I’m a little worried that people will have seen my local race, noticed how much time and energy it took, and will be discouraged from local office. I want to make clear that this race was really atypical. A lot of people in Oak Park, myself included, were clearly energized by the November election results, and as a result, we had far more people running for local offices like library board and school board than normal.
I think that’s terrific, actually — it’s great that voters had a wide set of people to choose from, and the process of running actually helped me and I suspect other candidates clarify our own visions and senses of what we stood for. So I’m personally glad my first race looked like this — it was also great practice for running for higher office. But it’s really unusual.
Generally, when you run for local office (school board, library board, park board, village or township trustee, etc.), there’s a very good chance you’ll be running uncontested. So essentially, all you have to do is collect somewhere between 25-300 signatures, and you’re pretty much in. (Library board was 25.) You may not need to spend money at all. In a lot of cases across the country, not enough people will run to even fill the spots, so the ones that do will win uncontested, and then they need to try to appoint (beg) a few people to fill the remaining spots.
So if you’re interested at all in running for local office, please don’t be put off by how much effort went into my race! This was an outlier year, I suspect — voter turnout here was also really up, from a typical 10-12% in a normal off-year- election, to 33%. (Which is still quite low, of course, but is three times what we’d usually have.) I’d love to think that this level of civic engagement will continue, but realistically, I suspect that by the next election, a fair bit of that energy will have dissipated. So if you want to run, run! Or if you know someone who should run, tell them to run! I firmly believe that everyone who wants to run for office should have the chance to do so; I suspect that we could all do more to help find and support the best candidates in our communities.
I was at a local DFA meeting yesterday, and they were asking, how do we find and support the best progressive candidates, to have a chance of actually getting them elected to office and turning this country around. I think the answer has to be:
a) find the people who are already speaking up for what you believe in, whether that’s the fight for $15 (minimum wage), reproductive rights, clean energy, Medicare-for-all, equity and access in our schools, etc. (For the record, I’m for ALL of those.) If they have a history of service, that will only help their campaign.
b) support their candidacies, with your time, your money, your energy — whatever you have to give.
Find the people who are passionate about your issues, and who are active in their communities, arguing and fighting for them. Then tell them, “You should run. I’ll support you.” That’s how we make real and lasting change.