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Who Needs Community Listening?
Who Is Being Asked?
Two Ways to Improve
Misconceptions to Improving
New Measures of Civic Engagement
In your lifetime, have any of your candidates or elected officials asked you what your concerns are? Click here to discover that we're not alone.
What are your concerns? Click here to see if you share the concerns of 100 of my neighbors.
Who Is Being Asked?
In my half-century of life, no elected official has asked me about my concerns – ever. (Click here to see if candidates are asking for concerns.)
Last fall (2014) I knocked on doors of over 1,000 doors in my home state (Washington) asking residents whether their elected officials had asked them their concerns. All 309 people who answered told me that none of their elected officials had asked. Zip. Nada. Nope. None.
Isn't that taxation without representation? How can elected officials represent the will of the people if they don't ask us? How can they pass laws and policies for us without that information?
I was most disturbed by the zip, nada, nope, none results from Medina, a tiny, waterfront city located in Washington's richest zip code where one-sixth of its land is occupied by a golf country club. I was prepared to be jealous, imagining captains of industry (who have much more money than I) getting their concerns heard by electeds they bump into while hitting bogeys and praying for eagles. Still zip. Still nada. Still nope. Still none.
And it’s not just the wealthy who are skipped by their representatives. “I have no concerns. I gave up a long time ago. No one listens anyway,” said John Tanabe, 67-year old resident of Seattle's diverse Rainier Beach area.
Since they "ain't comin' to us," I believe we need to ensure we are being heard by creating a non-partisan organization that actively asks, then takes our concerns to those we elect to spend our tax dollars and represent us.
Pierce County resident Kathy Strang said, “I say that all the time – there's got to be a better way.”
I also asked residents if they knew how many elected officials currently represent them.
Medina resident Gary Hollie said his 16-year old son, Cooper, would know. Cooper exuberantly proclaimed, “We just learned this in civics class – twelve!” I handed the family a list of their elected officials and asked, “Would you believe 42, not including judges?”
Most people seemed surprised to learn how many people represent them. Not including judges, Tacoma residents have 48 elected officials, Seattle 36, and Medina 42.
People who guessed could only name federal offices of president and two congressional senators but not vice president nor their congressional representative.
Fewer mentioned state legislative district positions of senator or two representatives but definitely not any of the nine state offices such as governor, treasurer, secretary of state, insurance commissioner, superintendent of public instruction, and so on.
Even fewer named local positions on county councils, school boards, city councils, parks boards, ports, or judicial positions and partisan precinct committee officers.
I finished my mini-survey by telling respondents that Gallup research found that four out of ten of us are independent of political parties – we're not Republicans, we're not Democrats, we're just independent. When I asked residents if they were concerned that no organization represents independents' concerns, 34% said yes, and 9% said they hadn't thought of that before.
Of people who were not concerned, some said, “We can find a way for important concerns.” A few believed there is an organization representing independents. Others felt represented through connections to a political party or advocacy organization.
To be fair, logistically electeds can't ask each of us about our personal concerns. It would take our governor 57.5 years to listen one minute to each one of Washington State's 6.9 million residents, leaving no time to craft appropriate legislation.
State legislators have less of an excuse – it would only take them 1.1 year to listen to their 137,000 constituents' concerns for one minute.
Even if they would, I don't want 48 elected representatives coming to my door every year. And who has time to call each elected to tell them what problems we'd like solved every year?
A 71-year old Tacoma woman (who wishes to remain anonymous) said, “No one represents me. They all do what they want anyway, once they're elected.”
Are you being heard? Would you like a non-partisan organization that asks, then forwards your concerns to our elected officials?
(Click here to see my 100 neighbors' concerns.)
Copyright 2016 Deb Blakeslee