From the Editor’s Desk — The ‘local stuff’ matters

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, November 9, 2022

The old man showed off his finger to everybody at the market. It had indelible ink on it, which Indian election officials use to mark that a person has voted. That’s what made him so happy. It was 2015 and at the same time I was in the country, the state of Delhi was holding an election for their Legislative Assembly.

He was so excited over that fact. This was the first time he had voted and he wanted everyone to know, even the American who had dropped by the market to pick up some fruit. Despite the fact my Hindi was (and is) severely limited, we managed to carry on a pretty good conversation.

“My first time,” he said, pointing at his finger. “I got to vote.”

“I got to vote”. He didn’t roll his eyes, sigh or show any of the signs we typically do when the topic of voting comes up. He was happy. This was something he was proud to do, something enjoyable. He wanted to see a change in government, the man said, as the current majority had been in “too long.” And so, he got out to vote.

That’s about as far away from how we handle elections as you can get. Nine times out of 10, if I’m in a conversation about voting here in Virginia or any of the other states I’ve traveled to, there’s no joy. Nobody’s excited to take part in the event. Instead, it’s a chore, something we have to be practically shamed into doing. Despite having more than a month of early voting and every possible rule to make the process easier, it’s something we’ll come up with every excuse not to do.

By the time you read this, Election Day in the Heart of Virginia will have come and gone. The Town of Farmville will have a new mayor. There will be some new faces sitting on multiple local councils, both in nearby towns and on county boards. As for who those people are, you can go to FarmvilleHerald.com and read up on all the results, as well as discussions with some of the winners. But what we haven’t seen, at least so far, is anything that comes close to what I experienced in India.

I’m not suggesting everyone has to be excited at the thought of casting a ballot. But when it comes to elections and local governance as a whole, we do need to care. A couple weeks ago in this column, I talked about how we move forward, how we make progress. If nobody cares enough to get involved, that doesn’t happen. I’ve run into several people, both in Prince Edward and Cumberland counties, over the last two weeks who weren’t interested in voting. One said he didn’t have time. Another said it just wasn’t important.

“I’ll vote for the president when that comes around,” she said. “But this local stuff, it doesn’t really matter to me.”

Now this is something I can’t stress enough. The “local stuff” matters more than anything else. If we want to move forward, be it as a town, as a county or as a region, that’s all “local stuff.” Concerned about the water you drink? Want more affordable housing? Maybe you’re worried about the job opportunities in town? Or hey, you could be wondering what can be done to keep younger residents here. All of that comes down to the town councils and the county boards. This “local stuff” affects each of us on a day-to-day basis.

And even post-election, we can play a part in that. Time and again, towns and counties have seats routinely come open on their advisory boards and committees, but we’re often lucky if one person expresses interest. The announcements go up weeks ahead of time, and we see plenty of comments online, but very few people actually show up to speak and go on the record during public hearings.

I’m not saying it’ll be easy. It’ll likely be months or even years before you see results. I’m not even saying it’ll be successful. I don’t know if that old man in Delhi lived long enough to see his effort pay off. But he wanted to see something happen, so he took a step forward. The same goes here. If we want change, if we want growth, we’ll never know if it’s possible unless we try to make it happen.

BRIAN CARLTON is the editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia, LLC. He can be reached at Brian.Carlton@ FarmvilleHerald.com.