Real life doesn’t work like it does in the movies. We all know this is true for a lot of reasons. But one in particular is especially challenging: Storylines don’t resolve into neat and tidy endings. That’s one of the aspects of movies that we love, and it’s easy to see why. The leading man proposes to his beloved, or the underdog wins the big game, or the hero finally defeats the villain, and then… roll credits. Story over.
Wouldn’t it be nice if life worked the same way? Alas, life insists that we keep going, even after the “happy ending.” Can the romantic couple deal with the day-to-day nature of married life? Will the lovable underdog play well again next season, under the burden of higher expectations? Can the hero help the city rebuild after the climactic battle, or defeat the next bad guy that shows up? Movies rarely address those questions, but they’re what real life is all about.
This challenge is particularly acute in politics, especially at the more local levels. Most people don’t follow the ins and outs of local and state politics; there’s too much else going on in their lives. They generally start paying attention when something big happens, something that’s perceived as a real benefit or a real threat.
When those potential threats or benefits arise, it’s easy to get people paying attention. Those moments are tremendous and inspiring. But they only right before a big event: a crucial vote, an important hearing, a major decision.
The good news is that when people show up and make their voices heard, our elected officials tend to listen. The problem is that once that key vote or hearing occurs, most people treat it like the climax of a movie. That’s it; story’s over. Time to roll the credits and go home.
But politics is all about the long struggle. Getting hundreds of people in a room for one meeting is impressive, but politicians know that a few months later, most of those people won’t remain engaged, and may not even remember the issue. That’s why delays are so common in the political process; citizens have short attention spans, and often, even widespread grassroots outrage fades away given enough time. (more…)