• Sarah O'Brien

The Collective Power of the People...

Updated: Mar 28, 2020

Most of the Country is concerned with what is or isn't going to happen with the recent Mueller report. I suppose it's no surprise. Of course, the entire country is consumed by something most of us have no control over. The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC whose mission is to conduct in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society at the local, national and global level. This week they prominently put the Mueller report front and center on their webpage today, even though I don't think there are any new ideas to be had there. If you keep digging around on brookings.edu, one can find a plethora of cutting edge articles and resources. Many detail issues that impact ordinary people in extraordinary ways, unlike whatever the Mueller report says or doesn't say. This afternoon one piece, in particular, caught my eye and caused me to take pause. I remembered the power that the people have and our collective impact potential.

You can view the article in its entirety here. It's very similar to dozens of articles I and many others, have shared on an assortment of digital platforms recently. However today one statement elicited a different response than usual.

“The country needs new performance measures to prioritize broader community goals around accessibility, economic development, sustainability, and livability.”

It's a pretty simple statement. At first glance, it's the type of common plea that is repeated in countless blogs and social media posts surrounding local government, housing, infrastructure and development these days. However, when I take a closer look, I found you a collective power that we have all been ignoring.

The "country" needs...

The power behind that statement may not jump out at anyone else. However, it certainly caused me to mumble loudly in my head: Amen, Amen, Amen. Moreover, most of you know I don't pray a lot. So I should probably apologize in advance for what I am going to say. However, I am not going to tell you a lie either, and I am not apologetic. Here I am preaching again. I think "the country needs" is a purposeful plea, intentional or not, for action.

A couple of general observations I think most of us can agree on:

Local communities are and should be redefining the definition of success.

Incremental change does lead to revolutionary change.

Democracy was founded on certain principles.

Most elected officials listen when there is someone or something to be heard.

So now let us pray...

I passionately believe it’s the people’s responsibility to engage and speak up. The people don't report to their elected officials; they should be saying to us. I am tired of hearing nothing but blame and accusations from all sides. I am over the sense of entitlement and the lack of personal responsibility. I see more inaction than I do the action. Moreover, all of the noise is about things that we can't change. All I hear is silence on the matters we are capable of changing.

The Country needs...

America is divided, it's unclear as to how many pieces we have been broken into. We keep reinforcing the divide by focusing on emotional and personal values and views. Honestly, your feelings don't matter all that much on anyone else's path. We are so focused on everyone's feelings; we don't pay attention or focus on the things that matter. I wonder if perhaps the far left and the far right understand democracy better than we do? Do they know better than any of us reading this remember from history class? I will admit that indeed, they both seem to understand it better than I once did — radically different views coming together to divide us because they know the rules of engagement. You see friends, lest we forget that democracy and government, well it's up to you and I. We are the people. We are the Country. We need to do many things. I believe it’s past time to let our voices speak up about the things that matter. Also, its time we put our selfish personal feelings aside and focus on issues that impact more than our inner circles. The voices that make up the majority of our Country need to be heard. We need to change the essential things that can make America great. The feelings will naturally improve when we begin to do that.

Local government is the closest form of democracy in our reach, and it impacts our daily lives more than any Mueller report ever could dream of. I believe that local government is the single most powerful form of government. It is capable of making America great again. Your toilets are flushing every time you need them to. Your trash being picked up, so your street doesn't smell. The size of the sign you can place in front of your business. The number of apartment units being built down the road from the local school. The affordability of housing in your community. The drainage detention you don't even know keeps your house from flooding when the rain won't stop. The potholes that we all complain about but never thank anyone for repairing. The parks playscapes that entertain your kids and grandkids. What about the police officer who gave you that speeding ticket but also kept you from hitting the mobility challenged neighbor you've never taken a moment to meet? Alternatively, the animal control officer who witnessed the cruelty that exists, so we don't have to experience it. Also, the firemen who will show up if your house is on fire and sit on the curb and cry with you. Indeed the dedicated volunteers and board members that help keep your library running? Folks, these are the things that matter to most of us. This is what makes our Country great.

Let's stop fighting each other publically about sexual preference. Let's not worry about how someone else raises their children. Let us instead join our neighbor's hand in hand. Let us celebrate our diversity and human differences. Let us remain silent no more about local services and keep our own opinions and judgments about others to ourselves. Let us speak up in support of the vibrancy, sustainability, inclusivity and diversity that we desire in our cities and towns, as different as those places can be. The governments that serve the areas we call home are not what I think Brookings.edu was defining when they said the Country. Washington DC, Austin, and your Mayor are not this Country, even though we act like they are in charge and there's nothing we can do about it. We are the Country. Institutions and governing bodies don't inspire revolutionary change. Why? Because institutions are nothing without the inspirational voices of their people, of their country.

The silent majority and the masses of people whose beliefs and values sit in the middle must engage now. Stand up. Democracy is for the people by the people. We can't continue to have the silent majority. The majority must be heard. Otherwise, the minority who speaks the loudest continues to speak for each and everyone one of us. Those that spew hatred and bigotry and bias and negativity are the only voices anyone hears right now. Those complainers without solutions have had the stage for long enough. I have heard enough from the far left and the far right. I remain hopeful and optimistic. I am a proud American. I am even praying a little that my fellow Americans remember and represent who this Country is. We will tell the rest of the world who we as Americans are and what we want for the next generation of Americans. We don't have a choice. We will remember that the values we collectively represent and share with so many, are those values that help shape the places we call home. The benefits that universally matter to us all. The values of our communities that helped shaped America and will help shape Americans for generations to come.

Get involved where it matters most. Speak up and support your local governments. Volunteer to make a difference in your community. Participate in the process of democracy as incrementally as one can, your local municipal or county government. Because not only do they need you, but because this is America, it is your right, and it is your privilege. America is as bad as its loudest people make us out to be. Also, if we are ever to be great again, the Country needs to remember who it is and what it is capable of.


Sarah served as a Texas Main Street manager for over a decade and is a proud two-time Past President of the Texas Downtown Association. She lives in Smithville Texas and has worked in local government. community development, destination management and downtown revitalization across the State of Texas. She is a motivational speaker, consensus builder, and visionary problem solver who helps organizations and communities understand their purpose and achieve collective impact.

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