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It’s always easier to grumble and play Monday morning quarterback after the dust has settled on some hot civic issue, but, like it or not, democracy demands more from us than that.

With elections coming on Nov. 7, this would be the perfect opportunity to encourage everyone to head to the polls and perform their civic duty. Voting, frankly, should be automatic, so instead, we will direct your attention to a group of neighbors on the south side of town.

The Friends of Elgin, a loosely united bunch of residents who live mostly in the 1500 block of Elgin Avenue, seem to have figured out what makes democracy tick. Over the last few months these Forest Parkers have worked together to bring their concerns to the local government. Ideally, the government follows the priorities established by the people who put them in office.

Such a timely civics lesson is hard to come by, and we’re hopeful their story will prompt more people to accept responsibility for their community.

While the ability to cast a vote for the candidate of our choosing should be an engaging experience, the opportunity to vote only comes around every so often. It’s also difficult to infer specifics from a ballot. How is a candidate to know the reasons behind the votes they received? Was it their position on taxes that people were so fond of? Perhaps it was the promise to beef up public safety initiatives.

The substance of democracy occurs between the elections. This is when we can give very specific feedback on what we like and don’t like about our communities. This is the initiative being taken by the Friends of Elgin, and they should be applauded.

On the other side of this equation are the local officials. They, of course, rely on the community’s input to gauge whether the work they’re doing is the work we want them to do. Believe it or not, people who hold local offices generally want to hear from their constituents. They’ve chosen to serve the communities where they live, work, shop and play because they appreciate having an immediate connection to their work.

On many levels this should encourage us to participate more freely in local government. Not only do we have the chance to speak formally with our elected leaders at various meetings, we can chat with them while standing in line for coffee or on the sidelines at the Friday night football game.

It’s unlikely many of us will have these same opportunities with the candidates we elect on Nov. 7, perhaps adding to the importance of every vote. For our communities to reflect the values we hold, it is imperative that we seize every opportunity to make our values known.