Monday 21 October 2013

Hands On Democracy In Action

Being Politically Active Helps You Become Part of the Solution

Written by Robyn T. Braley

Hands On Democracy In Action was written as an Op Ed piece for the Calgary Herald. It addresses voter apathy, low voter turnouts, and gives 8 reasons why everyday citizens should get into the game.  

Calgary, AB; It is finished. Finito. Terminé. Last week we learned who was in and who was out as the deadline for nominations passed. This past weekend municipal candidates popped the clutch at all levels. Bring it on, baby.

Close To the Action
Municipal elections are the most hands on of all democratic processes. Political futures are shaped for a lifetime of community service because the grass roots level provides a realistic understanding of how democracy works. Alberta candidates are in races to become our Mayors, City or Town Councillors, School Board Trustees, County Councillors, and Reeves.
A number of years ago, as the Sponsorship Manager for ACCESS NETWORK, Alberta’s Public Broadcaster, I put funding in place for a 4 part series called “Hands On Democracy.” The purpose of the series was to motivate qualified people to stand for elected office at the level which is closest to the people; municipal politics.

Elect The Right People
The message was simple. We need talented and inspired people to be our leaders. The complexities of a vibrant economy with all of the associated social and cultural issues are too important to be left to people who lack passion, vision or understanding. How well our local government functions is directly related to the ability levels of those we elect to manage our affairs.

Municipal politicians are closest to the action. When you bottom out in a pothole, you call 311. If there is not a satisfactory response, you call your councillor.

In Calgary, we’ve wisely removed the shadow of party politics. What candidates say is what you get. No toeing the party line.    

That is why it is important for every citizen to become engaged in the process. Get to know candidates by following them in mainstream media or through their social media sites.

Attend community forums to hear candidates in person. Talking to a candidate after a debate will do more to provide insight into how they think, communicate and relate to others than reading about their platforms in campaign literature will. Slick branding of their signs or website won’t do it either. Further, when you call about the pothole, they will likely remember you.

We Get What We Deserve
Sometimes, especially when there is a low voter turnout, we get what we deserve. That is why the minimum level of participation should be to vote. Voting should be mandatory.

I challenge people to go further. Volunteer for a candidate you believe in. You will learn a lot, make new friends, and feel good about making a contribution. Just show up at a campaign office and ask what needs to be done.  

Working side by side with a candidate will help you understand, “Why would anyone want to submit themselves to the aggravation that comes with being a municipal politician?”

The answer is simple. They care about their community. And, they understand the game.

Getting In The Game
Last week former President Bill Clinton responded in this way to David Letterman’s question about whether he’d advise his daughter, Chelsea, to run for office. “Politics,” he observed, is like football. If you are going to run the ball, you will be tackled. It’s all about strategies, plays, and counter plays. If you don’t want to get tackled, stay on the sidelines.”  

But, there is the other side. Politics can be fun. I enjoyed the opportunity to sit on former MP Art Hanger’s constituency board along with provincial committees from 2,000 to 2,006.
Those were the days of the United Alternative, the DRC, and the drama leading up to the formation of today’s Conservative Party of Canada. My line was that I was involved in Church for ministry, Rotary for community service, and politics for entertainment.   
Pick a candidate.

Get out there and have some fun.

By getting involved you will…  
1.     Learn how local government works. Or doesn’t.
2.     Understand the issues in your community.
3.     Discuss hot-button topics with your neighbors.
4.     Become aware of the broad services available in your community.
5.     Discover how to get involved in the process.  
6.     Acquire useful new skills during the campaign. 
7.     Make many new friends.
8.     Feel like you’ve made a meaningful contribution. 

Robyn T. Braley is a writer, speaker and music composer. He is the President of UniMark Creative which focuses on website design, video production, media services (editorial and advertising), and graphic design. Contact him at or


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