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A Way Forward 

Five things we can (and must) do without Washington, D.C.

  • Caleb Walsh illustration

For those of us who believe in basic federal policies to protect our individual liberties, communities and planet, the result of this year's presidential race is disheartening. We're going to need to play defense federally, but every good defense also needs a great offense. That offense now needs to play out locally more than ever. To start, here are five areas where we can make a difference.

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1. Police reform to ensure our civil rights. When it comes to protecting our civil liberties, some of the most important decisions are how laws are enforced within our neighborhoods. This starts with great police officers, and we need more young idealistic people to join the force, where they can help reinforce and build new community-minded cultures from the inside. We also need to pass laws to increase use of body cams, fund community policing and provide training to diminish racial bias.

2. Transportation policy to fight climate change. With coal plants closing down across the country, carbon pollution emissions from transportation are quickly becoming the largest contributor to climate change. The good news is that our transportation systems are largely designed and constructed at the local level. Whether it's voting for new transit, increasing safe routes to schools so kids can walk and bike, or building our neighborhoods so fewer miles need to be traveled from home to work, there's a lot we can do at the city and state level to redesign our transportation system and save the planet.

3. Education to improve reproductive health. Sex ed is perhaps somewhat ironically one of the least sexy policy topics, but it has a profound impact for the better on people's lives. We need to end ineffective abstinence-only education, which has actually been shown to harm teens' health. Instead we need universal comprehensive sex education, which has been proven to reduce unwanted pregnancy and sexual transmitted diseases, and actually delay when teens choose to have sex. While we're teaching kids the facts, let's also make sure they get educated about science, including evolution and climate change. All of this can be done by our local school boards.

4. Local ordinances to protect LGBT citizens. We're long overdue for federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression/identity in employment, housing, education and public accommodations. What that means is in many parts of the country, someone can get married to their partner on the weekend and be fired from their job on Monday for being with who they love. But we don't have to wait for Congress to protect people today. Washington already has statewide protections in place, but in Idaho only about a third of people live in communities that have passed anti-discrimination ordinances. Let's keep passing laws at the local level while continuing to pursue statewide and ultimately federal protections.

5. Organize for the present and the future. It's true that government is too often out of touch with us. Unfortunately, that's often because we're out of touch with government. None of the presidential candidates received nearly as many votes as the number of people who chose not to vote at all. The numbers become even more dismal at the local level. Let's change that next year, when we vote in many local elections in Washington and Idaho. But it's not just elections we've been neglecting. Few of us bother to make a phone call or send an email or attend a town hall. Even fewer of us show up to city council and school board meetings. So show up, but don't settle for just having your voice heard. Gather your friends and neighbors, even the ones you disagree with, and talk about the future you want to see, and then (peacefully) demand it. ♦

John T. Reuter, a former Sandpoint City Councilman, has been active in protecting the environment, expanding LGBT rights and Idaho's GOP politics.


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