When I arrived at the office one recent morning, an e-mail from a "concerned citizen" was awaiting my eyes in my inbox. In that e-mail, a Jackson resident expressed her outrage at an incident she and her husband had witnessed on their way to church the previous day. She gave a detailed accountincluding a car-tag number and vehicle descriptionof a man removing yard signs endorsing a Jackson mayoral candidate. "This man must have removed 20 signs," she wrote. "My husband and I felt like it was our civic duty to report this to someone."
Although it turned out that the man she described worked for the campaign of that candidate, and he was removing the signs because they did not adhere to city restrictions, I found the concern of this "concerned citizen" refreshing. This woman and her husband witnessed what appeared to be an obvious wrong, and did what they thought was right. Even a small act as this reminds me that we all have a civic duty to correct wrongs and be the eyes of the city when law enforcement officers and elected officials aren't present.
And even when they are.
It was a lack of sufficient concern and/or civic duty that enabled Mayor Frank Melton to ride around the city for so long tearing down homes and intimidating those who might have challenged him. There are still Jackson residents who call themselves "Melton supporters" because they think the mayor is a modern-day cowboy ridding the city of its filth by any means necessary. Even if Jackson's crime had seen a sharp decrease (which it did not), it would have been at the cost of its citizensand that's not right. By turning a blind eye to wrongs, we condone them, and we open the door to be exploited.
Last week, as the deadline for filing candidacy papers for city elections approached, the list of names running for public office grew larger and larger. It felt like every week brought a new candidacy announcement. And not only were candidates coming out in high numbers, but each also seemed to have less political experience than the last.
With each new name, I grew more cynical. "Is all of Jackson going to run for city office?" I thought.
It reminded me of a discussion I had with a friend during the presidential election. Looking at our options for the two primaries, he was disappointed in the lack of diversity among the candidates. Heand I, toowere tired of politics as usual where political decisions are like a game; where rhetoric and manipulation take the place of candid speech and honesty. Not wanting to give his support half-heartedly to one candidate over another who essentially had the same platform, he expressed his wish that more people with unique ideas run for the highest office in the land.
"I'd rather see 200 people on the ballot," he told me.
I matter-of-factly told him that didn't make sense, and that with such a great number of candidates the American people would only be further divided. Corporate media would only cover the "frontrunners" anyway, so even if there were other good candidates, their voices would never be heard.
A few weeks ago, a young man running for the Ward 6 city council seat stopped by the office to drop off some campaign information. He had never been involved in politics, but from the time he walked through our doors from the time he left, he talked about growing up and living in South Jackson and what he wanted to see happen in the area. He candidly talked about the bus system and youth programs and business development and community policing. He was overflowing with excitement and empowered to do what he deemed necessary and right for Jackson.
I don't know if the city's recent history has been a factor, but record numbers of citizens are excited and inspired to serve their city. They are filled with civic pride and duty, and that in turn excites me about the upcoming city election.
Looking back on that discussion with my friend, I realize I was wrong. While it has been customary for people to make their careers as politicians, public office is not only for an elite group of people who don't know when to pass the torch. Public office should be a revolving door that allows change and new ideas to filter throughnot a family business. For true change to occur, citizens have to be willing to stand up for what is right, and work with others to end wrongs. Candidates who don't have that motive will disappoint us.
Just minutes before the filing deadline on Friday, JFP Editor Donna Ladd received word that former District Attorney Faye Peterson had just filed her papers to run for mayor. When reporter Adam Lynch asked Peterson why she was running, she replied: " just believe that I can get this city to turn around."
We can all turn this city around together by recognizing our civic duty and holding public servants accountable for their actions. With an attitude of service sprung from concern, I believe we are positioned for an exciting election season with many possibilities.
Follow daily city election news and tweets at http://www.jfpelectionblog.com. Read and post to candidate pages at http://www.jackpedia.com.
I've long been a disgruntled citizen of the metro area but I found your note inspiring. I think a lot of us who up until recently have been the Monday morning quarterbacks of the political system have been greatly encouraged by the revival in the spirit of our communities. On a broader note, I'm a new reader of the JFP and I'm thrilled to see that advocacy journalism is alive and well. So many of the big papers have subtle biases but try to pass themselves off as just reporting the facts. It's good to know there are papers that honor the good of our society, call out the bad, and offer sincere perspectives.