Soon after I hung some political signs on my yard’s fencing, a man driving by in a truck yelled out a stream of angry cuss words that basically went along the lines of “F you and your politicians!”
I’ll admit, I did feel some trepidation about putting up the signs. After all, my rural neighborhood is small, and I want us to get along. I want to foster genuine camaraderie and community without the weight of politics hovering, and I know that while some of my neighbors agree with my leanings, others really, really don’t.
It bothers me to have to discuss my politics publicly at my private home, getting screamed at in my own front yard. I just want some small part of my life — my home, for example — to remain a-political.
But on the other hand, no. Not possible.
The 2020 elections surely reminded us that elections play a critical role in the preservation of our democracy, which seems on the teetering edge. Politics determines what kind of air we breathe (that ozone is pretty dang bad in Colorado), the water we drink (it’s good because we have regulations that make it so), and some basic autonomy over our own bodies (need I say more?).
Getting involved means extending beyond the self, means being a good ancestor, means caring about the rights of a woman down the street that we don’t know but should support. Which is why being a-political is dangerous.. Indeed, to cede power to others because you don’t want to do the work of being a responsible citizen in a democracy is cowardly, irresponsible, and destructive.
The signs I put up happen to be for our attorney general and a county commissioner. These positions matter, even if we’re vague on what people in these offices do.
If it matters to you that a woman has the basic human rights of having control of her body, for example, then the attorney general race is paramount. This person represents the people of the state, such as in suits that attempt to overturn valid laws that have been enacted and put into practice, election validity cases, environmental protection laws, and yes, bodily autonomy protection laws. On this last point especially, the two attorney general candidates could not be more different.
While more local, the county commissioner choices affect not only my daily local life, but their decisions have enormous statewide ramifications as well. In my case, Larimer County has a three-member board and is the main policymaking body in the county, and as anyone in my neighborhood can tell you — and they will likely tell you, regardless of party — these decisions affect our lives tremendously. Whether it’s the noxious smell from the nearby dairy or the threat to the Cache la Poudre River from a boondoggle of a water storage project, the county commissioners have great power.
A good friend of mine is volunteering as a canvasser, walking around and knocking on doors in order to listen to people’s concerns. One of her main takeaways is that people seem to know very little about what exactly some offices do for us — for example, there’s a real lack of clarity about what the attorney general is in charge of.
“This means Democrats, Republicans, Unaffiliated, most everybody,” she told me. Like me, she’s worried that will lead to low voter turnout on this upcoming midterm election. People may not understand how critical these offices are.
So I want to say: This election matters. It is, in fact, of grave importance. Being a-political, not voting — that route presents a danger to us all. So I’ll be leaving the signs up – and filling out my ballot as soon as it arrives, and I implore you to, too.
But I’ll also host a neighborhood party, which is something this canvasser friend and my partner and I do once in a while. Set up a table, put out food, stand around a bonfire, have a beer. At the gathering we held last month, we talked about the local bear, mountain lion sightings, which plants attract bees, the volunteer fire department — all important topics and surely more fun than politics.
I had a most excellent time; I truly adore my neighbors. Everyone made an effort to keep politics out of it so that we could come together. I’m grateful for our mutual unspoken decision to leave it be. But I’m still going to keep up those signs, knowing we must strike a balance between maintaining community sans politics while standing up for what we believe — and embracing the fact that politics and elections are ultimately the best tool we have if we want to create a solid, just, strong society.
Laura Pritchett is the author of five novels and winner of the PEN USA Award for Fiction, the WILLA Award, the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, the High Plains Book Award, and several Colorado Book Awards. She directs the MFA in Nature Writing at Western Colorado University. More at www.laurapritchett.com.
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