By Matt Cosper
October 12, 2017
How much do you know about your city government? If you are like many of us, not much. There are a remarkable number of activists in our communities, but my fear is that a majority of us remain disenfranchised. Folks feel disengaged from the workings from their city for any number of reasons. Two that seem most prevalent are lack of information and a feeling of powerlessness, of not being heard. Some of these feelings are encouraged by the popular cultural image of government as a monolithic and faceless bureaucracy, indifferent at best and hostile at worst. One wonders how this narrative got started.
The key to understanding and participating in a democracy is contained in the phrase “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Government, when it is functioning, isn’t an anonymous force bent on restricting your liberties, but rather a system in which citizens work together to protect each other’s liberties from those who might take advantage. Government in a democracy is all about how we serve each other.
The City of Charlotte provides a staggering amount of services to the folks who live in the region. It can be hard to wrap your head around, and when you break it down into pure data, the logistics are mind-boggling:
- $2.39 Billion in the annual city budget
- 42 stations employ 258 firefighters, who respond to nearly 320 calls for service a day
- 388 police units respond to 1,600 calls for service a day
- 2,400 miles of city streets in Charlotte and 755 intersections with traffic signals
- 75,000+ people ride public transportation on a daily basis
- 107,000,000 gallons of drinking water are processed each day
- 88,000,000 gallons of wastewater are processed by the city
- 43,000 curbside households receive trash pick up
How easy to forget, as we go about the business of our lives, that we are surrounded by countless others who are doing the same thing. There are nearly a million souls in Charlotte, trying to make ends meet and 8,000 of those Charlotteans are working to make sure that the basics are covered, that the city functions. Undeniably there are problems, inefficiencies and real systemic injustices. To deny that would be folly.
Faced with the immense scale of operating a city (and the inevitable failures that will come with such an enterprise), how do we shake feelings of powerlessness? How do we resist cynicism or apathy or rage? That’s not easy and, to be honest, sometimes rage is a vital and legitimate response to the world around us. But the first step to effective solutions has to be a recognition that this city is run by people. Actual flesh and blood humans are making decisions and, generally speaking, they are likely doing it because they want to put a little more good into the world than was there yesterday.
In order to have faith in the workings of our local government, we need to know that our concerns are heard and we need to connect with our public servants on a human level. This is a fundamental problem and one that regional government has taken an interesting step toward addressing.
Charlotte City government is running an event series in the month of October called the “Meet and Eat Community Engagement Series,” it’s essentially a town hall with food. This series will host two-hour dinners with city and county leaders at various locations around the region, and will give people a chance to break bread and engage with their local government officials. Community interest will be the crux of this initiative’s success. How many people will show up? Will they ask the questions that matter to them? Will all parties engage in good faith? Can something as simple as food and conversation effect real change? The only real way to find out is to show up!
Drop in at one of the Meet and Eat events:
Elon Recreation Center (11401 Ardrey Kell Rd) 6-8 p.m. on October 17
Sugaw Creek Recreation Center (943 West Sugar Creek Road) 6-8 p.m. on Oct 24
The Park Church (6029 Beatties Ford Road) 6-8 p.m. on October 30
CLTure is proud partner of the City of Charlotte’s Meet & Eat series.