As we usher in 2021 (and say good riddance to 2020), you may be thinking about your goals and resolutions for the new year. You might want to train for a marathon or start reading that thick book on your shelf or catch up with friends and family you haven’t seen in a while. There’s no doubt these are all worthy personal goals, but consider another: this January is a great time to ask yourself, “How can I be a better citizen? What can I do to make my community, my state, and my country a better place?” Consider adding one or all of the following resolutions to your list.
Keep an open mind.
I know, easier said than done, but the foundation of our democracy and of our community rests on mutual respect and open-mindedness. This year, challenge yourself to be open-minded. Instead of dismissing a neighbor or friend or family member with a different point of view, try to better understand where they’re coming from. Ask respectful questions and listen. If you still disagree, thank them for sharing their opinions or lived experiences with you. I love this quote from President Lyndon B. Johnson, “You aren’t learning anything when you’re talking.”
Know your leaders.
Most, if not all of us know who our country’s president is, but can you name our mayor? How about your city councilmembers? Our county executive? Our state legislators? Knowing who your leaders are, locally, statewide, and nationally, is an important part of our democracy. These are the people we elect to make decisions for us. This year, find out who your leaders are and if you’re up to it, send them a note. Let them know who you are and what issues are most important to you.
Vote in every single election. This may seem like an easy resolution, but most of us forget to vote in the odd years, especially when the occupant of the White House isn’t on the ballot. This year, remember to vote in your local elections. These are the elections that will have the most impact on our day-to-day lives. Worried about your kid’s education? That’s on the ballot. Passionate about environmental stewardship? That’s on the ballot. Concerned with traffic or homelessness or growth or affordability? That’s on the ballot, too. Take part in our democracy and your community this year.
Roll up your sleeves.
If you’ve mastered the other resolutions, it may be time to roll up your own sleeves this year. There are plenty of opportunities all around you. If you’re a passionate Republican or Democrat, join your local political party. If you feel strongly about a particular candidate or issue, volunteer for their campaign, or join a local advocacy group. If you’re interested in policy, apply to a city board or commission. If you’re passionate about your neighborhood, apply for a position on your homeowner’s association board or committee. If you don’t like what you’re seeing in your government, run for office. There are so many different ways to roll up your sleeves and get involved. Find the way that’s right for you.
Remember, the hard work of forming a more perfect union belongs to us all. We the people are each one part of a great democracy. Here’s to 2021.
– Zach Hall, Issaquah City Councilmember, Legislative Assistant to Washington State Rep. Lisa Callan, Highlands Council Board Trustee, and Issaquah Highlands Resident