I am a San Antonio native, one of the suburban kids that discovered downtown by accident only after leaving the city for almost a decade. In 2011, I learned of a position at Hemisfair and was intrigued by the grassroots effort to turn my hometown into the type of urban wonderland my peers move cross-country to find.
It’s a move back home that I’ll never regret. The experience was both humbling and empowering—it bonded me with the local community and inspired me to serve outside the office as well. For the first time in my life, I’ve been engaged, invested in, and connected to the place I live.
But we are only given one life and must make it count. That’s why I’m packing up again and leaving the city I love right in the middle of the most exciting transformation in San Antonio’s history.
This time I won’t stay gone for a decade. The plan now is to return home as fast as I can with new tools that will enable me to make a more significant contribution to this city’s transformation. I’m moving to Washington, D.C. to earn a master’s degree in global communications from George Washington University during the evening, and to work for Congressman-elect Will Hurd during the day.
The end goal is to be prepared to shape public opinion on political endeavors and publicly funded initiatives that can greatly impact our community. Imagine how strategic public relations could have affected the outcome of the streetcar project, for example, or how our city is perceived nationally? How about how our city is perceived locally? In an ideal world, those would be the types of campaigns I will get to work on some day.
San Antonio has made so much progress in the past few years, it feels so different than the small, sleepy town of my adolescent and teen years. The increasing residential housing stock in and near downtown has made an urban lifestyle more possible than ever, and is attracting new residents from near and far. Our food scene is flourishing, with inventive and affordable eateries, farmers markets, and food festivals throughout the year. Our craft beer and cocktail scene is exploding.
We are supporting visionary public improvements to the Mission and Museum Reach, Hemisfair, San Pedro Creek, and the like. An art aficionado could very easily visit art galleries at the Blue Star Arts Complex, colonial architecture at the Missions, a live performance at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, and the Saga art installation at the San Fernando Cathedral by bicycle in one day. San Antonio is happening.
I’m sad to leave in amid so much action. The momentum is electric and tangible, and it’s more important than ever to keep it going. If I have learned one thing during my most recent tenure in San Antonio, it’s that my voice and your voice can actually make a real difference here.
In a city of a nearly 1.5 million people, yet very few participate politically. Less than 8% of registered voters participated in the last city elections in 2013, and less than 7% voted in the mayor’s face. That’s fewer than 45,000 voters in a city that often asserts its rank as seventh most populous in the nation. City council races are often decided by a few hundred votes with only a few thousand people voting in each district.
Of this small percentage of people that vote, an even smaller percentage actually communicates with their representatives or voices support for initiatives. While this may seem bleak, it’s also a major opportunity to be heard. Your civic participation (and vote) go very far here.
To ensure that the momentum continues, I challenge everyone, but especially younger generations, to fill the gap and become civically active in increasing numbers. Make it your New Year’s Resolution. Get involved in your community. There should be more young professionals in leadership positions city-wide, both elected and appointed: on local city councils, neighborhood associations, and in board seats for chambers of commerce, school districts, and redevelopment projects. How can we expect our vision to become a reality here if we don’t have representation?
If we want San Antonio to stay on a progressive path, we must engage, lead, and offset the usual vocal minority. There are many other meaningful opportunities to engage beyond the voting booth: volunteer for a campaign, help send letters of support for a community organization, attend public meetings.
Voting regularly and as an informed citizen in every local election should be the bare minimum standard we set for ourselves. The outcome of local elections affect each one of us on a daily basis: what projects get funded, whether the city invests in alternative transit, and where our taxes go. During low turnout elections your vote counts more than ever.
As I prepare to leave town, I’m hopeful for San Antonio and excited for the future. I can’t wait to return during breaks to see Hemisfair redevelop and new businesses pop up. Most of all, I look forward to a new generation of leaders stepping up to the plate to carry out the vision for a better San Antonio. I hope you all accept my challenge and use your voices to influence the political agenda. Together, we can accomplish great things.
*Featured/top image: Rachel Holland working for Rep.-elect Will Hurd’s campaign. Courtesy photo.