Knowledge of local politics essential to participate in decision-making
A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a group of students on the role of government and politics. The students were able to explain some of the major policies and ideological positions of both former US President Donald Trump and current President Joe Biden, but looked at me with blank faces when I asked about the work and policies of Winston Peters – someone who has been a prominent figure in New Zealand politics for the entirety of their lifetime.
The more I have thought about this, the more frustrated I have become; not with the group of students, but the way their comments reveal a truth about the way we consume, rather than engage with politics.
Political geeks like me will often argue that US politics makes international waves that reach New Zealand, and it is worth keeping a keen eye on American policy.
This is true, but we should not forget that decisions in Washington DC will never have as consistent an impact on our everyday lives as those made in our local communities.
Local and Voluntary
As political theorist Russell Kirk put it, “In a genuine community, the decisions which most directly affect the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily.”
Watching politics playing out on the world stage can certainly be interesting, but largely it is just anxiety inducing. It is overwhelming to see big and complex unfolding overseas and simultaneously recognise our own inability to do anything about them.
The beauty of local politics is that we are not only encouraged to participate, when we do our local decisions can lead to observable solutions to local problems.
While it is true that I have little to zero influence on the decisions being made in the United States, our democratic system means that I can participate in decision-making processes in my community, city, and national democracy, and perhaps attend to some of the problems we face here.
Understanding policies and positions
A good place to begin is taking the time to not only know the name of our politicians and members of local government, but to get a handle on their policies and positions.
By paying attention to more than just the name and the face we are better equipped to vote responsibly, write submissions, and be able to make helpful comment.
This might sound insignificant, but in reality, these actions are essential to our democracy functioning as intended and can have an enormous impact on the communities we live in.
In fact, our country and communities rely upon us doing so – the democratic process does not work without the people playing their part.
If you are keen for more, talk to your local MP, go along to a local council meeting, become a member of a political party, perhaps even consider standing for your local board.
But most importantly, the next time you are overwhelmed with the state of the world remember not to doomscroll international political news at the expense of what is happening locally. It is the local decisions that have the biggest impact on our daily lives, and that is where we can make the biggest change.
Danielle van Dalen is a Researcher at Maxim Institute based in Auckland. The above story has been sponsored by