Josh LaBella – News Editor
Political Science Professor Jonathon Wharton said while people find national politics sexy – not many want to read about what’s happening in their own town hall.
“We take for granted the notion that democracy can’t exist except for in Washington D.C.,” said Wharton. “But yet it’s right in our backyards.”
Last Thursday Wharton presented his book, “Democracy in New England: A Community Politics Reader” to students and faculty in the Buley Library Gallery. He said he was excited to write about local New England politics because of its effect on the early United States democracy.
“The nexus of America’s early democracy is in this region,” said Wharton. “And I think that makes us stand out. I mean we are, after all, the Constitution State for a reason.”
Wharton said citizens too often think that when it comes to direct democracy, the action of participation in politics, it is exclusive to the voting booth. He said he argues that it is much more than that.
“I call it the New England creed,” said Wharton. “This idea that is embedded in us, as New Englanders, that you ought to participate in some kind of way.”
Wharton discussed the decline in participation in local government, such as attendance in city hall meetings. He said there are a number of ways to participate that don’t involve voting.
“Voting is like eating and breathing and sleeping,” said Wharton. “It’s a function of our democracy but it’s not the only element. You can canvas for candidate. You can donate to candidates. You can volunteer for candidates. You can go to the microphone and talk and bring up an issue. You can write your representative – whether it’s at the local, state – yes absolutely national level.”
Throughout the presentation Wharton spoke about different areas of New England and how politics work there. He noted that someone’s hometown is more important to their identity in New England than the region they are from. He said he was trying to explain not only how important New England is to democracy is to New England but how important New England is to America and why it became the focal point of direct democracy.
Sydney Tyehter, a senior interdisciplinary studies major with concentrations in forensic science and pre-law, said she came to the event because Professor Wharton is a great professor and she takes a lot of classes with him. She said she never thought about local politics until she took his class.
“It’s totally just geared me towards loving it, in a sense,” said Tyehter. “I’m just like a sponge right now – absorbing all he has to offer.”
Agnieszka Bartoszek, a senior history major, also said she came to the presentation because Wharton is one of her favorite professors and she wanted to support him. She said her main takeaway is how low participation level in the American democracy are.
“It’s a shame that our generation especially isn’t getting involved as much as we could be,” said Bartoszek. “We really need to figure out a way to get people more involved.”
Wharton said when he moved back to Connecticut from New Jersey, he wanted to write the book as a personal quest to explain his connectivity and affinity for the region. He said he hopes after hearing him discuss the book people will reconnect with their town or city halls or even community meetings.
“Go to meetings,” said Wharton. “Go to events. Get reconnected again. I mean that’s really what real democracy is. So many people view democracy in other ways, but in reality, at the local level, its right there in your backyard.”
According to Wharton, he doesn’t know what it will take for people in New England to realize how critical it is to get reengaged. He said he has hope.
“I’m waiting for that moment,” said Wharton, “when people will reengage and be involved. But I think it’s easier than we’ll ever admit.”
Photo Credit: Josh LaBella