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Democracy depends on us

Katie Horvath's picture
Tue, 08/07/2018 - 09:18 -- Katie Horvath

Four people are running for Mayor, 11 for City/County, and 28 for a City seat bringing the grand total to 43 people putting their names forward to run in Sarnia’s 2018 municipal election.

That’s a tall order for me, who plans to extend the invitation for every single one of them to come and complete an on-camera interview, with me, to be shared out online and across various social media platforms.

Why?

You see, the last municipal election we had only 33% of eligible voters show up to the polls to cast their vote and have their say in regards to who they wanted to make decisions about our city for the next four years.  It was apathy that prompted me to organize a group called Vocalize Sarnia which was, originally, an in person, student led group that sought to promote engagement in social and political issues, and to take a deeper look at where the disconnect was between people and politics. What I found from doing that work on campus was that its not that my generation doesn’t care about politics, per-se. Its’ that we’re tired of the state of it, on all levels.  Many students reported they feel (true or not) that politicians don’t really care about them, they care about getting votes; and if we don’t turn out in record numbers, issues my generation faces don’t get attention.  Others reported they were tired of infighting, grandstanding, and lies.  Often, we get incorrectly painted as being unaware.  But the young adults I was working with were very aware, and didn’t like what they were seeing.

So, it has been about a year and a half since I moved the concept of Vocalize Sarnia from a student led on campus initiative, to an online community wide group focusing on sharing Sarnia related social and political issues.  The online launch was a question and answer project encouraging citizens to send in questions they had for the Mayor and current Council, and I would organize the answers received and re-post the Q and As back to the public. Now, the group has over 2000 members-and-growing everyday, where people can share articles and opinions about their take on Sarnia politics and social issues and of course submit questions when the Q and As are being organized. And what I’ve found throughout all of this is really, its less about disconnect and more about a lack of opportunity.  I gave the people a direct line of communication between them and their elected officials and they took it.   When you give people the chance to use their voice, they do. The more empowered they feel, the more likely they are to stay engaged and informed. And this is what we want.

Vocalize Sarnia has always been a work in progress for me, and very much a baptism by fire introduction when I arrived online.  And while I have experienced some unanticipated nastiness entering this world, that type of behaviour only further justified the voices and feelings of those students I met when I started this.  And this work in progress is growing.  

So where does that leave us?

I still think we’ve got a long way to go in terms of open and transparent government, an engaged and informed public, and a system that truly has proper input and communication from City Council to citizens, and citizens to City Council.  But we’re moving.  Progress is being made.  A couple short years ago I was just a cynical millennial with an idea.  Now as a community we’ve created a 2000+ people group, exchanged 100 questions between our current mayor and council, (which, by the way, none of that would be possible without the power of committed and supportive citizens), and I’m well on my way to creating videos for the public to actually see and hear their candidates on camera BEFORE they cast their vote.  And with 44 people throwing their name into the race this year, its clear there are a lot of people who do care about the future of our city.

So before I go, I want to invite you to get onto Facebook, and join Vocalize Sarnia: The Group.  Within the coming weeks, I will be releasing candidate videos into the group and please, watch them and share them.  I want politics to be accessible, and I’m trying to make it as easy as possible for the people to be directly involved in accessing and sharing important information about the future of our City.  

I will never tell you who to support or what to think.  But I will always tell you to pay attention, find your voice, and participate. You matter. Your vote matters.  Democracy matters.

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