Polls Apart: How Voter Apathy Fails Us All

When choosing feels like losing (but it’s not!)

We all want to believe our voices matter to the people making big decisions where we live. Express this out loud — or worse yet on social media — and you’re likely to be called naïve, uninformed, or even stupid. There’s this pervading narrative that our government is so corrupt and mismanaged, it’s completely dysfunctional. And this leads to voter apathy: Why come out for elections, if nothing ever changes?

But things DO change. While the system’s far from perfect, there are actual processes in place for everyday people to directly find solutions for issues that concern them. You just have to know what the chain of action is, and then follow through with the elected officials that are most able (or motivated) to help.

It’s not rocket science – it’s not science at all, in fact, it’s more of a persuasive effort that demands patience and compromise. But it does work! Like everything else in life, government is messy. And while certainly there are bad faith actors, many public servants are honestly trying to help.

Every day in City Hall, real people find lifelines they need to get by. Others will initiate important conversations on programs, resources, legislation, and more – the first step in actual change that can directly impact lives.

TRUE STORY: Philly offers an incredible variety of supportive services, but negative narratives against taking “handouts” often limits participation, leading to reduced funding. Literally the best way to make government work for the people is to get in here and use it! If you qualify for assistance, it’s your duty to partake (and make good on the investment).

It’s in everyone’s best interest to put some effort into understanding who your representatives are – not just their names, but google them! What are they known for? Who do they hang with? What, exactly, does their office handle? It’s not always easy to identify where to go with certain local issues. In Philadelphia, the best place to start is – don’t laugh — City Council.

I know, right? Hear us out. City Council is an incredibly powerful force here, in many ways they have more sway than the Mayor. It’s also a very local position, your Councilmember is specific to your neighborhood. Someone in their office will be glad to sit down with you, and help you suss out a plan to meet your needs and concerns. They’ll also be able to put you in contact with other city and state agencies, as needed.

We learned this first-hand thanks to Max Weisman, an East Falls neighbor and committee person, and also communications director for Councilmember Isaiah Thomas. Max’s boss is one of the city’s seven “at large” members representing the whole city (along with ten District Councilmembers who each serve a different area). While District Council tends to focus on land use, litter, traffic, etc, At-Large members are more policy-focused.

Isaiah Thomas, for instance, is probably most known for his “Driving Equality” bill, which helps curb undue and discriminatory traffic stops. Passed in 2022, the law has succeeded in reducing racialized stops with zero bad effects on public safety; it’s also improved police relations. Max gave us the scoop in the Councilmember’s office, after inviting us down to meet with Thomas and his communications team, about how The Local could help activate better civic participation and awareness.

Yes, please! As big fans (and beneficiaries) of Thomas’s other banner achievement – the Illuminate the Arts grant – we are literally here because government works. Thomas told us plans are underway for another round in 2024, and he’s very hopeful, “We’ve looked at the data, the program is effective, we’ll keep pushing till this becomes a regular part of the city’s budget.”

Thomas was quick to point out that Illuminate the Arts didn’t just happen out of thin air. “That was voting, “ he said. That was the people who put him in office, following up and telling him what they needed, “We listened, we learned, we legislated.”

Fun Fact: In 2011, Kenyatta Johnson won his seat for City council by just 46 votes. Thomas loves this story, as it illustrates how much our individual votes matter in local elections, especially primaries like the one coming up April 23rd. “Wages have doubled for airport workers since he started representing the area,” he told us, “District council isn’t all potholes and trash pickup. It’s economics. It’s access.” Voting is far from the pointless exercise it’s made out to be.

Which is where grassroots news outlets like The Local come in:

I think the first and most important job is to communicate accurate information, despite your own political beliefs. It’s easy for people to disseminate information that’s just not accurate. Accidents happen, but a lot of it is very intentional and manipulative.

I also think it’s important to highlight positive narratives. Negative information, it gains a lot more traction than positivity, and it can feel like all there is, is bad news. In that climate, people give up hope, they lose faith that their vote can make a difference, that government works. Every day there’s good news about city partners and service leaders making real impact.

We need to see stories like this all the time, even if they don’t get the clicks and shares that bad news does. We all want that instant hit of dopamine or whatever we get when we see some drama. I think a paper can slow down that urge, help us be more patient and reflective. And then we can connect the dots, and see a much more accurate picture of the world, with room for optimism.

To that end, the Councilmember’s social media feed is full of stories celebrating stand-out Philadelphians from all walks of life, including a Champion of the Week who gets some extra City Council love: @IsaiahThomas4Philly

Meanwhile we’re excited to explore how our print publication can encourage readers to expect more from local leadership, and dream big for better lives. ✨🌈💗

NOW YOU: Find Your City Councilmember at phlcouncil.com (there’s a map link on the home page where you enter your address and a name comes up with a little picture and contact info).

Confirm your voting status now at IWILLVOTE.COM/PA where you can register if it turns out you’re not good to go (last day to register is April 8th).

Thoughts? Questions? Please leave them below in the Comments. For more information, click the links in this post.

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