Do you know the local city councillor who is representing you? Do you know who your member of parliament is? Do you know which riding you live in? If not, please go find out.
As an ace reporter for a small daily newspaper, one of my jobs is to do streeters, otherwise known as street surveys. The streeter is the "cleaning the toilets" of the journalism world. It is usually thrown on a reporter as punishment for a late assignment or talking too much when he should be working. Buddy on the health beat tells one too many jokes and the news editor is bound to spring out of his office and say "You! Streeter!" as everyone else in the newsroom lapses into looking extremely busy.
Streeters are the section near the editorial page of your local newspaper where there are pictures of Joe Citizen and Joe's comments on a topical issue next to it. They are hell.
The reasons they are hell are a) everyone likes to talk but no one likes their picture taken and b) no one pays attention to what goes on around them. I live in Haldimand-Norfolk, which is one of the regions that Mighty Mike Harris (the premier of the province of Ontario, and if you didn't know that, I'm talking about you) decided should restructure. Haldimand-Norfolk could be split down the middle, taxes could increase roughly 14 per cent for about 22,000 people and everything about crucial services such as ambulance and road maintenance could change. Not only did many of the people I asked not know this, but many couldn't name the municipality in which they reside. I stood in the mall on a freezing evening and asked about 20 people before I got the six necessary to fulfil my streeter requirements. One girl not only didn't know the region was restructuring, but she didn't know she lived in Haldimand-Norfolk.
The standard sheepish excuse is "well, I don't read the paper" or "I don't watch the news." Is it really that tough to know where your money is going? Even if you pay rent, you are indirectly paying property tax, and you can bet that if taxes were hiked 50 per cent your rent would go along with it. (Premier Harris scrapped a bunch of rent control laws, but most of the people who "don't watch the news" don't know that, either.) How much effort does it take to know who is getting paid tens of thousands of dollars to represent you?
Our regional council decided that they deserved a pension, which would of course mean a big chunk of our tax dollars going to people who have served a three year term in office. One guy I encountered stepped out of a big shiny black truck, had perfect hair and was holding a little girl in his arms. When I asked him if he thought our local politicians deserved a pension, he didn't know we lived in Haldimand-Norfolk and didn't know there was such a thing as a regional councillor. "I don't watch the news," he explained. Then, as I walked away, he shouted after me "But I think they should leave Clinton alone!"
To everyone who "doesn't read the paper," please start. The world is going on around you and it is likely to collapse before you will notice anything different. If we do not pay attention, Adolf Hitler could come into office and commit mass genocide and we would be none the wiser. Knowledge is power and you don't have to be a political activist to know the basics of the world around you. The people who "don't watch the news" are usually the ones who do not vote, either. While they are paying attention to whether or not President Clinton got any from Monica Lewinsky, the guy they hate is gliding into office on the backs of the undecided vote.
Local politics are not boring. Your town councillor is boinking underage girls and grandstanding in the council chambers the same way the big guys on TV do. But he can get away with it because you aren't paying attention. Such lethargy is a vote of confidence for the guy who is fucking up your community, and every municipal person in your district, from the public works guy to the Member of Parliament, is working for you.
One woman told me tonight that she didn't know anything was going on because she's "not political." You don't have to be political to know what people are doing to your hometown. Lose the ignorance, educate yourself and hang onto what's important to you in the process.
Samantha Craggs likes to get excited about things like this and then write about them. You can visit her homepage at http://samantha.scriba.org