Column: The joyous (and time-consuming) work of citizenship

By Pam Pommer

Guest Columnist


“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” — Malala Yousafzai.

During most of 2016, all I wanted was for the damn election to be over so we could get back to normal. For a couple of years, it was very accommodating for the world to suspend any activity that could be considered newsworthy. Of course, Great Britain was impertinent enough to have that messy Brexit vote. And yes, there’s stuff happening in Syria and … but I digress.

The brutal election is over, and a new president has been inaugurated. But things are far from normal. As of Jan. 27, Gallop found that 50 percent disapprove of Trump’s job performance with only 42 percent approving. The remaining 8 percent apparently didn’t have an opinion or had moved to Canada.

No matter who you voted for, you’ll undoubtedly find things to be frustrated about. Once politicians get in office, some tend to forget many of their campaign promises. Sometimes that’s because harsh reality sets in, but other times it because they start caring more about their rich donors and lobbyists than their constituents.

Before leaving office, former President Obama wrote: “All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into … the joyous work of citizenship. Not just when there’s an election … but over the full span of a lifetime.”

It’s easy to think we’re already doing this by showing up and voting every few years. But that’s not enough. We need to follow politics on a regular basis and hold our representatives accountable to actually doing things to help our communities, states and the nation.

When you hear about politicians who are working on things you agree with, write to them. Even if they aren’t your representatives and even if you didn’t vote for them, tell them they’ve doing a good job. Likewise, it’s important to give them feedback when you don’t approve of their actions.

It’s not enough to just post messages on our Facebook pages. Take that time and energy and passion to contact your representatives. But be prepared. You’ll have to be persistent. Sometimes when you call city hall or a representative’s office you might get the feeling that you’re wasting their time and should mind your own business and just trust them. Don’t accept that, and don’t vote for them next time.

Start by looking up your federal, state and local representatives. Have their emails and phone numbers handy so you can easily and frequently contact them. While many Minnesotans know that Amy and Al are the two senators who represent us in Washington, far too few know who represents them in Congress. (Erik Paulsen represents the Third Congressional District, which includes Bloomington.)

As for state and local representatives, Bloomington residents can check online at the city’s website. Click on the city council tab and toward the bottom of the page is a link to “2017 Elected Officials – Federal, State and County.”

For those of you who got to know Andrew Carlson during the four years that he was a city council member for Bloomington, you now have a known entity working for you on the state level, representing District 50B. Sign up to get email updates from him. Know which committees he is on, and give him feedback.

It’s easy to doubt that the pen is more powerful than the sword. But then I think back to the old days when smoking was allowed in public places. In the early 1970s, my family began attending meetings for the Association for Nonsmokers Rights. We thought being around smoke was unhealthy, yet we honestly wondered if we could ever win a battle against the powerful tobacco industry.

Against all odds we won, and in 1975 the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act was enacted. And, we can win other battles as well. We just have to be willing to throw ourselves into the “joyous” work of being an involved citizen.


Pam Pommer, a graduate of Lincoln Senior High School, works and lives in Bloomington, where she enjoys gardening and spending time with her shelties. She can be contacted at [email protected]