Think Globally, Act … Not At All

Louise Ure




I got a research survey call that other night that stopped me in my tracks.

You know the ones. They only want “a minute of your time.” They promise it’s not a telemarketing call. Sometimes, if the topic interests me and I have the time, I’ll do the survey. Better my voice be heard than some Octamom with a fifth grade education, she says snarkily.

This time the topic was politics and it was a real live person on the other end of the line, not a recording. Those are both good things. Politics is a topic right up my alley these days and you can hurry along a real person, unlike the automated survey calls.

But then he started asking about San Francisco’s interim mayor, appointed six months ago when our previous mayor, Gavin Newsom, became Lieutenant Governor.

I blushed so furiously that I imagine the interviewer’s headset heated up across the wires.

I didn’t know the interim mayor’s name. I didn’t know we had one. Or an interim Chief of Police, since the last one was promoted to San Francisco Attorney General when the previous person in that position was elected Attorney General for California.

Sure, I voted in that election, but then it dropped clear out of my mind. It never occurred to me that my mayor was no longer in that position. That the Attorney General would have been replaced by someone else. That the police chief was also part of that magical game of chairs.

What was I thinking?

Having already committed to it, I bluffed my way through the interview, pretending that I knew the issues and individuals involved. (I hope not all respondents are as duplicitous and dumb as I was in my answers, but I do not hold out much hope.)

I thought I was a person who was voracious about staying au courant. I could debate either side of any argument (Should we build a mosque near Ground Zero? What’s the difference between taxing earned income and non-earned income? How does burka wearing effect French culture? Do CFLs pose a risk to American health or way of life?)  because I knew the facts and opinions from both sides. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a point of view. I just think that persuasion is most effective when it is the product of an informed view of  both sides of  an argument.

But where was I getting most of my news? From national and international online sites. I knew more about Pech Valley in Afghanistan than Hayes Valley across town. More about  the Kobe beef and foie gras sandwich at BLT Steakhouse in New York than I knew about where to go to brunch in San Francisco. More about the Casey Anthony trial than I knew about the July shooting by the Bay Area Rapid Transit Police here in July.

For God’s sake, I know more about the State Senators in Wisconsin than I know about my own state representative. Who is that, anyway? (I can tell you my congressional rep, but only because it’s Nancy Pelosi and she’s a pretty big national figure.)

I quit taking the local newspaper after Bruce died, because I could no longer work the crossword puzzles (an aphasia of some sort that has lasted to this day) and the piles of unread papers reproached me every week. I didn’t watch any local TV news in favor of some other, lighter programming that was on at the same time. 

Today, I don’t know who represents me in our state legislature or who serves on our city board of supervisors. I don’t know what new restaurants opened in the Bay Area in the last six months or what the ballet program is this year. I know where to shop for clothes in Sydney or Seattle but couldn’t tell you the same thing about San Francisco. I spend more time on the phone with Australians than I do anyone in California. I have more friends online than I have in the neighborhood.

I am a Citizen of the World, but not of San Francisco. I’m getting nothing from – and contributing nothing to – living in this paradise of tolerance and good food.

What ever happened to Think Globally, Act Locally? I know, that slogan was originally intended to mean that global environmental problems could be attacked with sound, local policy, but it should also hold true for other passions, problems and interests.

If I care about women’s reproductive rights, why don’t I get involved locally? If I’m a devotee of the Food Channel, why don’t I seek out those new places here at home? If I send money to foreign countries for literacy or food programs, why don’t I start by doing the same thing here?

I don’t make many pledges these days, because I know that I’m likely not to fulfill them, but here’s a pledge from me. I’m going to be a better San Franciscan in the future. I’m going to know what’s going on in my city and my state and when it’s important to me, I’m going to take action to make sure my voice is heard. I may not get a newspaper subscription again, but I promise to read up on the local goings-on online. I may even leave the house every now and again to enjoy this fair city.

So tell me, ‘Rati, do you still feel like a local resident or more like a national or international one? And either way, what is the one thing about your community that you most like or would most like to enjoy more? 


P.S. Oh Lord, while writing this, a second research survey call came in, once again about the San Francisco mayoral race. Ha! Gotcha’! I’ve read up on the candidates now.



18 thoughts on “Think Globally, Act … Not At All

  1. Sarah W

    I understand this completely. I not only work in a different city from the one in which I live, that city is in a different *state.* And I'm a librarian in the genealogy/ local history/city archives center there, so I'm immersed in information about this other place all week, digging it up and handing it out.

    Also, as part of my job, I index the daily newspaper of my work-city . . . which means I'm well-versed in the current politics and street maintenance schedules and school brangles and so forth in a place where I have no voting rights . . . but I have a difficult time naming the mayor I voted for *here,* and I'd have to google the current governor — though in my defense, the last one was Blagojevich, who tends to stick in one's mind.

    (Psst: didn't you ask for child-safe jokes the other day? What do you call a fake noodle? An impasta.)

  2. Shizuka

    Most of the time, I don't feel like any sort of citizen at all.
    I have pockets of knowledge about New York — good plays, restaurants, new shops,
    flea markets, interesting neighborhoods — but close to none about politics or "things that matter."
    International news filters in and I pay attention to the big wars and things like the earthquake in Japan.
    If some topic hooks me, like the cyberbullying related suicides this past year, I research it.
    The rest passes me by and for now, that's what I prefer.
    Somehow I still manage to vote in elections because sadly, I just pick the lesser evil.

  3. David Corbett

    Living as I do in the first major California city to file for bankruptcy, I lack the luxury of being apolitical.

    The politics is real personal here. Tensions between the city and its cops and firefighters — and tensions between the citizens and same — boiled over into some terrible ugliness the past few years, and I'm not sure it will ever mend.

    I'm taking a citizen-engagement course with the police department and so far no one's recognized me as the firebrand calling for a sustainable budget — i.e., cuts in wage and benefit packages before they swallow up the entire general fund. I'm hoping to stay incognito as long as I can, because I really do want to help.

    My favorite council member, a neighbor and friend, gave an excellent speech about the whole mess to a local taxpayer association. I posted it on my Facebook page just yesterday:

    Meanwhile, though I'm usually pro-cop and pro-union, this posting at a police union site, about getting weak-kneed union members to step up and agree to guerrilla tactics against elected officials who won't approve $100,000+ salaries for cops, struck me as a lot of what's wrong with the US right now: I want good cops compensated for the incredible work they do. But I also want cities to be able to address other issues than the wages and benefits of their public service employees.

    I'm working on a website that's trying to coordinate the neighborhood watch programs in town — we ballooned from 15 to 350 in the two years since the police force went from 150 to 90 cops (they went for staffing cuts rather than wage cuts in the contract they negotiated with the city — then blamed the city for the resulting rise in crime). Here's the website I'm "editor in chief" of:

    I think we're the tip of the spear. Sadly so. I'm a liberal, but I've learned when you cut back government, it forces people to get out and embrace their community in ways they wouldn't otherwise.

    Now, that's not all good. Some of these volunteers are talentless, semi-educated self-infatuated yahoos, and they'll be filing paperwork and answering phones and doing other work at PD HQ. Who knows how that will work out. There's something to be said for professionalism. But there's also something to be said for sustainable budgets. And even the competent volunteers are so strapped with work and family and other obligations, we just don't have time to devote to these projects as single-mindedly as they require.

    But this is the future. Or something much uglier.

  4. Louise Ure

    Sarah, you're truly a woman of two city/states. And thanks for the joke!

    Shizuka, I'd love to have your knowledge of local NY hotspots. I wish I had the same for SF.

    Ah, David, I knew about this long-standing crisis in Vallejo but never knew the degree in which you were involved with it. Funny how facts and reality can intrude upon our previous ideological stances, non? It's all going to be shades of gray from here on. Good for you for fighting for the cleanest shade of gray.

    I'm traveling today, guys, but will check in whenever I get a chance.

  5. Tammy Cravit

    I feel relatively informed about what's going on in my local community, but unlike David, I don't feel much in the way of ability to affect what's going on.

    In the past ten years, my city has spent millions of dollars building a city-wide Wi-Fi network that has yet to break even (much less turn a profit), has built an aquatic center whose final price tag was more than triple the original bid, has sunk millions into sweetheart deals with various consultants and politically-connected residents, and has fired its economic development director as a "cost-cutting" measure while proclaiming the "success" of bringing minimum-wage jobs to our community (opening a Home Depot) while long-standing local businesses are closing in droves. But for our mayor and city council, it's just business as usual, and all attempts to elect more moderate voices to city government thus far have failed. Meanwhile, public safety budgets are being slashed year after year, we have fewer cops per capita on the street than most cities our size, and a friend of mine who works for the county has seen furloughs take 10% or more out of her already anemic paycheck.

    Sometimes I wish I wasn't so well informed…I'd sleep a lot better at night.

  6. Alafair Burke

    I was saying, "Yes! Exactly!" through this whole post, interrupted by one "mmmmm" for BLT Steak.

    I think it's harder to keep up with local news in a big city. Local gets blurred with national. My "local" paper is the NY Times. Ten years after moving to New York, I still know more about current local affairs in Portland, Oregon than in NYC.

  7. Louise Ure

    Tammy, it sounds like you're on top of it all. So, whatcha' gonna do about it? I can see you running for local office.

    Yeah, Alafair, you're at the nexus of local/national/international. The only other places that seem equally appropriate are Beirut and Washington DC.

  8. Sylvia

    Excellent post. When election day comes around – do people really know who is running for the Water District Board? School Board? Not really. We vote along party lines because that's what we've been trained to do and we perpetuate the lousy 2-party system and overly ambitious extremists in each party.

    I'm partly guilty on this – I know the local players but sadly – I know why I don't like them and not helping drum up who would be better or supporting them. Yeah, I kinda suck that way.

  9. Kay

    Great post, Louise. Sometimes life happens, and staying current on restaurants, politics, whatever, takes a back seat.

    The League Of Women Voters has a great website and lots of info. I check in there frequently when an election cycle heats up.

    I get lots of info about new restaurants, shops, and other stuff on facebook. Sometimes the info has to drop in my lap for me to see it. I don't go looking for it anymore– just don't have the time.

    😉 Before I had kids, I had to ask a neighbor (my political twin) who I should vote for in school board and other local elections. Life was sooooo busy, and I didn't have time to stay informed. LOL

  10. Jenni

    Because of the way I grew up, I really am a citizen of the world, and I don't feel very attached to any one place. I like Seattle, but could easily pick up and move tomorrow and not look back. At the same time, I like to stay informed about many of the places I've lived. But because I don't really have a place to call "home," I learned a long time ago that when I get online to look at the international press, I also need to look at local publications and local blogs to find out what's happening in the community I currently live in.

    As a child, my mom always volunteered with either the International Red Cross/Red Crescent or with a women's service group. My dad also got involved in local community issues, partly through his work and partly as a way to get to know and understand the people in whatever country we happened to be in. Even in Nigeria, there was a Kiwanis group he was involved in. They're still very involved in several organizations and campaigns in their community. I guess their involvement taught me how to "relocate" whenever I move as well. I usually make a point of getting involved locally in order to meet people, "fit in," and try to give a little something to the community that's taken me in. In Anchorage, that meant volunteering as a mediator with a victim-offender mediation center that worked mainly with juvenile offenders. In Hayden/Coeur d'Alene, it meant holding an officer position with a writer's league and working with several campaigns (that place desperately needs active progressives), in Seattle, it meant volunteering with a neighborhood association to clean up neighborhood parks. I try to vote in every election and learn about the local issues. It is an effort at times, but it's worth it.

    One thing I love about Washington State is all the wild places: parks, hiking trails, mountains, ocean, desert; beautiful places to rejuvenate the soul. I think being involved in environmental issues is critically important to the state to preserve and protect it, particularly as the state has been selling off public parks that it can't afford to maintain. But one of my biggest concerns is Hanford – it sits on a major fault line, was sited on extremely porous soils draining straight into the Columbia River, and yet the site wants to take in nuclear and toxic waste from all over the country and store it there. It can't find a way to safely store the nuclear waste it already has, and it's an ongoing political/environmental/public health nightmare. It's not local to Seattle, but is to the state and affects Oregon as well, and it has potentially catastrophic implications. This is an issue that's been percolating in the back of my mind for a few years now, and where I want to focus some energy in the coming months.

    We can't fight the corruption in our local towns and cities alone (and I think corruption is the root cause of most of our global and local problems). The media, both national and local, tend to make it seem hopeless to act at all, but It takes the efforts of many organizations and lots of volunteers to bring issues that affect our communities to the forefront in various ways. I like being informed, but I agree that it doesn't always help me sleep at night. Still, if I do nothing, it doesn't help me sleep any easier either. Who was it that said the death of service clubs signals the death of democracy? I always tell my children we can't solve all the world's problems on our own, but by picking an issue, educating ourselves about it, and volunteering, we can try to make our own little corner of the world a little better place. 🙂

  11. Eika

    Citizen of the world, yes. New Hampshire? Not so much.

    But I try. I volunteer at the Cancer Walk, I know when elections are (and usually, by the elections, who's running where). And I'm a good national citizen, at least; I've already started worrying about presidential candidates.

    A toast: to improvement!


  12. lil Gluckstern

    I only know about Bay area stuff because I make sure I watch a half hour of local news (weather and all that). Other than that, it is national. I do check the Chronicle on line, but I get my nation and international news on Cable and the NYTimes. And, Alaina, you have good reason to be worried about Presidential candidates. I tremble for America.

  13. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Louise

    We live in a tiny rural community where you are not considered a 'local' unless you have several generations buried in the churchyard. I have more friends in the States!

  14. Judy Wirzberger

    Hey You! Hope your traveling is a fun, good thing. In my youth, I worked for lobbyists for free enterprise in the state of Missouri. I was ashamed to admit that my parents didn't know who their local and state reps were. Now I'm my parents.

    Ain't that David something!

  15. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    You have what I consider the best city in the world to be involved with. There is so much going on in San Francisco that I'm afraid I wouldn't get any writing done if I lived there. Maybe you can start by hanging out at Cafe Trieste in North Beach – a hub of left-wing local politics. A lot of poets and writers find their way there. Anyway, that's what I do when I'm in SF. But each neighborhood in your fine city is a little microcosm of worldly events.
    I finally feel like a citizen in my little beach town – I recently hooked up my favorite cafe with the new branch of Mysterious Galaxy, which is opening in Redondo Beach at the end of this month. The bookstore needs a cafe partner and I played matchmaker. It felt good – I felt like I was part of the community here. Not that I know who any of our local politicians are. But I can recognize the Mayor of Los Angeles on TV. That's a start.

  16. Sandy

    Your point is an interesting one. I live in a small town in Connecticut but spend five weeks each winter in Carlsbad, CA; and on any given day throughout the year, I know more about what is going on in Carlsbad than I do about what's going on here. Part of that, I think, is that Carlsbad sends out newsletters and police blotters, and my town doesn't. I do know all my reps, though, primarily because for the last few years I've had a lot to write them about. Sad to admit, however, that while on the treadmill and watching msnbc today, one of the US Cabinet secretaries was interviewed and I had no idea who the fellow was. I need to conjour the spirit of Mr. Fredericks, my social studies teacher from junior high (40+ years ago), who made us memorize such things as well as read the front page of the newspaper each night.

  17. Louise Ure

    Hi Sylvia. At least you know who your local yokels are!

    Kay, League of Women's Voters is such a great idea. I should have thought if it; my neighbor is the local president.

    Jenni, your community volunteerism is fabulous. (And you're right to worry about Hanford!)

    Alaina, good on you for already getting involved nationally. (It's New Hampshire's loss.)

  18. Louise Ure

    Sorry for the lack of my responses to you guys. I lost my ability to respond to comments about 2:00 p.m. PDT yesterday. Trying again this morning.

    Lil, like you I’m going to watch at least a ½ hour of local news a day. But I can’t promise that it will include sports.

    Zoe, you are the prototypical Citizen of the World! You fit in anywhere.

    Judy, It's not too late not to turn into your parents. Just follow David's example.

    Stephen, yes, there are so many wonderful bits of San Francisco. But you know what pleases me most about your comment? Hearing about the resurrection of Mysterious Galaxy!

    Sandy, clearly you are a Citizen of the Heart, following the news of a place dear to you, even if you don't live there.

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