What Does It Take To Make A Difference?
By Chris Hibbard
29.8 per cent.
That was the turnout at our last municipal election. Out of a possible 78,000 voters, less than one third came out to vote. Around 26,000 voters have determined who our community leaders are for the next two to three years.
A friend and I became engaged in discussion the other night. Their wonderful (albeit a bit naive) desire, was to see world peace: a world in which all genres, all races, and all countries worked together to enhance each other. My somewhat skeptical reply was that world peace was an impossible dream. How can we expect to improve the world, without first improving our own neighbourhoods and our own communities?
We get bombarded every day with ads and commercials asking for our donations. They ask us to save children in Africa. They ask us to put schoolbooks in every classroom in South America. We should give food and clothing to the oppressed victims of fascist regimes in foreign lands, and we should help provide homes to millions of orphaned dogs and cats.
I can’t help but think that while these goals are noble and their ideals kind and true, they are merely a pipe dream. Trying to get thousands of people to rally together to help another community is a wonderful idea – but trying to get the same out to help ourselves seems to lead to a lacklustre response. So how can we hope to achieve world harmony and global peace and right all of the world’s wrongs when we can’t even seem to gather the troops in our own backyard?
I’d love to see positive change on our planet. I long to see less bad news and more good stories reflected in our mainstream culture. I’d love to see world peace and harmony, better conditions for all and better means of protecting our resources. I’d love to simply return to the state of optimism I once shared with my friend and get rid of the doubts I seem to have adopted about not humans – humans are good – but humanity. But how can I expect us to change the entire world when we don’t care enough to change our own city? If only thirty per cent of us care enough to vote right here at home, it’s difficult to imagine a nation in which more than half of us care to – let alone an entire world.
We seem to have forgotten that we should be proud and inspired by the fact that we even have the right the vote at all. Our ancestors fought for that right – the right to be free, to be Canadian, and to be democratic. Thanks to that right, we can passively act to see some change in our homes, our cities and later on our planet. The changes we make can then have a ripple effect, like throwing a pebble in a pond.
More hope and inspiration for our community members can mean more faith in the system itself – and with a little luck, that means more money for local charities, and then those groups that strive to improve other parts of the world. By working together to help each other – doing good deeds for our neighbours and being kind to our fellow southern Albertans, we are an encouragement. By helping each other in good times and bad, we create feelings of altruism and perpetuate a spirit of giving. This spirit can be a shining example for other communities, other cities and other countries; a rallying cry for hope and change that aims to be represented through our democratic ideals.
Which brings me back to the 29.8 per cent. If less than 1 in 3 of us care about seeing our own community better itself, what does that say about Lethbridge… about Alberta… about Canada and Canadians? Where exactly are the other 70.2 per cent, and what exactly is preventing them from participating in our political system?
I’m not a politician. I’m just a guy in your neighbourhood who writes little rants to the local paper when the feeling strikes me. Yet I am proud to say I voted this year. Some of my votes paid off. Others did not. But at least I had the pride and the motivation to get out there and show an opinion one way or the other. This same friend told me the other night that they would rather see the entire city vote for nobody, than just a few of us vote at all. They said that a spoiled, voided, or unmarked ballot still counts: “It’s just seen as a sign of dislike for any or all candidates. But a complete lack of participation on the other hand, well that ‘s just plain lazy.”
And this friend is right. While their romantic vision of better times and places for all may seem far-fetched, the notion of a better world around us need not be. This friend’s dream has inspired me to write this letter. This letter just might inspire you to vote next time. That vote just might count for something. That something just might be a next step towards improving your community. And that community might just manage to change the world. So I will set my goals low. This year’s vote saw 29.8 per cent come out to the local polls. In the future, I’d be happy to know that even 40 per cent of my city cares about what the heck is going on – so I could tell my friend with confidence that at least we’re trying.