Over the past week, I have worked at the Massachusetts General Court, the state legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The legislature is located in the State House, a conspicuously beautiful and majestic structure nestled in the heart of downtown Boston.
Unfortunately, the legislative session had just ended the previous Thursday. Even though I had known that well before-hand, I was unable to come to Boston any earlier. This meant that most of the important legislative work had already been done. Nevertheless, I remained determined to learn as much about the politics of this state as I could. In fact, the ending of the legislative session might actually have been a blessing in disguise, as this meant that the State Representative in whose office I was working in was now completely engaged with constituent services, precisely the feature of politics in America that I wanted to experience.
The constituency of my State Rep. is a city called Quincy (weirdly pronounced QuinZEE, as I have learnt the hard way), a few miles away from Boston. The city is famous for being the birthplace of two US Presidents: John Adams and John Quincy Adams. The political history of this small city is astonishingly fascinating, and well worth a read.
One of the highlights of my week was going to the Germantown Neighbourhood Centre for their annual community appreciation day. Germantown is a small neighborhood on the fringes of the constituency’s boundaries. It is a neighbourhood with one of the lowest income demographics in Boston and its surrounding areas. It was in this small community event that I felt that I had experienced first-hand the famous saying in America: “All politics is local”.
This is because of the amazing turnout of politicians at this event: in the hall of this small neighbourhood centre, among the 50 – 60 locals present, was a group of politicians, ranging from a Congressman to local leaders, who were invited to present citations (a certificate) to the award winners. They certainly understood the importance of being seen in the communities they represent.
A visual ladder of political influence emerged in front of my eyes, a real-life representation of the fundamental political structure of this nation:
Representing local, grassroots politics: a community leader, a district councillor and a representative from the Mayor of Quincy’s office. Representing the political structure of the state: my boss, State Rep. Chan, and his corresponding State Senator, Senator Keenan. Finally, representing federal, national politics: Congressman Stephen Lynch, of the 8th District of Massachusetts. It was awesome to see so many different representatives gathered in one room, a tangible portrayal of the pyramid of politics in the USA.
My experience of this event taught me about the importance of local politics in America. I feel that in England, where political matters and subsequently the political interest of the people is fundamentally centralised in Westminster, there is less political relevance and interest on a local level. In politics class, we often talk about the fact that most British people, in all elections, at whatever level, vote with a broader nationalised agenda informing their decisions. Certainly in the borough of Epsom and Ewell where I spend a lot of time in, political participation and interest among the locals is mostly concerned with national politics, and not local matters.
The man credited with coining the phrase “all politics is local”, the inveterate former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil, was coincidentally also a Congressman representing the 8th District of Massachusetts. It seemed rather poetic therefore, that it was in his constituency, a few decades later, that I saw the relevance of his words.