Sohn: Make your New Year's resolution to be 'all in' for local, national, global civic engagement

Close up of political voting pins for 2020 election on white. / Photo by Getty Images/iStockphoto/liveslow

It is about to be 2020. An even-looking year - at least in the imagery of numerals. Unfortunately, it likely will be a bit more prickly in reality, given that it's an election year and a time fraught with plenty of threats such as climate change, foreign interference and the whims of President Donald Trump.

But this time two years ago, in a year of less-rounded numbers, we urged you to join us in making the then-upcoming 2018 a year to make a difference, a year to stretch and learn, a year to vote.

It paid off. Eleven months later the voters of this country sent a 40-seat House of Representatives rebuke to so-called conservatives and to President Trump. The 2018 mid-term elections swept into Congress the most diverse class of lawmakers in U.S. history, bringing to a record the number of women in the House: 102. This new majority has denounced the inhumane treatment of migrants on our Southern border; made good cases for change toward a Green New Deal and Medicare for All; confronted big Pharma; even started paying congressional interns. They changed the Congressional ecosystem for the better and made it possible for the House to give full hearings and a throat to the impeachment of the worst president this country has endured.

And no wonder. In addition to Trump's misdeeds, his three-year, 80 percent "A-team" senior advisers' turnover is comparable to that of no other president. And, no, that tally doesn't include his 10 musical Cabinet chairs. Further, while Trump frequently brags about being a "great" jobs producer, he isn't. In fact, Trump has created 1.5 million fewer jobs than Obama. Meanwhile, the rich got a massive tax cut, and the annual interest on the now-soaring national debt will be higher than the cost of both defense and Medicaid by 2022, according to an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office.

Now as we're looking over the brink of one more midnight 'til 2020, let's resolve again to make a difference, to stretch and learn, to vote.

Both Tennessee and Georgia have U.S. Senate seats open in 2020 with the retirements of Lamar Alexander and Johnny Isakson. Georgia Sen. David Perdue is also seeking re-election. All of those seats - for now - are held by Republicans. We should study up and change that. What's more, all House of Representative seats are up for election again, and we want to keep the strong diversity brought by 2018.

While we're making a point to learn about all of these seats and the candidates who want them, we must not ignore our state houses.

Take, for instance, the Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly who voted last year to overhaul the state's nearly 24-year-old handgun carry permit law. In this age of very public and mass shootings, did they make us safer? Hardly:

Beginning on Jan. 1, Tennesseans can qualify for a new state-issued "concealed carry" handgun permit just by watching a 90-minute online training video.

The video replaces a requirement to take eight hours of in-person training, including live-fire training. That tougher requirement already has been fulfilled by the 631,000 people in this state 21 and older who now have permits to carry handguns either openly or concealed in public. Imagine what that number will skyrocket to in the coming year.

In 2020, 16 Tennessee state senators and all 99 state representatives are up for re-election. It clearly is way past time to show them the door.

But don't stop there in stretching and learning. Look, too, toward our county commissions and city halls.

Take a Wednesday morning off to sit and listen to a Hamilton County Commission meeting. (You can see the next one on Jan. 8 beginning at 9:25 a.m. when it is live-streamed on YouTube ( You'll likely be shocked at how little public conversation you'll hear. And what you do hear will often be rehearsed. Otherwise, how could those nine men and women, along with County Mayor Jim Coppinger, approve or disapprove in a matter of minutes complicated decisions like how much of our money should be spent on schools, the jail, police services, roadwork, sewer systems and the like?

Take a Tuesday evening and do the same with a Chattanooga City Council meeting. You'll find the live-stream links at The next meeting is Jan. 7. Google other cities and towns and counties to find out how to keep a closer eye and ear on elected officials across the region.

The new year - this new decade - will not be for the fainthearted among us.

There has never been a more important time for civic engagement - locally, nationally and globally.

Let's resolve to be "all in" during this coming year.