By Amy Drake
St Joseph County Council
When I was in my 20s, I worked at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. From my perspective, it was a glamorous life. All the big political personalities on CNN, FOX, and CSPAN rode besides me in the elevator. I dined at the same restaurants as congressmen and senators. My boss had Secret Service protection. He met with the president. I knew more about the latest political goings-on than the reporters and more gossip than The Washington Post. But then I left all that to have babies.
I moved from the nation’s seat of power to the Midwest. I raised my family in Indiana with almost zero interest in what happened in Washington. I was too into living real life. But then, as my first daughter was about to graduate from high school, COVID happened. The government imprisoned the nation. And yes, that got my attention back to politics. The political switch that remained off for most of my mothering years suddenly flipped on when my liberties were taken. All those political lessons I learned in D.C. came back to me. I wanted to protest. I wanted to speak out against the “experts” at public meetings. I wanted to write challenging columns for the newspaper. I wanted to assemble a group of like-minded people and use grassroots power to fight overreach. But I didn’t want to do it in Washington. There’s no way a mom in the Midwest was going to convince lockdown leaders Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx to flip. I needed to start with my own health department. The one that issued the first mask mandate in the state. The one that was severely abusing its power. The one that I had an actual chance of affecting.
So, I dove into local politics. I entered a world that few knew. Americans barely follow national politics and they certainly don’t have much to do at all with local and state matters. I figured if someone like me — who was so totally immersed in politics for my formative years — knew absolutely nothing about my own elected local and state officials that the pool of players must be small and operating without much input from the public. That is a truism. It didn’t take me long to learn all the names of my local officials, meet many of them personally, get their cell numbers, and start lobbying. I also started attending political party meetings. Attendees were the few citizens who actually followed local politics and worked to know the issues and get out the vote. What was advantageous about teaming up with them is that they already shared my foundational principles, and I was able to capture a big group of like-minded individuals at one time. My connection with them proved valuable, as they allowed me to make my case to them and they eventually joined me in my efforts. In the end, through building local relationships, we created a political movement strong enough to push-back against our health department and became a force for change.
I also finally gained an appreciation for my state officials. State representatives and senators always seemed so unknown, so inconsequential, such a ballot afterthought when the U.S. representatives and senators always seemed to be the glamorous stars. How little I realized, especially when I ended up needing them! As I fought COVID overreach locally, I discovered that we also needed to lobby the state when it came to school regulations, vaccine requirements, state of emergency regulations, mask laws, and health department power. That’s when I suddenly felt very lucky to have met my state representatives and senators, to whom I came regularly to ask for help, to tell them my perspectives, or to ask for an amendment to a bill. I never realized the power they held to shape laws until I needed them — and what a difference their involvement could make in how we live our lives.
Now, here it is 2024. I’ve been reactivated for four years. Since then, through my political involvement, I ended up running and winning in our local county elections. I am now a St. Joseph County councilwoman. Through the energy we created at the local level, we threw out the party in power that had run our county for all of history. We are now pushing legislation that is dramatically different from what it’s always been. We totally reformed our health department — and when COVID fearmongering started again this past fall, we immediately distributed a press release promising our county that we would absolutely not issue another mask mandate.
I am a living testament to why local is important. When COVID happened, many of us arose from our slumbers and woke up to the ruling class. Whether it was lockdown policy or masks or what kids were learning in school, we saw that not being involved in our communities politically had a consequence. Next time you vote, remember that your local and state elections do matter. Read your local news. Follow your local officials’ campaigns and their actions in office. Make sure you know who you want in place if and when catastrophe happens again. That candidate could be the one who determines your future.