Retail Politics

So, last night I decided to run for library board. This is short notice — I had originally started thinking about running for office about a week ago, maybe for next September, after concentrating on the novel for the summer. Then I mentioned it at a local political meeting, and was told that local elections are in April, so I should basically start running now. A Democratic party volunteer came to my house to inform me about all this; if she hadn’t made the effort, I probably wouldn’t have run this year.
Then last night I went to the Democrats’ open brainstorming session, and talked to some more people there about where they could use me best. They took half an hour to talk me through the process, and give me the arguments for running for library board or school board (the other positions in parks and village committees seem mostly stable at the moment, not in need of me). I talked directly to a library board member, as well as someone else running for library board (there are several slots total). So already, just to get me to consider running, several people have put in a few hours of work.
I decided on library board, by the way, because my impression is that school board is notably more contentious and time-consuming, and I’m really feeling like I want to dip my toe into the water of local politics, rather than jumping in the deep end. My kids are still relatively small and need a lot of my time, and I have a full-time job and novels to hopefully write. Library board is a four-year term, of about one evening / month (I hope I’m remembering that right).
And then there’s campaigning time, so let’s say roughly 50 hours / year to do the job (mostly in the evening), and another 50 hours / year to campaign and attend other local Democratic events, etc. I think I can manage that level of service; my impression is that school board would probably be close to twice that much time, and notably more stressful. Maybe down the road, but for now, this seems a better fit for my life. I’ve been wanting to do more service, and while I could go and volunteer with one of the many great non-profit orgs in the area, given my areas of expertise (English teacher & writer), library board seems a natural fit — something that I’m well qualified to do. I have a LOT of librarian friends to advise me, too. 🙂
The next step is collecting signatures; I only need twenty-five, but it’s good to have some extra in case any get disqualified, etc. So I’m aiming for forty. (Village Clerk, by contrast, needs 900 signatures.) I’m scrambling a bit to collect the signatures by Monday morning at 8:30. Apparently, while you in theory have a week to file, it’s important to be there first thing, because everyone who’s there first thing when filing opens gets their name put into a hat for their order on the ballot, and earlier slots are worth hoping for, because so many people just vote for the first name(s) on the ballot (oh, humans!). I’m actually completely confident of my ability to find 25 locals to sign for me by Monday.
I was thinking about Village Clerk, if I were running — I don’t think I know 900 people personally in Oak Park who would sign for me, but probably at least 300? And if those people were willing to vouch for me to their friends, and I had a little more lead time… I’ve lived here seven years now, and I’ve been fairly active in the community (more so in the last few years, as my kids got bigger). And it turns out I really like retail politics, oddly enough.
I love talking to people, and feeding them tea and cookies, and hearing about their kids and their jobs and their worries and what they do for fun. I like talking through issues, teasing out the different elements at stake, trying to figure out the best way to satisfy the needs of a large group of people. It’s fascinating. And while I don’t particularly enjoy being yelled at (cough, school board, cough), I think I could handle that too, if I were sure that my cause was worthwhile, worth fighting for. I’ve stood up to being yelled at plenty in the past.
All of which is to say, this is my bag. In some ways, while I’ve never run for office before, I also kind of feel like I’ve been training for this my whole life. Library board sounds like a quiet sort of thing, but with several million dollars to allocate, it’s certainly also significant. Libraries have been my haven since I was a small child, and as an adult, I’m very aware of how often they’re under attack. Librarians are on the first line of defense in protecting our civil liberties, so if I can help our library out, that’s worth quite a bit of my time.
Also, I think this will be fun. 🙂


3 thoughts on “Retail Politics”

  1. “All of which is to say, this is my bag. In some ways, while I’ve never run for office before, I also kind of feel like I’ve been training for this my whole life.”

    I think a number of us are feeling that way as we find our way into more active activist vocations this autumn…..

    Best wishes and thank you for doing this!

  2. Hooray! I hope you win–you are such a natural for this, and you are *exactly* the kind of person we actually need in politics right now. I hope this run works out, but stick to it even if not!

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