Stephen Strong

We’ve arrived at the most hotly anticipated part of the semester: the end. I don’t know about all of you, but it’s been a pretty good one for me. I haven’t done anything unbelievably stupid since like August, and that’s a pretty big deal for me.

More importantly though, this year, and this semester especially, has been a time of great reflection for me. I’ve always been a planner. I’ve always had an idea of where I want to be in 10, 20, 30 years, even when I was in grade school. But until recently my plans were not so much a road map as they were a compass; I knew what direction I was trying to go, but I couldn’t recognize what was right in front of me.

All of that has changed. Everything that was once foggy and mercurial has materialized in front of me, and I know what to do not just 10 years from now but next week, tomorrow and today.

It is with this clarity of mind that I want to use my final column of the semester to offer some advice, a challenge and a request all in one sentence: you should vote locally.

That might seem like it came out of left field, but the unfortunate reality of this Christmas season is that it is also impeachment season, to be followed immediately by campaign season and capped off by election season. During all this, we will be bombarded by demands to vote, our civic duty and the importance of the president and Congress. Nothing about that is untrue, but evidence shows that people’s priorities on voting are totally upside down.

According to a study performed Portland State University in 2016, less than 10% of voting age citizens in Nashville voted in the mayoral elections, and of those that did vote, the vast majority of them were age 65 or older. These numbers are representative across the board for many of the other cities surveyed, and while I don’t have the numbers in front of me, I’m willing to bet they are even worse for the elections of city councilors, state senators, city comptrollers, sheriffs and the myriad of other state and local elections that the news and public figures forget to remind you of.

The president is important, but the fact of the matter is that your mayor is going to have an infinitely larger impact on your life than the president ever will.

Washington D.C. is not the driving political force in your community, nor should you want it to be! There are about 500 elected officials in Washington, and you get to vote for three of them. Don’t put all your eggs in that basket! Research local candidates; find one that represents you and support them.

But what if you don’t find someone you feel represents you, that you can trust and you think is qualified? Easy, just run. Believe it or not, competition for city councilor elections is not stiff; I personally know about a dozen people going to UT right now who would kill in those elections if they wanted to.

It’s your community. What you do matters. You have the opportunity – and responsibility – to have an impact and make a difference. And not just by voting.

Volunteer for a local charity. Write a letter to your congressman. Join a church. Write a column for your school newspaper. Like playing video games? There are clubs for that. Like reading? There are clubs for that! Engage!

Humans are not machines; we are not mechanical, rational things. We are emotional irrational beings; we need community as much as we need food or water, and our communities need us even more. The conspiracies of strangers in Washington should seem quaint to you when you cannot tell if there are more beggars or potholes on your streets.

Vote, volunteer and, if that fails, run. We cannot afford to abdicate our responsibility to our communities any longer.

Stephen Strong is a senior majoring in finance and international business. He can be reached atsstrong8@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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