I don’t know how introverts ever run for office. Maybe they don’t. I am still trying to wrap my head around how being a public servant requires a goodly portion of the job to be campaigning (and a goodly portion of campaigning is fundraising). The sheer number of hours you spend meeting people has startled me. Of course, it makes sense that if you want to represent people’s interests, then talking to them and finding out what those interests are is a necessary first step. I just never really thought about how much of a politician’s time went to that.
I think my academic training has sort of led me astray, as I’ve tended to think of a politician’s job as being in large part about shaping policy, based on what you, as a person, believe in and stand for. I was envisioning reading a lot of briefing reports. I’m coming to understand that shaping policy is phase two — first, you have to know what the people actually want. And then there’s an interesting process of figuring out how to help people with their problems while also staying true to what you believe and stand for.
For example, in our neighborhood, some of the complaints the library regularly got were about the number of homeless people who tended to spend their days there, especially in winter. Okay, so there’s an issue. Now you figure out what percentage of people care about it — is this a widespread concern, or just one or two people sounding off? And if widespread, what are the avenues for addressing it?
This is where your own ideals come in — from where I stand, with a strong concern for marginalized populations, it would be important to me to think of the homeless populations as library patrons too — even if they’re primarily coming in for the warmth the library provides in winter. Once you reframe the problem as one of serving the library’s homeless patrons, then it makes sense to think that what they need is a social worker who can help them access the services they need (possibly elsewhere, such as with Housing Forward, a local homeless nonprofit).
A politician with a different set of beliefs might address the same problem by mentally dividing the library into patrons (the ones who are paying taxpayers) and nuisances (the homeless), and then see the route to solving the problem as one of enforcement — hiring more security to keep the homeless out of the building. Both hiring a social worker and hiring security cost money — which one you choose reflects your priorities as a politician. This is the part about why people vote for you — in these conversations, I’m trying to make clear what I stand for, so that the voters can decide whether the route I take to trying to solve their problem is the one they’d want.
I’ve found it really worthwhile, talking to Oak Parkers — library patrons, librarians, trustees, etc. the last few months. I’ve learned a lot already about their library usage and their concerns, and have developed my own thoughts on where I’d like to see the library go, going forward. I think it’s key to recognize, if you want to be a politician, that the time you spend campaigning isn’t just about promoting yourself (which would, I think, be sort of soul-deadening to do for months on end). That a lot of that time is incredibly valuable, because it gives you the information you need on what people’s real concerns are, and also allows you time to think about and develop your own responses to those concerns. The work of governing starts here, on the campaign trail, long before you’re ever elected into office.
All of which makes it easier to face days that are packed with events. The book I’ve been reading, on how to be elected to local office, recommends that the candidate do a local event every single day they’re campaigning. That is a lot of shaking hands, a lot of talking to people. I am extroverted enough to enjoy that — I generally have been having a tremendous amount of fun at the various events I’ve been going to. But I also do need down time to recharge, which is why I’m planning to spend a few hours in the basement today, walking on the treadmill and watching superhero shows. 🙂
Here’s a snapshot of my campaign schedule for the next month — there’s not a lot of canvassing yet, because I’m easing into that with the cold weather and it still being kind of early to knock on doors for our particular election. The month after will have quite a bit more.
– 1/27 (MA goes to Amanda’s church event)
– 1/28 (MA goes to PP fundraiser)
– 1/31 (MA goes to school board referendum meeting)
– 2/4 (candidate breakfast workshop, also canvassing at Battle of the Bots)
– also 2/4, 11-3, Lincoln Elementary’s annual carnival
– 2/5 (MA goes to refugee meeting)
– 2/10 (Julie hosts book swap candidate event in evening)
– 2/11 (10-12 Democratic Party of Oak Park meeting, 3-9 MA hosts board game potluck with OPPWA)
– 2/12 (11 – 2, canvass as a group outside a grocery store)
– 2/18 (MA probably goes to Writing Matters event
– 2/19 (MA goes to Echo Theater’s sing-a-long of Hamilton)
– 2/21 (MA goes to candidate forum (not library))
– 2/23 (MA does door-to-door canvassing 9-3)
– 2/25 (MA goes to Oak Park Women’s Guild movie fundraiser)
– 2/25, 11-3, Irving Fun Fair
– 2/26 (MA possibly hosts Brown Elephant clothing swap fundraiser, date TBD)
– 3/1 (MA goes to candidate forum (not library))
– 3/3 (Amanda hosts trivia night candidate event in evening)
And there are still quite a few blank spots in there that I might try to fill with other events. If I don’t fall over. 🙂