Common People are not Powerless

How everyday citizens can exercise political power

August 24, 2021

Somehow I found myself watching the award winning short film Off Grid with Thomas Massie and I highly recommend watching it. All that the film is is Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie showing off different parts of his beautiful farm and just telling his life story. While showing off his property he talks about how he went from having founded a tech company as a student at MIT and then coming to the decision that he and his wife should sell it to go live a better life on a farm was quite interesting and seeing the farm that he built was certainly something that should make at least some part of everyone wish they could live there too.

But the thing from that film that is most inspiring is how he got involved in politics. In my mind the word politician is synonymous with the word liar because doing so is the only way to make sense of what goes on in government. But, despite the fact that Thomas Massie started his fifth term in Washington this year, I don't think its fair to call Thomas Massie a politician.

Massie didn't start out life wanting to be a politician, he stated in the film that it was never his intention to lord over people. Instead he first got involved in politics in a very small way at the local level. He saw that his county or something was about to enact some sort of zoning laws that would greatly hinder his ability to operate his farm sustainably and affordably, so he wrote a letter to the editor (I assume to his local newspaper) which must have gotten published then he went to the public meeting where the county officials had allotted time for citizens to make their voice heard before they enacted their new regulation. Massie was one of only thirty people to go to that meeting and he was the first person to speak to the county officials, after five minutes had passed they told him that his time was up and he had to let someone else speak, but Massie was not done and one of the other thirty people there said that Massie could have his time, then as the meeting progressed all of the other thirty people gave their time to him as well because his letter to the editor of the newspaper was the reason they had come. At the end of the meeting the county chose not to pass whatever regulation they were going to because Thomas Massie told them not to, the most amazing thing to consider from this story is the fact that at that time Massie wasn't a Congressman, nor was he a lobbyist, nor was he a representative from some large corporation, he was just an average citizen seeking to protect his livelihood to ensure that he could provide for his family. Thomas Massie was the exact kind of person that government officials today seem to want to think have no power, regular people like you and me.

And of course this is not the only story of something like this happening. Because I am not a farmer, the part of Joel Salatin's book Everything I Want to Do is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front which I find most relatable was a story like this one. He was reading in the newspaper one morning and saw that the county had proposed some sort of ridiculous regulation or tax on lumbermills. Salatin and his wife had recently made plans to purchase a small lumbermill because they saw that it was an asset that could save them tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars but if that legislation were to pass it would make it so they couldn't do that. Like Massie, Joel Salatin went to the public meeting where they were going to vote on the legislation and ended up being the only person to show up. Before the committee had the opportunity to unanimously vote to enact the legislation Salatin was given the time to speak which allowed him to help the committee realize that the bill they had written would not only effect the handful of multi-million dollar logging companies they were targeting but it would screw over the dozens of regular people like Joel Salatin with small mills that only cost a few thousand dollars and could easily be towed behind any pickup truck. Unlike Massie, Salatin wasn't able to block the legislation completely but he was able to get the county to rewrite it so that he would still be allowed to do the things he planned to do with his lumbermill.

I often like to reference Isaac Asimov's book Foundation to compare the children of Trantor to people who don't understand the way that people different from them live, and often times this applies best when we look at how those who govern often don't understand those they govern, Joel Salatin's lumbermill story is a perfect example of this. But if we think about this it is a bit unfair to make this comparison because it is impossible for politicians to understand the needs, goals and viewpoints of all the people they have power over unless those people make those things known to them. Most systems and levels of government have some way for this to happen, of course some of these methods are better than others but it is important to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect government.

Normal people these days finally seem to be waking up to the fact that they aren't powerless. The American news industry keeps talking about violent angry mobs of people all over the country demanding that their children not be required to wear masks in school. And while (just like most things the media talks about) this claim is not true it is true that in recent months thousands of concerned parents and taxpayers have attended school board meetings to express their concerns about the policies that are being put in place. Unfortunately this is an example of an issue that has become so politicized that it is unlikely any of these policies will be reversed of revised, but it is good to see people trying to make their voices heard in a constructive manner.

But in order for people to be able to do this they have to be informed on what is going on in their communities. The American media spends a lot of time focusing on issues in places like New York, Texas, Florida, and California (although they're ignoring the recall election going on there right now). These are four of the most populated states in the country but I don't live in any of these states and odds are you don't either. I'm sure this sort of things happens in other parts of the world as well, while I was in the Philippines I never saw the Filipino news cover things that were going on around the areas I was at (although I wasn't spending much time watching the news).

There are several reasons that you shouldn't watch national news, I've written about a few of them before, but one that I don't think I touched on was that it seems as if national news programs exist to distract you from what is going on in their communities. Think about it, with the exception of a natural disaster have you ever seen issues specific to the city you live in the national news? I haven't and I bet most of you would say the same. This is a problem, most people only watch national news because they have been conditioned to believe that it is more important than local news because national news is more profitable for news companies (think about it, if you're selling a product do you want an audience of three hundred thousand or three hundred million), but your priorities are not the same as those of news companies. If you only have a half hour a day to catch up on the news it should be spent seeing what is going on around you or you will miss out on the same kinds of things that Thomas Massie and Joel Salatin caught and be unable to stop those things from screwing you over.

A few months ago the state where I reside voted on a bill that if passed would make it illegal for people to carry a concealed firearm. I'm glad it didn't pass and that I and those around me can still carry the tools they need to protect themselves and those around them in these troubling times, but I didn't hear about this bill until weeks after it had been voted on. I missed the opportunity to write to my representative to make sure that I did my part in ensuring my rights and the rights of others. Luckily things went the right way without my help, but what if they hadn't? I would have felt cheated and powerless just as Thomas Massie would have had he not stepped in to ensure he was able to do what he wanted with his property and just like Joel Salatin would have if he had bought his small lumbermill then found out that he'd have to pay more in taxes than he paid for his lumbermill.

We are not powerless, it is important for us to remember that and it is important for us to exercise our power whenever we see it necessary. Whether that be through set channels making sure government officials know how you see things and that they understand how to best serve you, or when that fails if it be through Thoreau-like Civil Dissobedience you can and should, in fact you need to exercise that power. We cannot sit and watch the world fall apart and do nothing to try to stop it we have to do something, even if that something may ultimately amount to nothing.