The Value of Local

The Value of Local

Have you noticed how much value we find in localness these days?

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Have you noticed how much value we find in localness these days?

We search out fruit and vegetables that are locally grown. We favor stores and restaurants in our local area, and do what we can to help the local business community to thrive. We think carefully about the kinds of businesses we’d like to support in our local area, about the mix that’s just right for us. We enjoy our local beaches and we walk our local parks and hike the nearby hills.

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Kansas University’s Community Toolbox defines a local community as a group of people who know one another, and share common cultural assumptions, interests, concerns, and goals, largely because they live together in the same neighborhood. In communities, we experience families and neighbors, familiar places, a daily rhythm, social systems and customs we understand.

There are two interests that do not favor the nuance and distinctiveness of local neighborhoods and their communities. Those are big business and big government. Big business has concentrated more and more on the power of sheer size, and on what they call economies of scale. There are big banks that don't care about local communities: in California, the top 5 national banks do most of the lending, and take the profit back to their out-of-state headquarters. There are big technology companies, who make a significant amount of their revenues overseas and keep a large part of their profits there, instead of bringing them back to California and California’s local communities.

The second opposed interest is big politics. You might expect that our California politicians would work to help strengthen our local communities. They don’t, because they don’t have the incentive. First, their districts are not local; they are huge million- citizen (for Senate districts) and half-million-citizen (for Assembly districts) conglomerations that lose all sense of local cohesion because they ramble so far. Take Assembly District 38, for example. It covers two counties: Los Angeles County and Ventura County. It includes the leafy and friendly suburban middle class neighborhoods of Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, and Simi. It also includes the boomburg of Santa Clarita, and the upscale Porter Ranch. Did all these Californians move into the 38th district to share common culture, interests, concerns, and goals? It seems unlikely.

How can a state assembly member represent a district like the 38th? The answer is, it can’t be done and it isn’t even intended by our political system. The current system works because of the big political money machine: big business, concentrated economic interests like unions, heavily funded pressure groups like Sierra Club, political parties, and plutocratic Political Action Committees all combining to allocate big money to the election of California’s state senators and assembly members. Those elected officials don't listen to their constituents; they don't even know them. They don’t have to. All they have to do is raise big funds from the big political machine, run their TV ads and then, once elected, follow the instructions of their paymasters. They don't need to know the different concerns of Moorpark in Ventura County and Santa Clarita in Los Angeles County. They don't even have to go there.

In the Neighborhood Legislature, elected officials will represent constituencies of 5,000 people (Assembly) and 10,000 people (Senate). Neighborhood Legislature candidates won’t be able to ignore their constituents. Television advertising campaigns with their empty slogans devised by consultants will no longer be a viable form of election campaigning. Candidates will campaign door-to-door and in neighborhood halls. They’ll meet voters in the supermarket and the church. They’ll know their constituents’ hopes and concerns and they will represent them accurately. Localness will once again be valued in California politics.

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