I’ve been involved in electoral politics for ten years. I have heard from countless people over the years that they could do better than the people in office, and I always tell them to do so, run for office. It is way easier than you think. (As all writers are by nature, and usually nurture, lazy like a river, I’m writing this in advance of repeating that conversation over and over again in 2019 — the path of least resistance in 21st century dialogue: “I wrote a series on this. Here’s the link.”)
If you want to be a politician, it’s simple — run for office. There’s no prerequisite. If people like Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have done anything to our politics they have proven that literally anybody can be a politician. Go to the division of elections website for your state, county, city, etc.; there will probably be a fee, definitely a form. It’s that simple to get started. Getting elected is a whole different question (as is actually governing).
It may be a cliche but all politics is local. You need to talk to people. One word: volunteer. Attend your local community council meetings (or your local equivalent), get active in your union, attend church, join groups like Kiwanis, Lions, and Rotary; go to charity events; attend activism meetings on issues you care about (whether it’s Black Lives Matter, Pro-Life, 2nd Amendment, LGBT, whatever); meet the people who make decisions and the ones engaged in (and spend lots of money in) your community. You’re doing this so
- that you’ll get to know the influencers and thought leaders in your community,
- that you’ll find out what the issues your community really care about are,
- that the people who make decisions, the people engaged, the thought leaders, the ones who spend money on politics, and the influencers will get to know you,
- you can comply with the law as, depending where you are and/or the position, it may be necessary to have to collect physical signatures to even get on the ballot — having face time with these community leaders makes this process, and almost everything that happens in your campaign, significantly easier and more effective.
This may sound weird but you also need to learn where you stand. Governing is complicated, especially in the 21st century. Issues are more complicated than ever, chances are that your positions (no matter what side you started from) on several issues will evolve as you learn more about them and how they affect your community. You need to not only learn more about what your community needs but what they want. (These are often not synonymous.) Knowing how you stand on (or at least intend to comfortably answer) those community wants will help shape your message.
To run for political office you really only need two things: something to say and an effective way to say it to the voters. This latter qualification usually manifests as financial or volunteer support. As a gross generalization, your campaign needs money and/or supporters to get started. You need both to win, but to get started one or the other in sufficient quantity will suffice.
Now, money does not buy supporters but it does get your message out to help attract them. Supporters usually do not give you money but having them helps you get it. Knowing where you stand attracts supporters which then entices donors who help get the message out to solicit votes and more donors and supporters. Knowing the party bosses (we’ll talk about party politics in a moment), union bosses, church leaders, activist leaders, and/or community businessmen opens the door to the financial and logistical means to get your message out to attract supporters which then entices donors who help get the message out to solicit votes and more donors and supporters.
IGNORE THE PARTIES!! The political parties will be your greatest assets and adversaries in this. In this specific context, the party bosses are the kings and queens of influencers. The parties can be a shortcut to a full infrastructure of fundraising, volunteers, strategists, consultants, pollsters, contractors, and community/business connections. You want to get started quickly? Get with whichever party you feel is the better fit. If you can. There are many reasons the party may not support you; they want the incumbent to remain, they prefer a different candidate, they’re putting their resources in a different race — hell, they may just not like you and the county/precinct/district chair would rather lose to the opposition party than help you.
Get your message out and, if you have communicated it effectively, people will support you with their time and money. Eventually the party that most identifies with you will reach out to either encourage or discourage you from running any further and promising either support or attack. But don’t fall for the threat, don’t be afraid to primary if necessary. I guarantee, whatever party it is will be made better by your dissidence.
You do not need to be financed by the Kochs or Soros to run or win. You do not need the charisma of JFK or Reagan to run or win. Get active, talk about your issues, have solutions, listen to your neighbors and community leaders, and have a clear message.
And stock up on your vitamins.
Originally published at intheswamp.wordpress.com on November 30, 2018.