Nailah Brown, Staff Writer

At the beginning of the year, Mr. Hennessy’s AP United States Government and Politics class started a writing campaign to our local government officials. We wrote to four government representatives concerning the safety surrounding Hillcrest High School. As high school students, most of us often have to walk home from school. On Pulaski Road between 175th and the bridge that runs along Hillcrest, there are no sidewalks. It makes it especially hard in the winter due to snow when students have to walk in the streets to get home. By installing sidewalks in those areas, students would be able to walk home safely without fear of a car running over them.

We also urged them to put in guardrails on Pulaski Road along the baseball and softball fields. The softball field in particular has no fence protecting the players. With both of these fields running along the street, there is no protection if something were to happen such as a car running into the visitors side of the baseball field or softball field while a game is going on. Fellow students of Mr. Hennessy’s class as well as myself emailed the officials to be proactive before a tragic accident happens. Urging them to please exercise cooperative federalism, which is where nation, state, and local governments work together to solve common problems, and solve this urgent matter.

It has been over three months since we have sent the letters off to the officials and none of the eleven students, but myself has received a reply. The only government official who inquired more about the issue was Senator Michael Hastings. Out of forty-four emails, only one received a reply. I found it very interesting that the people that are in office received multiple letters concerning the same subject about safety, and most never bothered to answer. However, if an incident were to happen, who will be to blame? Could it possibly be the elected officials that we, the voters, hoped would listen to us? If another election were to happen at this moment who would you think would be the first to respond? The officials hoping to get reelected correct.

The people are ignored when election season is not around. We are told that we will be heard and that change will happen, but nothing ever happens. Small requests such the students asking for sidewalks and guardrails to be put in, is not that big of an ask. However, it is constantly passed over to the next official. I tried re-contacting Senator Hastings about the matter, but I was told by the secretary he was unavailable.

So what could we as the concerned citizens do? The people we are writing to probably mean well, but because the government is so large, even at the local level, it can be greatly difficult to weave our way through. However, I know that does not mean it is not possible and it does not mean there is nothing we can do to make our local officials pay attention and address the community’s concerns.

To help us get our voices heard, I looked up some tips and tricks to call for attention.

Usually candidates for office are intensely focused on listening to perspective of their voters. Once those few candidates are elected and officially in office, they don’t stop listening, but it can become much harder to get through to them and talk about issues that concern you. It can create a large amount of pressure for them to answer their constituents, people who live and vote in a government officials district or state, in a timely and meaningful fashion. Often it is frustrating for us, the people, to try to get in contact with these officials.

So, what can we do to make our voices heard?

First, we as the people must do our homework. Make sure you are actually dealing with the right office or appropriate elected official for the issue you want addressed. The same goes for knowing the appropriate level of government you must deal with. Often, people go to the wrong governing body such as contacting that state when the problem is a county issue. You must also document your issue based on facts, letters, laws, and examples, not opinions.

Secondly, you must be professional and understanding. Seek to first understand then to be understood. The fastest way to find yourself being ignored is to go in guns blazing, constantly complaining about how the government is inefficient and full of conspiracies. Most likely you will receive polite, curt responses, and your issue will never get resolved. Choose to walk the middle path and approach the conversation as a negotiation. Be professional, honest, and above-board. Offer your documentation, make sure you’re talking to the right people, and make it clear you’re looking to the office or official for their help resolving the issue.

Lastly, organize your community to amplify your voice. Perhaps one of the most powerful things you can do to make sure the government listens to your concerns is to organize your friends, school, and/or community. My class did it as an exercise, but this can be much greater than a class of ten people.

So, I ask you, whoever may be reading, to start writing.

  • Write to our elected officials about the safety of our streets.
  • Urge them to be productive and make a change.
  • If you want to see the area around Hillcrest safer for everyone, write.
  • Ask for sidewalks and guard rails.
  • Tell your friends and family in your area.
  • Write to your mayor, alderman, state representative, and senator.
  • Go to the source directly and attend the city meetings.
  • We can have public influence if we gather the masses.
  • #LetUsBeHeard and #HillcrestWrites
  • Hope to see a change soon!