The first public listening session for input on the new police chief was held Feb. 5. Turnout was low, and the Mountain Xpress even ran a [Feb. 13] story titled, “Thin Crowd Weighs in on Police Chief Selection.” Those who attended were clearly disappointed in the low showing, especially when the same room had been packed last March to meet about police brutality in Asheville’s [police] department.
This occurs often, and it makes sense. People engage in local government when they are inspired: either enraged or personally affected. But when it comes to dry, long-term involvement, the meeting rooms are sparse. It brings up a larger question: How do we promote a culture of political and community involvement?
When we take a step back and think about how our perfect community would communicate, we ideally want each person to be involved, and all perspectives heard. We would focus on the individual, making sure each had the power of voice. This is an ideal of democracy: that each person is empowered to share their thoughts, because through discourse we can reach a greater understanding.
However, it doesn’t seem to work this way. Despite our best hope for community involvement, there are obstacles in the way of fruitful, long-term discourse that is correctly representative. I think that there is a shortage in time for people to be actively engaged. The limited resource of time requires that we spend it where it is most immediately necessary, and it follows that it is usually dedicated to work, family, etc. We focus on the things directly in front of us that need the most urgent attention.
I would also like to add how criticizing a community’s political involvement is scratching the surface of a larger issue. Those who are working more than one job, have different hours, are taking care of children or family members cannot always afford the luxury of community meetings and active community engagement. The evening meetings are inaccessible to any single parent without a baby sitter.
Rather than being frustrated at seemingly low public buy-in, how can we accommodate the disparity between those who are immediately able to participate in politics and those who are not? How can we empower people and create accessible discourse so that their voices are heard before it gets to a point of urgency?
I think that our ideals of democracy can only be achieved when we re-evaluate the larger routines inhibiting full participation.
— Ava Simonds