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Progressive Voice: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport

Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Matt Royer

The day after an election is often a day of rest and often viewed as the endpoint on a long path. I personally don’t believe that. No matter the outcome, moving forward on the issues you care about doesn’t stop after the election. It rests with the voice of the people to remind our elected officials why they are in office in the first place, no matter their party.

A case in point was in 2018 after the Democrats flipped the U.S. House of Representatives from Republican control to Democratic. Afterward, while some people celebrated the end of a successful campaign, I went to the Ellen M. Bozman Government Center to rally with fellow activists to protect the Mueller investigation. (Listen to “Non-Stop” for all you Hamilton fans if you feel the vibe I’m giving off right now).

After any election, whether the result was what you wanted or not, the issues you care about don’t stop demanding attention, and we still have work to do here in Arlington. Campaigns garner a lot of glory. However, it is in the legislative process and the governing that occurs between election days — especially at the local and state level — that we can make the biggest difference. So, you might be asking yourself, what can I do?

  1. Follow your local Delegate and State Senator on social media. Sign up for their email updates. Attend their town hall meetings. These are the people who are making decisions in Richmond and in a Dillon Rule state are affecting the way we govern here in Arlington County. If you have an issue you want to see worked on, email and call them.
  2. Attend listening sessions of the Arlington County Board and Arlington School Board to speak up about your issues. An example of democracy in action is the County Board’s recent review of the ordinance for short-home stays (such as AirBnBs). Renters showed up to explain that the ability to rent your home for short-term stays should not be limited to homeowners, because many renters (who comprise 60% of Arlington residents), could earn extra income to make ends meet while not displacing long-term renters. Ultimately, these concerns were taken into account and the ordinance was adjusted accordingly. This example may resonate with many folks since renters are often seen as not as invested in the local legislative process, yet and if they show up, they may find just how influential their opinion could be.
  3. Join a neighborhood group or an issue-based advocacy group, such as the Arlington Branch of the NAACP.  If you are worried about making the time due to other obligations like family, there are tons of people right there with you — juggling priorities and participating in the democratic process — like Moms Demand Action and Blue Families, that have events geared toward families. Showing up and talking with your neighbors can open your eyes to things happening around you. And through that connection comes the power of collective voices — including yours — to make a change.
  4. Get involved in a local political party. Attend their meetings and hear what other like-minded people are working on in Arlington and in Virginia. I first got involved this way and I have found a way to connect to folks and our community through so many avenues by just opening this door.

But most important, show up. I use this quote a lot in my daily work and volunteer activities, and it rings true: “Decisions are made by those who show up.” This goes for Election Day and beyond. So, if you are passionate about a local issue and want to do something about it, showing up is an important step in gaining the change you seek.

This goes for Election Day and beyond. If you see a problem in Arlington and want something done about it, show up. If you have something you are passionate about and want other people in Arlington to know about it, show up. If you don’t like the direction we are headed in as a community, show up.

In a democracy, it’s up to you to make a difference. Every voice counts.

Matt Royer is a union member and progressive activist whose work spans campaigns and elections, local party leadership and environmental sustainability. He lives in Crystal City.   

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