My family and I attended a recent Maryland Democratic town hall in Silver Spring. We came excited to brave the cold and hear from Rep. Jamie Raskin and Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin. However, we left genuinely disappointed. I do fully appreciate the need for showing solidarity and lifting the collective spirits of those in the majority of voters who preferred someone other than President Donald Trump. However, campaign speeches in lieu of actionable recommendations may get cheers, but they won't get results.
If the political left learns anything over the next four years it will be the value of decentralized authority. The mechanisms that we derided and belittled when red states refused to abide by President Barack Obama's policies will be the same mechanisms that allow for "the resistance." Yet rather than a frank discussion of what those mechanics do and do not include, the Democratic town hall was a pep rally filled with campaign-style promises. One example was hyping legislation requiring the White House to obtain congressional approval before rolling back any Russia sanctions. Sounds great, except any such legislation could be vetoed, and it seems unthinkable that 10 or more Republican senators would join a veto override vote. The rest of the night was a hodgepodge of Twilight Zone-style statements on "taking our country back" and not letting the president destroy our democracy.
Learning the value of local politics is what's going to make the real difference, however. It is understandable that no elected official wants to stand in front of a crowd and admit that the vote to put them into the Congress is far less substantive than people think. Still, the best battle cry is to look to the state legislature as more than an opening act.
These officials are not the also-rans of our democracy, they will be (and likely have been) far more impactful on your day-to-day life than anything Steve Bannon can decree. When (not if) the Environmental Protection Agency is gutted, protests will be admirable, but it will be state laws that protect the Chesapeake Bay from toxic deregulation. When (not if) demands are made to turn local police into a deportation force, county rules will serve as the pushback. When (not if) the administration tries to mutate public education into a market commodity, there again local districts will influence the outcome. When (not if) Democrats retake the levers of power, they should be more understanding of Republican districts that wish to "resist." Certainly there are limits, but while local officials cannot prevent impacts of national law changes on immigration, climate change or health care, they can certainly mitigate them.
Don't get me wrong; I am ecstatic that so many people came out to support their elected officials. I'm comforted that so many wanted to take an active role in our representative democracy. However the message needed to be one of how your state legislators are your new best friends. Find their contacts at the General Assembly's website and tell them the current federal laws you want prioritized for Maryland. And while looking up your state representatives, Google your county commissioner and your city or county council meeting calendar. Show up and demand members ensure that the values you hold in national politics find a place in local ordinances. No, Gov. Larry Hogan won't get the president's tax returns to evaluate collusion with the Russian empire (and there is little to suggest he wants them), but for many other issues — from protection of LGBTQ youth to our melting-pot culture — the local legislator must be seen as a new hope.
Dr. Ian A Myles lives in Kensington and works for the National Institutes of Health. His email is email@example.com.