you talk. It’s a dialogue – not you monopolizing their time with some walking advertisement.
You’ll want to keep up with all of those voter conversations as well. As election day gets closer, you’ll want to get back in touch with them and make sure they’ve voted.
How do we, the community, grow and support our town when there are people who protest the opening of new stores and restaurants. Who do we get to listen and how do we get them to listen?
President John F. Kennedy has a great quote – “The world is changing. The old ways will not do…It is time for a new generation of leadership.”
We have to start by looking at where our community is right now. There’s change in the air around town. You can feel it when walking the streets and talking with people. And it’s change focused on moving us forward, away from the “it’s always been this way” mentality.
People that don’t want new business in town, the ones that don’t want growth, are a small minority here in the community. It might feel like a very vocal minority, but it’s not a view that most of the community holds. Know that you’re not alone in wanting the town to grow and move forward.
I think President Kennedy had it right – we’re seeing a new generation of leadership in the community. In the last election, the County Commission saw nine new people and the City Board of Mayor and Aldermen had four new people. We’ll see that trend of new faces continue over the next few elections.
That means it’s a great time to get more involved. Talk with your commissioners and aldermen. Run for local office. Get connected with others that want to see our community grow.
I want to echo that advice from a previous question – find your tribe (or start one if you need). Find like-minded people who will put in the work with you on the issues and causes you care about. Plan, organize, and put in the work. Use the power of a collective voice to promote our town and celebrate new businesses, fresh ideas, and forward progress.