Capitol Thoughts
Capitol Thoughts Archive

Conventional Wisdom by Janaye Ingram

Sep 14, 2012

In an election year, time flies. One moment you’re in primary season and before you know it, the election is here. But in a Presidential election year, time flies even faster it seems. This cycle has been no different. The Republican & Democratic National Conventions are over and yet, we are still feeling the excitement from them. I haven’t had a conversation yet that hasn’t started with, “Did you go to the conventions? What did you think?” It’s been a hot topic of your average Joe even though in the political circles, it’s literally last week’s news. Because time seems to be on fast forward, people are using what happened at the convention to guess what will happen in the election.

What I’ve noticed is that your average, everyday citizen, Joe Q. Public, is mesmerized by big moments like conventions or speeches. Most of us don’t get wrapped up in the day-to-day political muck and mire. It’s almost as if when politicians speak, we hear them in a way that is reminiscent of how adults sounded to Charlie Brown & the Peanuts Gang. There’s always an exception to the rule and in the world of politics, there are two exceptions – scandal and tragedy. If a politician gets caught in bed with anyone other than their partner, if they have a child out of wedlock, if they fall ill with some incurable disease or any other scandalous or tragic scenario, they receive all of the attention in the world. But let them make a statement about how they plan (or don’t plan) to address education and it falls on deaf ears.

Somehow, there’s a tragedy in that. The fact that most people are not paying attention is a problem. When you have people who don’t know who their Congressional representative or their State Senator is, it speaks to why they are unable to find solutions to community issues. I have had experiences with people who tell me that they want to talk to their Congressman to find out why the trash pickup days in the summer were reduced and now their neighborhood smells when it’s really hot. While they think they want to talk to their Congressman, they should be talking to their mayor or city council members. It’s this disconnect of civic engagement that keeps communities and specifically the black community from achieving our goals.

So the convention was great. There was lots of energy, many great speeches and a ton of private events. But after the convention stage lights have dimmed, when all of the confetti has been swept up and the last of the convention planners is at home relaxing, will we still be energized? Will we still care about who our politicians are or what they have to say? Or will it take a scandal or tragedy to wake up & pay attention. We must realize that laws are being created that disenfranchise us, that marginalize us and that keep our communities from reaching our full potential. And there are also laws that benefit us, that provide us with more opportunities and give us hope for the future. But many people are shielded from those things on their own volition. They aren’t paying attention when they should be.

There are still going to be big debates that will allow us to see into the intentions of the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, and in many places there will be Senatorial and Congressional debates, mayoral and city council debates. But if the only time we pay attention to the issues is when the lights are hot, we’re missing the point of civic engagement. I understand we’re all pressed for time; many of us work two jobs to make it. Some of us are involved in the school board or church committees and we’re just a little too pressed for time to sort it all out. But conventional wisdom tells us the devil is in the details. Being impressed that someone has a nice looking family or that they came to your church shouldn’t be a reason to vote for them. You have to vote on the issues that will affect your life. Even if you pick one or two issues that are critically important to you and your family and look at how the candidates stack up on those issues, you will be more prepare for Nov. 6th than you will simply by watching a convention, a speech or a debate. There is still a month and a half left to dig a little more, to do your homework and get into what really matters and to find out how candidates will change your life for the better or for the worse. Your vote is your voice and you should be using it.