Let me begin this with a real life example as an analogy.
About six years ago, my dearest friend Ginger* (*name changed to protect the innocent) were in Utah on a business trip. She was my companion for the trip because Frank was off flying all around the great Midwest. Anyway, Ginger and I had a wonderful spa vacation in Park City, Utah and boarded a black SUV bound for Salt Lake City’s airport at the end of our long weekend. Riding along with us was one of the sales reps hosting the event. The sales rep, Courtney, was chatting excitedly about our weekend, what she did, what we did, how she missed her kids, her husband, her hair, her clothes – etc, etc – but we were not paying attention to what she was saying. We were nodding at her, but staring wide-eyed ahead as we watched the driver of the black SUV we were in swerving, barely stopping at traffic lights and intersections, merging hap-hazardly onto the highway, weaving in and out of lanes on the mountainous highway, cutting off trucks on steep inclines and generally driving like a drunken maniac.
Courtney kept talking as Ginger and I exchanged concerned glances. Finally Courtney noticed that we were not engaged in the conversation at all, she turned in her seat to look ahead and realized that our driver was not of sound mind to be driving the car.
I wasn’t sure what to do – I didn’t want to make a scene, but I was fairly certain that this gentleman was going to drive us off the side of a very large mountain. After a few seconds of indecision, Courtney screamed, “I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM NOW!” Startled, the driver asked if she wanted to get off at the next exit and she said, “No, now, right now I have to go. Pull over.”
Cutting off a few more cars, swerving across lanes, the driver pulled over.
“Actually I don’t have to go to the bathroom. I need to drive,” ordered Courtney.
“What?” asked the driver.
“Get out of the car, I am driving. You are clearly not feeling well.”
And much to our surprise, the driver relented control of the car and let Courtney get behind the wheel.
We arrived at the airport a little shaken, but otherwise in one piece.
So what does this have to do with anything anyway?
When I look around at the State of Illinois, our world, our country and our circumstances, I am struck by the feeling that I am in the third row of an SUV that is on a collision course with the side of a mountain.
I have this feeling of helplessness that I cannot make a difference in the situation. That no one else notices what is wrong, and if they do, they can’t stop it either.
As someone who now pays more attention to what goes on in our government, I am struck by how many people don’t vote in local elections.
Why do local elections matter anyway? Local elections matter because they represent the heart and soul of our country and directly impact your day-to-day life. Water, sewer, electricity, trees, streets, parks, emergency responders, public safety, to name a few, are all handled either mostly or entirely by your local municipalities and taxing bodies. How each of those services is provided directly impacts your wallet by way of your property taxes, sales taxes, special referendums and service fees.
But even worse than not voting in a municipal election is not understanding, especially in the State of Illinois, the many LAYERS of government that provide services. If you live in Cook County, for example, you drive along roads that are maintained by the state, the tollway, the county and the municipality. Depending on how well the particular taxing body is doing, the roadways may be in varying states of repair/disrepair.
Pop Quiz – you know what town you live in, but do you know what township you live in? You should know this because you pay a separate line item of property taxes to that organization.
Until I started paying attention, I wasn’t really aware of the many layers of government that affected my daily life. And here’s the thing – the vague fog that I existed in is no excuse. I am an adult. Along with my husband, we are financially responsible for ourselves and our children.
Are we all busy? Yes. Do we all have a lot on our plate? Yes. Is it overwhelming to try to untangle the knot of taxing bodies providing services? Yes.
The problem with how many of us has been living our lives is this: we don’t care until it’s a crisis. And then we make rash decisions about who is best able to fix the problems confronting us without fully understanding everything that is affected.
Many people came out and voted for “Change” in 2008. Very few people asked, “What kind of change?” I’m not saying that I agree or disagree with President Obama’s platform or what he’s been doing while in office. I’m just saying that there were many people who fell in love with the rhetoric and were disenchanted when they found out what it meant.
And the media, politicians, and lobbyists love that we blindly follow the rhetoric without pausing to really understand the issues.
But with all of this ignorance, there is a cost.
I received my property tax bill last year and looked it over. It has doubled in the two years we’ve lived here, while the assessed value of our home has plummeted.
My righteous indignation boiled near the surface while I looked at all the line items listed on the bill. How could this be?
And I knew, without skipping a beat, that the resolution to many of my problems and frustrations started with me. The doubling of my property taxes is the price I paid for living in ignorant bliss.
It’s a heavy price tag, friends.
I hope that everyone takes the time to learn about the main issues affecting their community and to get involved. Even if it is only sending an email to your elected officials (you’d be amazed how many people represent you!), attending a townhall meeting, reading your local news or viewing the State’s budget online.
So back to my Utah car ride – I’m glad Courtney spoke up and took over the reins. I’m also glad that she was a smart, capable driver. She was the right person for the job.
Is the right person for the job driving the car you’re in?