SOMETIMES, IN A COUNTRY as big as ours — some 300 million people call the United States home and about 37 million of them are Californians — it's hard to feel what you do or how you vote has any impact.
But when there's an election like last Tuesday's Measure H school parcel tax, a contest that, as of this writing Sunday afternoon, is still too close to call, each individual's role is easier to see. Because when all the Measure H votes are finally tallied, probably some time later this week, the parcel tax will be decided by a small margin, something like 17 or 52 or 43 votes. When a count is so very close, it becomes a little easier to see the impact of your action — or inaction.
As Measure H supporters, my husband and I joined dozens of other Alamedans last Tuesday calling and knocking on the doors of likely "yes" voters, urging them to the polls. We took the little green Honda and scooted through the streets of our assigned precinct. Remember, we told people, the last parcel tax passed by 51 votes. Remember, in California a parcel tax requires two-thirds of the vote to be approved.
"Really!" said one young man I met on the porch, on his way out, he told me, to pick up his mother.
"Yes," I said. "They think it will be very, very close."
"We'll go vote after I pick her up," he said, keys jangling.
Another woman, living just a few blocks from her polling place, told me no. "I just can't make it over there today," she said.
At another house, a man watching television with his daughter seemed disinclined to get up and go out to cast his ballot.
"It's gonna pass!" He said. "Of course it will pass!"
"We don't know for sure," I argued. "It looks like it will be very close."
"OK," he said, telling his daughter to put on her shoes.
No matter what you think about Measure H, whether you opposed or supported it, your appearance (or nonappearance) at the polls mattered. A few more votes one way or the other would have shifted the end result.
In this huge nation of ours, sometimes it's easy — for me, at least— to succumb to the feeling that my actions — or my votes — are inconsequential. But Alameda is not a nation or a state, and one of the things so many people enjoy about living here is that they can see their impact — delivering meals for seniors, coaching a sports team, volunteering for a community group. The positive results are right there in front of us.
And, while it's easy to celebrate the influence you can have at the local level, it's worth remembering that what happens at the national or state level is the sum of all those impacts. Perhaps you don't feel the results in the same way, but your actions are a part of the whole.
As has become quite clear in all the debate about Measure H, funding for our state's schools is unfair. Among other inequities, Alameda receives significantly fewer dollars — about $900 less per student per year — than the best-funded school district in the county.
People say, "Correct the problem at the state level before you ask the local tax payer." I challenge you to be a part of that solution, to put your voice, your vote, your energy toward that bigger fix. Educate yourself about how our tax system works (and doesn't work), and about the rules of Proposition 13 that constrain the way that taxes can be raised by the state as well as by local communities.
Instead of saying, "Let the politicians and policy wonks fix it," you be part of that change. One action, one vote, one letter, one e-mail at a time. As we're seeing in this Measure H election, your voice does matter. To all of us.
Eve Pearlman has two children in Alameda public schools and also serves on the board of the Alameda Education Foundation. She also writes the Alameda Journal blog. Look for more news, impressions and discussion at www.ibabuzz.com/alamedajournal