The NJ State PBA has had a lot to say the past few years about the need for members to become engaged or re-engage in the political process. Practically speaking, an organization isn’t worth much if its members can’t be counted on to fight together for the causes and the people that control your day-to-day lives. But the call to political action means a lot more than just showing up during elections. In fact, there are a number of things members can be doing every day to make a difference in the towns where you work and live and in the State Legislature before and after the votes in an election arecounted.
I can appreciate that some people are distrustful of the political process or simply don’t like to get involved in politics. But being involved should not be equated with being engaged with the governing process. Being politically active means a person plays a role in the election of candidates for office or actively supports a political party. But being involved in the process of governing is a different, but no less critical, way of being engaged.
Now is the time, well before elections are taking place, to decide whether you want to make a difference. The State PBA is looking for members who are willing to take part in that process now. If you want to be on the front lines of an election to support or oppose a legislator who will decide whether you have a decent pension, health benefits and the right to collectively bargain a contract, then PBA President Pat Colligan is encouraging you to go to www.njspba.com and click on the “Election Volunteers” link.
Serious decisions about how you do your job, as well as those “pension and payday” issues, are on the line in the next NJ State Legislative Session, so it is going to be vital that Republican and Democratic Legislators, and their leadership, know the PBA was in the streets and is a political force to be reckoned with come November. Campaigns need volunteers and candidates know who was there and who wasn’t during the fight. The sight of a team wearing PBA t-shirts delivering literature or answering the phones is going to mean more to a candidate than you know.
However, not every member is going to be comfortable or have the time to knock on doors for a candidate, volunteer during a campaign or help to get voters out to the polls on Election Day. Politics has a way of turning very normal people into huge skeptics. That is both sad and destructive to developing the kind of government we all truly want. But if being a political volunteer isn’t your thing, then there is still a significant role you can play in making a difference in the governing process.
So what’s the difference between being involved in politics and being involved in governing? Some would argue there isn’t much, and, for sure, it is the two parts of the same equation. But you can still make as much of a difference by being part of the governing process as you can being part of the political process. This is especially true at the local level of government. Instead of sitting on the coach watching yet another rerun of Big Bang Theory or Law and Order , go to your town hall and sit in on a Council meeting. These meetings can be far more entertaining than any TV show, and, for the PBA, your attendance can have multiple impact. First, a new face in the audience at a Council meeting will get the attention of your local elected officials. I know from firsthand experience that after you spend months seeing the same faces that someone new in the crowd will make you pay attention to a new face. If you wear something with the PBA logo on it, that is going to have its own impact.
You don’t have to do anything but sit there and pay attention to the resolutions, ordinances and speeches. Learning the ins and outs of local government is very valuable, and you have a great chance of changing how you are governed by being engaged and, if warranted, speaking out when you don’t like something. Chances are, your local leaders, after seeing you, will say hi and you can introduce yourself as a resident, a taxpayer and a PBA member. They won’t forget you, especially when you start bringing friends. Every PBA Local should already be sending members of its Executive Board to sit in on these meetings and carefully follow what is going on where you work.
You can also play a role in the State Legislature just by picking up the phone or emailing them about the issues the State PBA supports or opposes. They hear from me and the State PBA Leadership every week, but a call from a constituent is worth its weight in gold. In fact, stop into your District Legislative Office and say hi. If your legislators are in, ask to introduce yourself. They work for you.
Whether you want to volunteer on a campaign or just become engaged in how your system of government operates, your activity is going to have a positive impact. While it is your “civic duty” and right as a citizen, it is your obligation as a State PBA member to one of the many speaking and working to preserve and protect the law enforcement profession in New Jersey.