Maybe it’s that man at your city council meetings, or your neighborhood association open forums… or it’s that one woman in your locally-centered Facebook group. Maybe it’s more than one. Maybe they have a group all their own.
You know who I’m referring to… it’s the person that addresses ever community shortcoming and every negative local story with a response similar to the following…
“Go figure, in a city that would elect this mayor…”
“Typical outcome with this governor and his liberal cronies….”
“Conservative politics at their finest, this is why our community suffers!”
Blah, blah blah. We’ve seen it, heard it, been angered by it, and rolled our eyes at it. But it doesn’t go away. It’s constant, in the comments in every article and in the crowd of every community forum. That person or group of people that believe we are doomed forever by some hand of an opposing thought system that will surely ruin it for everyone, or at least everyone that thinks like them.
Most of the time, these people are just a part of the occasionally unfortunate but always essential backdrop of democracy. Rather they are a bi-product of it. But every once in a while, we have the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with these folks. When you get this golden opportunity, here are step-by-step instructions for moving these individuals and groups from an unfocused array of partisan political anger to an efficient, effective engine for change.
1) Start by simply and calmly asking the person to name a three things they would like to see change. Tell them to be specific.
2) If their response is something like “less spending” or “smaller local government” or “more services for the poor,” (these broad answers are typical of people who are politically charged but don’t actually have a specific example of why… the broad brush answer simply fits with how they see the world) tell them to focus on a specific situation, location or area of interest. For example, if someone wants to see more investment in our impoverished neighborhoods, suggest that they couple with community organizations in those areas, or perhaps they might seek out a transit activist organization. If the individual wants to see less public spending and greater privatization of our communities, tell them to seek out a local entrepreneurial organization, a business incubator, or to participate in Chamber of Commerce events.
3) Explain to the individual or group that change happens two ways. One is with our vote. But the second and equally important is the knowledge that when the outcome of an election does or doesn’t go our way, we need to see what sort of change we CAN enact given the political climate. If we can create small pockets of the good we want to see, we can enable meaningful change and inspire others with our efforts. With a little success, we start to realize that it doesn’t matter who our leaders are, it matters what sort of environments we choose to create ourselves. While it helps to have elected officials that align with our visions for our communities, it’s certainly not necessary if we want to enact real change and actively contribute to the causes we believe in.
4) (This should actually be #1, but the more you “redirect” angry partisan activist, the more you’ll want to give these people clear examples of how to “focus” their efforts). Empower yourself with the knowledge that smart community growth takes a balanced blend of conservative and liberal politics. Arm yourself with information on local organizations so that you can cut through the shouting of partisan politics and channel the angry political “activist” into a mission of specificity and meaningful change. Remember, we are at our best when we take a socially and politically diverse approach to the growth of our communities!
Obviously, these steps aren’t going to work for everyone. But if you can take unfocused political anger and empower that individual with the tools to make the difference they want to see, you can add positive energy to your community. Try it, it’s fun and fulfilling when it works!