Over the past few decades, the lens through which people view all politics, especially local politicians and elections, has become increasingly nationalized. This shift moves everyday citizens’ focus from local and municipal government to national politics and news — and this includes students as well.
This is the most crucial of times in students' lives to invest more effort into learning about and being involved in local politics and government. It may not be as flashy or exciting, but students must learn the importance of their civic duty to the city they live in, even if it’s for a short period of time.
Last semester, I spent my Wednesday nights watching Bloomington City Council meetings and reporting on legislation that often required hours of deliberation. I was lucky enough to be able to view it via Zoom at my house and not have to travel to the Bloomington City Council building. Oddly enough, every time I logged onto a council meeting, I saw very few, if any, students in attendance other than myself.
Now I understand not every student finds City Council as riveting as I do, or even has the time to make it to their regular weekly meetings. However, since nearly 50,000 students currently attend IU-Bloomington, I thought I’d see a few more.
Believe me, City Council and their interaction with other city departments and citizens can have a steep learning curve. But I argue that at a time where students are not only learning what career they wish to pursue, they must also determine what capacity they have to lend their voice to local government.
Last month I began volunteering for professor Isak Asare’s congressional campaign, and during one of our regular meetings, councilmember Steve Volan came to talk about local elections and the importance of voter precincts.
During his talk, Volan mentioned how most IU students aren’t aware of the City Council’s existence, who the councilmembers for their respective districts are, or what the councilmembers do for the city. Volan said he’s surprised there isn’t a student on City Council with a large proportion of Bloomington’s population being students.
I agree with Volan — this is a glaring issue for a city as unique as Bloomington. Government is supposed to be representative of the people they deliberate and advocate for. How can ours successfully do so when most students aren’t even aware of which councilmember represents them.
I’m not saying every student should try to run an entire campaign for any open local seat they can find. Rather, as we are becoming adults and assuming additional responsibilities, we should, at the very least, understand we have a say in what happens in the city.
Regardless of whether you normally vote, contact your district representatives and talk to them about what issues are concerning you. They want to hear their constituents' concerns, large and small. If there’s a pothole that needs to be filled on your street, call the public works department and let them know.
Our elected officials and our city government can’t effectively serve you if they don’t know what it is that you need.
Sean Gilley (he/him) is a senior studying political science and economics with a certificate in informatics.