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COLUMN: Voters entrenched in partisan politics lose sight of community issues

Tuesday, July 20, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 1:04 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I have a young friend whose uncle is a one-issue voter. According to her, the man will vote for anyone who believes in people having as many guns of any kind as they want. His wife — her aunt — is a two-issue voter. She'll vote for anyone who is against abortion rights and homosexual unions. My friend says she feels uncomfortable with their indifference to all the other important issues facing their own community, such as the public school curriculum, her city council's stance on development or the quality of health care in local nursing homes.

Her uncle and aunt are a part of the new breed of voter completely entrenched in partisan politics at the national level. They are driven by talk-show hosts and politicians who dwell on issues that they know many are emotionally attached to. These people are no longer concerned with backyard issues that more directly affect them and their families.

These two voters stay up-to-date on who's doing what in regard to the issues with which they are concerned. In the meantime their grandchildren attend schools that are failing. The number of homeless in their community is rising. The youth are roaming the streets aimlessly, because there is no summer youth program to keep them engaged.

The politicians, of course, are only interested in getting themselves and their friends elected or re-elected. And they know that people on both sides of the issues of guns, abortion rights and homosexual unions are passionate about their points of view, so the polls keep talking it up to hold these voters' attention. Meanwhile, these voters are so hopeful that their side will win candidates that they lose sight of the problems in their own communities. Though most citizens will agree that education is losing the battle to keep kids in school, the average person is not rallying around the issue of advocating for changes that will somehow get the children interested in their own futures.

Add that to the fact that many churches have abandoned the responsibility for feeding and clothing the poor, for advocating for better health programs for children and the elderly and for helping to provide shelter for the homeless. Many churches today are involved in helping individuals gain personal salvation within the church walls. Many work hard to provide comfort for their members and have no interest in extending the ministry beyond their doors.

So, for society to maintain social services of any kind, it is too often left to local, state or federal governments to provide more and more for those unable to care for themselves. This creates an angry public that complains about too much money being spent on social welfare programs. What happened to the concept of the caring community? Most communities are fortunate to have a dedicated group of volunteers and charitable organizations, but as the recession continues to keep unemployment rates high and many families struggle to make ends meet, the needs are greater than they have been for many years.

These are challenging times for community leaders. They have to work twice as hard to get citizens to pay attention to their many local problems. In spite of what is going on in national politics, most communities have their own problems to solve. When they cannot depend on two of their most vital populations — committed citizens and churchgoers — the problems seem to escalate.

Still, if communities are going to maintain livability, leaders are going to have to find a way to regain citizens' focus on local issues. In some places more than others, schools have reached a crisis point. School boards are going to have to fight hard to prove that they are using taxpayers' dollars wisely, or they may find themselves losing buildings and teachers. Parents need to get on board and, in many cases, stop being the problem and start contributing to the solution.

People like my young friend may have to accept the fact that her aunt and uncle and others like them probably won't wake up and smell the beans burning until its too late to turn off the fire. The two-party political system will take them to the brink of disaster before they get a clue.

But those who are seriously concerned and can see the dangers ahead need to begin to band together and begin to establish focus groups to examine such things as the state of their schools, their social welfare systems, their justice systems and every aspect that holds their communities together. In a country of the people, by the people, for the people, knowledge is critical to action. You don't have to be a Boy Scout to be prepared.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at nolen@iland.net.


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