I always vote, but otherwise I’ve rarely engaged in governance matters. Sure, I go to pro-Israel marches and community events, such as after the Sandy Hook killings. Officials, however, rarely hear from me directly. I’m more of a wordsmith In the digital age, spouting off on Facebook mostly. That creates an ersatz sense of action, but I know I’m just honing my pithy writing skills and having zero impact on public affairs.
So my New Year’s resolutions started two weeks early for 2015. I contacted my district members of Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) and I signed up for mailings from my U.S. Representative, Jim Himes, and U.S. Senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy. I’m already on the mailing lists of my Connecticut state legislators, Representative Jonathan Steinburg and Senator Toni Boucher.
The outreach came after the fateful November elections, which didn’t see any political upheavals in blue-as-ice Connecticut but will still create political pressures on state and federal legislators from the Nutmeg State. Given the wretched state of journalism, I can’t glean much about what’s going on from the local free weekly, so I decided to become an informed citizen and connect with my legislators in Hartford and Washington, as well as Westport Town Hall.
I’m already engaging. Early Sunday morning, I sent an email to my three RTM district members outlining my interests:
- Transportation: I commute to NYC on Metro-North, and am a fan of all kinds of public transit
- Economic development
- Planning and zoning matters as an economic impediment
I had an RTM response back within an hour, and the member and I traded some emails as he provided sources to keep me informed on issues in Westport. That made me feel more a part of the community and I’ll build from there.
On the national level, I completed an online poll offered by Rep. Himes on immigration issues. I indicated which of about 10 options appealed to me, and I shared my own view on how to respond to the immigration crisis. Let’s say I offered a creative approach to ensuring that people with visas leave the country when they are supposed to leave (hint: RFID chips).
The website of Sen. Blumenthal provoked the most visceral reaction. I had never warmed up to Blumenthal, even when he was Connecticut’s Attorney General. He had a certain over-eager, jump-on-the-bandwagon tonality that rubbed me the wrong way. His website merely confirmed those feelings with its rotating banner headlines:
- The SPORTS (Sustained Promotion of Responsibility in Team Sports) Act aims to hold major sports leagues accountable for their response to major events within their leagues: from domestic violence to traumatic brain injuries.
- The Death in Custody Reporting Act “requires states and federal law enforcement agencies to report to the Attorney General basic information regarding deaths occurring in law enforcement custody or during an arrest. It also requires the Attorney General to study this information and provide suggestions to reduce the number of such deaths.” (Don’t resist arrest or point a weapon at police could help, but I can’t imagine those being among the suggestions.)
- College Sexual Assault Bill of Rights. “Senator Blumenthal released a college sexual assault report and bill of rights to help increase safety and accountability on college campuses.”
I may not agree these issues are the best use of a senator’s time, but he’s showing me some of his priorities, so I’ll give him credit for that. And I’ll let him know my priorities.
Now that I’m connected to the lawmakers, I expect I’ll share my views with them. For instance, if asked about issues that matter, I’ll indicate freedom of speech and defense of liberty. Nobody comes right and talks about these issues, which I see as under assault daily on college campuses and in general discourse – the high-tech lynch mobs are at the ready to quash opinions that go against the correct mainstream thinking. That may be a quaint concern to voice to my legislators, but somebody needs to say that in Connecticut, and that might as well be me.
I don’t know where this will lead. I may attend RTM subcommittee meetings to get a better handle on what happens at the most granular level of democracy. I may get involved in more local matters that intertwine with town zoning matters, such as the Westport Cinema Initiative, an attempt to bring an art-house movie space to downtown. When I moved to town in 1991, we had five screens; the last closed at least 15 years ago. Westport seems like a perfect place for an art-house cinema, given the population, and I can see this happening and thriving. Sen. Steinberg supports this effort, so I am beginning to connect the dots between public officials and topics that interest me. Anything involving Westport planning and zoning, in my experience, dissolves into decades of discussion, litigation and despair, but adding my voice to the effort could make a difference, and make me a part of the civil discourse.
You know, I think I’ve found my cause.