The College of Wooster puts a lot of pressure on students to apply to the most prestigious internships and jobs and to generally only focus their efforts on large-scale projects. Wooster students want to eradicate hunger, reverse climate change and topple capitalism.
While noble, this kind of rhetoric can also be paralyzing. How do you attack global hegemonic power structures? In my opinion, you start with concrete goals on the local level.
Take a moment to consider what the local community encompasses and what can be accomplished there. Local governments interact most directly with the lives of citizens. They cannot afford stalemate because people’s livelihoods would be on the line.
A mayor does not need, and often does not adhere to, a political party. Instead, they campaign on policy. Mayors maintain a higher trust level by the public than national officials because they are more visible.
Furthermore, each vote for a mayor/local representative counts more in percentage than your vote for the presidential election. That is not to say one is more important than the other, but it is a show of influence and clout.
When it comes to issues that cities face, they are as challenging and as important as the issues faced by the world community. Take the example of Flint, Mich. which I must say HAS NOT HAD POTABLE WATER IN ALMOST THREE YEARS AND WILL NOT HAVE POTABLE WATER FOR THE FORSEEABLE FUTURE, WHETHER THE MEDIA COVERS IT OR NOT.
When people heard about Flint there was an understandable outrage and backlash against the government of Michigan, which effectively allowed its citizens to be poisoned. Many discussed the humanity of the individual people who were suffering greatly because of the disaster.
In that moment, the citizens of Flint, Mich. became so important to media and to activists. Their personal individualized experiences and the way that city was being managed were under intense scrutiny — and for good reason. But when the cameras leave, as most have already left, who will be talking about the city of Flint — a city of less than a hundred thousand?
What if we focused on the individualized experiences of the people that make up our communities, our schools and our neighborhoods, before a crisis arises? What if the brain power of America’s liberal arts institutions was unleashed on local issues of waste management, plumbing, public transportation and public schools?
Of course, this concept is not new, as I was largely inspired by a TED Talk by political theorist Benjamin Barber entitled “What if Mayors Ruled the World?” He makes the point a lot better than I ever could, so I highly recommend it.
What I would like you to take away from this viewpoint is as follows: in your life, you do not have to be the best at what you do. You do not need to join the largest company, make the most money or hold the highest title. But, you do have to do something. Why not make that something tangible, relevant and indescribably important?
Look around for the change that can be done in your own backyard — or in any backyard for that matter — and recognize that you might just have the skills to make a real change in someone’s life.
Making that difference, although it comes without dinners with dignitaries, is as valuable as anything else you could do with your life.
Emma Woods, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at EWoods18@wooster.edu.