It didn’t occur to Shoreline City Councilmember Jesse Salomon to pursue politics until he was 19 and already in college. Though he wasn’t raised in politics, Salomon said his parents raised him to treat people equally, regardless of things like race and religion. This was the best thing they could have done for him, Salomon believes.
“There is nothing I wish someone had told me about electoral politics. I’ve been able to figure it out as best I can on my own,” Salomon said.
His career in politics began with his work in student government. He worked as a legislative liaison for the Associated Students of Western Washington University, serving on behalf of college students in the state capital.
“My biggest regret and concern is the influence of money in politics,” Salomon said. “The best way to fight that is to volunteer for campaigns. Volunteers are more effective for campaigns than money. That’s how you can have a big influence if you are not rich.”
Salomon said he encourages young people to figure out what kind of involvement works for them. He suggested volunteering locally for environmental causes, like taking out non-native vegetation and planting trees that keep salmon streams healthy, or tutoring younger students who are struggling academically.
Students can also organize politically by volunteering for the campaigns and candidates they like. “If you leave politics to other people, don’t be surprised if you don’t like the results, because they may not be looking out for what you think is important,” Salomon stated.
Rachael Markle may work for the City of Shoreline but, according to her, in college she was “much more into politics than she is now.”
Markle is the director of planning and community development in Shoreline. This means she implements the directives from the mayor and city council and assists the city manager, among other things, like implementing regulations related to development and construction code.
For Markle, involvement in local government used to consist of her interning as an assistant campaign manager for a Florida secretary of state candidate. One of her favorite parts of the internship was her weekly interviews with an all-Spanish radio station in Miami, where she would discuss the candidates’ opinions on the issues. “I wish there had been more emphasis in college on internships and career placement,” Markle said.
“When I graduated I had no clue how to write a resume or how to apply for professional positions in a field related to my degree.” It took Markle two years to find a professional position.
Shoreline’s Climate Action Plan is something that Markle wishes more young people in Shoreline knew about and were involved in. Information about the plan can be found on the City of Shoreline website at http://forevergreen.shorelinewa.gov/.
Also on that page of the website: an illustrated, 11-question quiz for you to show off your knowledge to your environmentally minded friends. The title of the quiz is, “Do you know???” (The Ebbtide added no question marks to this title.)
The quiz has questions like, “How much has the global sea level risen in the last 150 years?” The answer is, “Eight inches, and is projected to rise another 1-4 feet by 2100.”
Students who care about the environment can have a role in changing Shoreline.“Who better to know about and continue to influence the city’s future than local young people?” Markle said.
Her advice for young people who want to get involved in local politics is to “experience local government first hand.” Markle believes local politics are tangible, inclusive and that they happen in real time. This, she said, makes it more rewarding.
Will Hall, a Shoreline City Councilmember, said he “wasn’t involved in local politics other than voting” while he was in college.
He said he admires college students who volunteer to help with things like Math Olympiad and who organize charity fundraisers. For students who want to take involvement a step further, and possibly pursue a career in politics, Hall’s advice is: “Politics is only one way to serve the community. Service is the goal. Don’t enter politics for the sake of politics, do it only if you are willing to spend the time and energy to serve your community.”
Before going to Willamette University in Salem, Ore., Shoreline’s mayor, Chris Roberts, volunteered at the 1996 California State Democratic Convention. As a student, he did some campaign work, going door to
door for candidates he liked.
“There are many organizations that provide opportunities to work to advance legislation besides working with or as an elected official … policy organizations like ACLU, AAA,” Roberts said. Then he added, “Yes, the AAA that people use for free towing, jump starts and hotel discounts, or (groups like) the NRA that work to advance public policies.”
Roberts said he was impressed with the students he has seen come to council meetings to express their voices on the issues that matter, and with the students who organize and participate in community events.
The various methods individuals can pursue to participate in local government all have their advantages and disadvantages, but one way of changing the government— the government almost everyone has, but that many still squander—is to vote on a local level, to change the things many people complain about every day.
Roberts said all people interact with the local government every day, whether they realize it or not, from interactions with police to firefighters to trash collection, parks maintenance, sewage, water and road maintenance.
“Your city councils vote to set rates and provide levels of service for each of these services that we use and enjoy,” Roberts said.
Roberts also said he knows cities can “take the lead on policy issues,” which can take many forms. “The City of Edmonds passed a resolution committing to getting 100 percent of their power from renewable sources of energy,” he said. “The City of Shoreline passed a resolution committing to being a safe and welcoming city.”
Changing the world is a daunting task. So is changing the United States, and so is changing the city. Opening the ballot you were sent, and sitting down the read the accompanying packet and Googling some candidates should not be a daunting task. You may not feel a surge of unbridled accomplishment filling in the bubble for the candidate you think is best, but local officials can make big changes. Roberts said he knows that as long as the city is not preempted under state law, oftentimes all it takes is just one or two councilmembers to advance an idea to change the community.
A simple way to stay informed is to sign up for city-wide alerts about city council agendas and other Shoreline activities. The mayor encourages Shoreline residents to sign up for “Alert Shoreline” at: www.shorelinewa.gov/emergency/police/alert-shoreline
According the alert system’s website, if residents of Shoreline do not sign up to receive emergency alerts, the city still has the ability to send them alerts—if they are listed in the white pages and if it’s their current contact information that is listed. It takes about three minutes to sign up for the alerts.
Alerts will come to you in a text or email (you can opt out of receiving alerts for topics you aren’t interested in by unchecking boxes while signing up). Roberts also encourages residents to “schedule a coffee with your local representatives—we are all willing to sit down and talk with people about how to improve our community.”
It is easy to have good intentions. It is also easy to take out your cellphone and invest three minutes to better know what’s happening in the community you live in. Plus, if you do it now, you won’t have to remember to do it later.