Meet the Candidates

I wanted to take a moment to talk about why people might want to go to candidate meet-and-greets. They honestly weren’t on my radar before the last election cycle, when Trump’s election got me much more civically engaged on that front. I suspect a lot of my friends (and readers here), even if they care a lot about political issues, have never been to a candidate meet-and-greet, and may not understand what they’re for.

So I’ll say first that there are different purposes that might be in play. Some of these events are specifically fundraising sessions — the candidate comes and makes their pitch to you, and then if you’re so moved, you write a check (or send via Venmo, etc.). If you’re invited to a meet-and-greet for someone at the state or higher level, there’ll generally be some kind of fundraising component.

But that’s strictly voluntary — you can come, eat the cheese and drink the wine provided by the host, and if you decide after you hear the candidate speak that you don’t want to support them in that way, you should feel free to walk out without donating a penny. You can also support their campaign by volunteering; there’s often a volunteer sign-up available.

You’ll also probably get at least a few minutes to talk one-on-one with them, if you like, which I think is really interesting. Even just hanging out on the fringes as they talk to other people is interesting; you get a different view of the candidate than you’ll get from their canned campaign speeches and polished website.

For local politics, there’s often very little or no fundraising involved, for things like school board races. It’s much more about just meeting the candidates; the meet-and-greet is a chance for you to ask them your burning questions.

It’s also a chance to tell your story, especially if you have an issue relevant to the office. If you have a kid who’s had a hard time with remote learning during the pandemic, it’s absolutely appropriate to talk to a school board candidate about that. (Conversely, if remote learning has been amazing for your kid, and you want some version of it to continue into the future, that’s also worth telling them about.)

The meet-and-greet is a chance for you to learn about and assess these people; it’s also a chance for you to potentially influence them. So I’d like to encourage everyone reading this, if you haven’t been to a local candidate meet-and-greet before, try to get to one this local campaign season (where we are, the election is April 6, so we’re in the heat of it now).

Right now, they’re mostly on Zoom, which makes it particularly easy — even if you’re not the most extroverted person, you can join into a Zoom call and just listen, or maybe type a question into the chat.

I’m going to post a link to my next meet-and-greet (tomorrow at 2 p.m.) into the comments. I’ll note that while it’s aimed at locals (Oak Park & River Forest), I’m totally fine with others dropping in, if they’d just like to see what this format is like. Just please let the actual local voters ask their questions first, please. Thanks!

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