“Me, of all people, who can’t even vote,” she laughed.
At the time time, Farrell said she’s seen first hand just how important the political process is in the United States – and more, importantly, locally. When a community comes together with a shared voice and really pushes the major political leaders to make things happen, she said, that’s when they get results.
“It’s just one of those things,” she said. “A lot of people don’t think about the vote, and how they can make change. I understand that the economy is tough at the moment and people are running around like headless chickens, but here in Poinciana we’re starting to address our issues, but it’s a small core of issues with people working hard on them. We need people to say we are about change, and even down to local elections, if you don’t like what’s going on in Polk or Osceola counties, then go vote with your feet at the polls. Every time we use that collective voice, things happen. We got the hospital because we used our voice.”
The Poinciana Medical Center is now being built, she said, because residents pressured the state and their local elected officials to make it happen after the project twice got rejected for a state certificate of need. The same thing happened when Poinciana residents pressured their congressmen to push for a new, larger post office being built here.
“It needs everybody on board to make it happen,” Farrell said. “I know some people will think, ‘Oh, it’s politics and that’s boring, and I don’t have the time.’ But you need to make the time, because otherwise nobody is fighting for us.”
Farrell and Fernando Valverde are tackling this problem now. In a busy election year, they’re launching a Get Out and Vote campaign to encourage people to exercise their right to vote.
But they’re also taking it a step further, to encourage students who are now reaching the legal voting age of 18 to register to vote – and then do it on election day.
“I just got frustrated with voter apathy, so I gave this to Fernando,” Farrell said. “We’re just trying to get kids interesting in voting and using the political system they have.”
“Instead of politics, we call it civics,” said Valverde, who lives in the Solivita development and is active with the Poinciana Residents for Smart Change, a local civic group. “It’s not about government, it’s more about their own future.”
What he’s working on, he said, is “a series of artwork for print, and we have about five people working on the project, and the artwork is in the first drafts, about this, using the supervisors of elections for Polk and Osceola. It’s not only for youngsters. It’s about Poinciana, and getting the vote out. It’s not partisan, or for any candidate, it’s a public service. We want to stress that it’s a duty to vote, and if you don’t vote, you shouldn’t complain.”
Although 2012 is a busy election year, Farrell said Poinciana’s very transient residents don’t have a history of getting to the polls in strong numbers. Poinciana’s 10 villages cut across Polk and Osceola counties, and there are more than 84,000 people living here – larger than in neighboring cities like St. Cloud and Haines City.
But they tend not to follow local politics, even when it impacts them, Farrell said.
“The voter turnout here is appalling,” she said. “People think ‘My vote doesn’t make a difference,’ and if everybody thinks like that, then it doesn’t. But if you do vote, then you can bring about change. I don’t have a vote here, but I look at what people did in order for the people here to have the vote, and I wouldn’t waste it.”
She also hopes they can encourage young people to take an interest in finding out who their elected officials are, and then following what they do – or don’t do – for the community.
“It’s just to try to focus on the younger end of the scale,” Farrell said. “I watch the news in the morning, and sometimes Fox will go to high schools and ask who is the current president and who was the president before that, and the kids don’t know that. Politics isn’t hip, it isn’t trendy, it isn’t cool. The kids can’t relate to the politics, they just can’t, and the politicians seem to focus so much on the Baby Boomers because they have the money, but they won’t be here forever. You need to cultivate the younger generation. It’s certainly an educational process that I wish we did more of in our schools. We want to make people start to think, ‘Am I registered to vote, why am I not registered to vote?’ “
It’s also, she said, about getting them involved in what happens to their community.
“This is all about building Poinciana pride,” she said. “We’ve got a core group of people working very hard, but we need more people to get switched in.”