One thing to remember, despite the political community’s near obsession with all things Obama, Blagojevich, and the national political scene, is that local decision-making is sometimes more important. While it’s every young political junkie’s dream to go to Washington D.C. and work on the hill, many of us can be in even more influential roles right at home.

Suzanne Morse at Smart Communities had an encouraging post up a few weeks ago on young leaders who are attempting to make a difference in their local communities. Morse is involved with the Pew Partnership for Civic Change, which sponsors a program called the LeadershipPlenty Institute. Morse discusses the program and the many success stories and signs of hope she has seen within the program thus far.

…Despite the economic, energy, and health care issues we face, there are signs of hopefulness. We saw that hopefulness in real time these last two weeks at our LeadershipPlenty trainings in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Virginia. By the end of this week in these four sites alone, we will have trained 175 people from 60 communities to offer this skill-based leadership program in their communities. We concluded the training in Roanoke, VA (our partnership with Virginia Tech) yesterday afternoon. The roster of that training speaks volumes about who is interested in community change in our country. Among the participants in this train-the-trainer institute were two current (and one former) elected officials, a Chamber of Commerce executive and a Chamber board member, non-profit leaders from a variety of community development, arts, and economic development organizations in rural and urban communities, a person representing extension, three community college staff people, a community foundation staff person, two pasters (sic), a person who trains Vista and Americorps volunteers, a college professor, a Main Street director, a local business person, and two state government community developers. Now if you are looking for a pattern here–don’t. This group represented our communities in the best possible way. From a variety of perspectives, all of these folks want to make a difference, want to engage more people in the community and the region, and want to build on the incredible assets that exist everywhere. As we listened to their plans for implementation, we heard college students, churches, senior citizens, arts organizations, rural regions, and small cities.

Again, more collaboration, more pragmatic problem-solving, and more influence.

Kevin Bondelli has really focused on User-generated Government and next steps for youth activism in recent weeks, and one of the most important aspects of this movement in my opinion is increasing the number of young elected officials starting locally. School boards, county-level offices, city councils, and mayoral offices are all crying out for new, innovative leadership that target youth as a major constituency while governing. And while winning is of course the goal, the mere presence of a Millennial in local political dialogue is a boon for the innovation we’re going to need as all of our communities try to tackle new challenges.

Of course, running for public office isn’t the only way to get involved, as Morse listed several other organizations that are dying to get new blood. But the most important thing is to be involved in as many community-affecting decisions as possible and the conversations that surround them. In a very short time, we’ll be taking the reins of these efforts, building institutions, and creating new opportunities for collaborative problem-solving. We’ve proven our electoral mettle; now we need to try governing and citizenship.

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