Getting Involved- How To’s

Pussycat Hats

I assume you’re reading this blog post because you are concerned about changes in our government. Many people are reading the Indivisible Guide online. That is a document that has a more partisan edge to it, so I will leave the discussion of strategy and tactics to them, and instead concentrate on how you can get involved in your local community and start making a difference right away.

 

Non-partisan -Just starting out- Instructions

Step 1- What are the issues or areas that are most interesting to you?

The very first step is to pick an issue you are passionate about- that will sustain you for the long haul. Is it environmental issues? Social Justice? Health and fitness? Young people? Economic opportunities? The arts? Politics in general? Write down a list of some of the things you care most about, or wish were better.

Step 2- Pick three of the issues that you wrote down for step 1. Write down why they are important to to you. Add any ideas you have about improvements in these areas you’d like to see. So for example, around here, preserving farm land is a big deal, and we have an open space tax that’s in place to help preserve open space for the enjoyment of all.  If farm preservation or land conservation was on my list, I might say” open space is important to maintain a healthy environment for the community and preserve ecosystems for local wildlife. Without it, we would have nothing but track housing and strip malls. What I’d like to see happen is more farmers being able to afford to work the land, or turn open space into public space that everyone could enjoy.”

Now you’ve established a few issues that motivate you and provide a focus. That helps for the next bit.

Step Three- Write down your “superpowers”.  What do you do well?  What are your talents? Do you love running a group? Do you love posting on facebook? Can you build a website? Are you a writer or good editor? Do you have marketing skills? Do you love hosting parties and events? Do you like crafts? This is a great list so you identify the things you love to do- any many of your passions and talents can find a home either in getting involved in a community organization or in government by having identified things you can and would like to do.

Big Secret: Most people running for office don’t know very much about websites or marketing If you are social media savvy, if you can set up a website, if you know something about SEO, Facebook, graphic design, Video and audio production, Memes- ALL of these skills are desperately needed by candidates.  Most political marketing depends on- wait for it-DIRECT MAIL.  We all know this is expensive and rarely works to change hearts and minds.  If you have any digital media skills, local candidates in the next year for local elections and in a year from now for Governor and Congressional elections will NEED your help. Find out who the candidates are on your local county’s voter services website and find out who their campaign manager is on their paperwork, and CALL THEM.  They will be thrilled to have your help.

Step Four-Attend a public meeting of a local government group here you live. This could be City Council, county council, board of selectmen meetings, township supervisor meetings, school board, planning commission meetings, zoning hearing boards- go to something.  To be honest, the meetings of the council or other government groups will probably cover a broad range of topics versus planning commissions and zoning hearing boards that largely deal with development and real estate issues. Sit at the meeting and listen, and take notes about what’s going on and who the players are. This will give you the lay of the land, and you’ll learn more about what’s happening in your local community.

You can also do this by looking up your local government’s website, and look for meeting agendas and minutes.  Many public meetings are also video-taped, so you can watch them from home.  That’s okay, but it will prevent you from getting to know the other people at the meeting, who tend to be the more engaged and involved group in the community.

At most meetings, there’s a time allotted for public comment.  Each governmental entity handles this differently, so you need to go to a meeting and see what’s up and how this works.  The next meeting you attend, make sure you get up and ask a question about an issue facing the local governmental body that concerns you. This will let everyone else know who you are and that you want to be engaged.

Talk to other people before and after the meeting. Introduce yourself.  After all, you are a taxpayer and you pay the salaries of every person in the front of the room. If you want to find out if there are positions open on various commissions and committees, ask while you are there in person. Who knows?  You could end up with a committee assignment sooner than you think.

You can go this pathway to get more involved regardless of your party affiliation. If you are registered one way or the other, that can make a difference in some areas about whether you will be welcomed immediately with open arms. If the party in power is of the opposite persuasion from you, you may be viewed suspiciously at first, but persevere. Getting involved means showing up consistently and demonstrating genuine concern for your community. Don’t get discouraged. If you have any problems, feel free to email me or comment here, and I will help you personally.

Alternate track- Go Political

If you are definitely in the camp of a political party of your choice, there is likely a local group of organizers. In our area, we have a County-wide party group, and each smaller area in the county has a separate “zone” that covers a smaller local area. By calling the State Party or County party, they will likely put you in touch with your local group leaders on the party committee who will be more than happy to have you attend a meeting and get more involved.

Committee People

On a local level, each party has Committee people. Sometimes there will be one or more committee people assigned to each voting precinct. These folks are the ones who set up the card tables and hand out literature on election day, and we always hand out the “I Voted” stickers as well. The rest of the year, they are involved in helping support candidates running for office, contacting voters in their precinct, and often help with other projects, whether it’s getting mailings out, yard signs, voter registration drives or other things.  Committee people are the backbone of political organizing and are instrumental in making sure potential candidates for office get the signatures they need to get on a ballot. Committee people also are in charge of nominating candidates and this is can be a stepping stone to becoming a National Convention member and even a member of the Electoral College.

Committee people are also part of the group that helps find people to run for office, or may decide to run for office themselves. I was first asked to run for the State House by a committee person who got to know me through volunteer work I did making phone calls for the party in presidential election years. I had never really been to a party meeting, and had to be walked through the process of how to get one the ballot. By having the support of the committee people, they helped me form a campaign committee, find a campaign manager, introduce me to local area leaders, and provided the vital help I needed to run my campaign.

Timelines

On your State or Local voter services website, there will likely be an election calendar posted. This is where you can find out the days people need to start circulating petitions to get on the ballot, the date of the primaries, and the date of the general election. Candidates will need help getting signatures- and here in Pennsylvania, petitions will start circulating on February 14th. We’ll be out circulating petitions for local judge positions, township supervisors and more. Come join us!

Getting involved early like this will also likely give you an opportunity to meet the candidates up close, and you can choose who to support – Assuming you are not the one running yourself!

You can do this- but many of the pathways for getting involved aren’t always clear.  I hope this helps. Please let me know if you need help, and I will help you find the people locally to help you get involved.

We’re only going to have good people who are concerned about the needs of every citizen in office if we find them, and support them getting there.  It takes time. money, and it’s not easy. But the more we let only those folks who have personal money run for office, the more we will have people who are in office for personal power reasons rather than the power of the people. Help us change this. Let me help you change this trend.

We can do it, together.

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Those Big Questions….

Becoming a parent is like joining a club. We become responsible for another human being in a way that’s different from most other relationships- and for moms, these kids really are part of us- science even shows that part of their DNA ends up in our bodies forever. That club means moms will often talk to each other about their kids, the good stuff and the bad, looking for tips, a shoulder to cry on, and just the understanding that comes with having this life-changing experience in common.

As our kids get older and become young adults, parenting evolves as well. We try to give them advice and get them to avoid our own mistakes. We learn, the hard way, that they will often have to get their own set of bruises that life dishes out, and we can’t protect them from these. I will tell my kids “Make all new mistakes- not the same ones I made- trust me!” but they need the lessons these bumps and bruises teach them, even when it’s surrounded by parent frustration and the choking back of words like “I told you so.”

As my kids are transitioning into adulthood, I often find myself trying to provide guidance, but also trying to remember to just shut up sometimes. I provide extra warnings and precautions, not just because I worry about them, but somehow, I believe that these warnings and precautions act like a shield, or a blessing over them, to prevent harm from coming their way.  Silly and superstitious, yes. But I have to say these things sometimes, so if anything horrible does happen, I won’t regret forever having not said the “I love you!  Be careful, drive safe” as they leave the house. I want to keep them safe and happy as much as I can, even though more and more, they are responsible for themselves and what the rest of the world dishes out.

When I found out about a friend’s child dying this week, a child sandwiched right between the ages of my two boys, I was gobsmacked. It makes me worry about the vulnerability of my kids, just at the point in time when we are letting go of the last vestiges of control we think we still have as parents.

Transitioning to Adulthood

When I was that age, I remember feeling really insecure about just about everything.  Of not knowing my place in the world, and only having an inkling of where I thought I should be, only to have life dish up its own surprises and learning that I could be, and should be, on a different track.

I remember confessing to a mentor, worried I would be such a disappointment, about wanting to change fields, and being told “Seriously- if your choices in this life are between getting a PhD in Biology or going to law school, you have no problems.” He was right.  But I needed someone to tell me it was okay to change, to make new choices, to find a better fit, to live my own life and not a life I thought I wanted and conjured for myself at age 11. (That’s a story for another time.) I wonder who those mentors will be for my kids, and I also know that seldom do we get to be those significant adults for our very own children.

There’s a serious temptation, every day, to run away from being a grown up.  The consequences are real.  They’re big. You will have to deal with them a very long time. The thing no one ever tells you is that you stop feeling any older, on the inside, at about age 25 or so.  You get a lot more experience and can make better decisions as a result, but that person is still in there, just trying to figure out the next thing, the next opportunity or responsibility or problem, and hoping people won’t figure out that they handed the reigns to someone who doesn’t always have a clear path or goal in mind from the very beginning.

I remember clearly, as a young person, thinking adults not only had all the power but they just knew stuff and had everything figured out, a plan and agenda in place. When I had my own kids, they did not come with a manual. I had to make all the rules, and I didn’t write them down, either.

I had to learn that so much in life, for me, anyway, is about preparation and improv. I need to be as prepared as I can be, or know where to source information if I need it, but I’m making it up as I go, trying to make the best decisions I can, doing the best I can, I also know I’m going to make mistakes, say something stupid, be awkward, be wrong, and I still have to move forward.

The hardest lesson for me has been to learn to allow myself to make mistakes, to forgive myself for being stupid and awkward, and move on as gracefully as possible. Humility. Life serves up a lot of it, and the key is that admitting mistakes is so much better than trying to cover them up or pretend they never happen at all.

Those Grownup Secrets

I don’t know how to teach these grown-up secrets to my kids. How do you give them a great foundation and trust you have good advice and know stuff when you are also admitting how much you don’t know at the same time? How do I let them know that there is no perfect other than pushing yourself to do your best, without also feeling like I didn’t figure out what it was like to really work hard until some time in law school? How do I tell them that I know what I can do to grind out a big project, but that I also struggle with balancing hard work and the joy of goofing off and enjoying life?

The hardest words to say are often I Don’t Know. I don’t know if it will turn out ok. I don’t know all the answers. I don’t know if they’ll make it. I don’t know how to fix it, or if it can be fixed.

My kids once recorded me saying “Honey, I was Wrong” and turned it into a ringtone for my husband’s phone, making fun of the fact that I was annoyingly, often right and rarely wrong, but I actually pride myself on saying things like “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry”. They aren’t always easy to say, but I try to apologize after I fly off the handle about something or make something a bigger deal than it really is.

The lesson of adulthood may be, in the end, learning to accept imperfection, even when folks are trying their best, and it turns out to fall short. It’s to accept what we have control over and what we don’t, and finding a way to become comfortable with that, even when it deals us huge blows.

 

It’s time to brush off the blues and to get on with it.  2017 will be a year full of its own challenges, but facing it with a positive face will take us mich farther than looking at a glass half full. There’s lots of potential for joy and good out there, and it’s time to revel in as much of it as possible.

I hope your 2017 is magical. We need it.

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GOODBYE 2016!

It’s Tuesday, December 27th 2016, and I just found out Carrie Fisher, who we all know and love as Princess Leia, passed away.

This ends a year where many famous people have passed away that played a role in the pop culture that makes up my childhood and young adulthood.

I loved David Bowie and his music, and I will always remember his performance of Dancing In the Streets with Mic Jagger at the opening of Live Aid in Philadelphia.

I also remember him in the weird and wonderful movie Labyrinth. Bowie was always cool, mysterious, and inaccessible in some ways. But his music was part of the pop culture backdrop for many of us whose “formative years” were in the 80’s.

Then we lost Prince.  Who was suffering from hip pain (just when we’re all feeling older ourselves). Prince was the cool cat of the 80’s and 90’s. who had songs you danced to, wondering what 1999 would ever be like, when it seemed so far away.

Just a few days ago, George Michael joined the list, one of those folks whose music made us happy and want to dance, and also taught us a lot about tolerance at the same time.

Then we lost Gene Wilder, who I loved from Willie Wonka and from Blazing Saddles equally, not to mention The Producers and Young Frankenstein.

We lost Alan Rickman, who my kids appreciate as Snape in the Harry Potter movies, but I loved him in Truly, Madly Deeply and the January Man long before I had ever heard of the Boy Wizard.

We lost Florence Henderson and Alan Thicke, who played the TV parents we all kinda wished we had, particularly when in the middle of teen angst, we thought our parents were the worst and didn’t understand us a lick.  Now that we’re parents ourselves, these family sitcoms are no longer the norm, so our kids don’t see parenting and family in the same rosy bubble as we did watching The Brady Bunch, Growing Pains, or Family Ties.

Bill Cosby hasn’t passed away, but the wheels came off his perfect Dad image last year and he’s been in court locally this year, so it’s the death knell to those memories of fatherly perfection as well.

Then there’s Gary Marshall, who made half the TV shows I grew up with- from Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, and Mork & Mindy to sappy rom-coms I love, ranging from The Princess Diaries, to Pretty Woman to Overboard and even Beaches.

Leonard Cohen died- there’s not enough to be said about his music.

And eve the wacky Zsa Zsa Gabor died, who we basically knew from Green Acres (or was that her sister?) and being center square on game shows we watched while home sick.

And now Carrie Fisher and even the guy who played R2-D2 passed away this year, making Star Wars, which I saw when I was around 10, seem so very long ago. But Star Wars is something my whole generation is getting to relive and reshare with our kids with the new movies coming out, making it feel like a bridge from our childhoods to those of our kids.

All of this is making me feel old today.  It makes me feel like my childhood is REALLY over now, and I’m really an adult. I’ve always felt a little younger than everyone else, in part to being the youngest in my class all through school. But now the folks who helped really mold the Gen-X culture are passing away.  The folks who were perhaps not our contemporaries, but certainly the influences in fashion, attitude and everything are ebbing away one by one.

2016 feels like a watershed moment in many ways.

The MTV generation has finally had to grow up.  Our heroes are breaking hips and having heart attacks, and no longer just dying in the tragic but fundamentally reckless way that we would perhaps expect to happen, like when John Belushi passed away.

I want to go hide under a blanket.

But instead, we’ll get up and do the grown up thing.

But how I wish I could stop adulting for just a few hours, and go back to sometime around 1984, when I first met my now husband, and experience that carefree joy that wasn’t interrupted constantly by texts, emails and calls, and the need to be available 24 x 7.

Goodbye 2016.  May 2017 be better in just about every way.

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Nine Things My Dog has in Common with Donald Trump

DarwinMy husband and I took the dog for a walk this afternoon, and we started thinking about how much our furry kid had in common with The Donald.

Both require a handler (or two.) Darwin is 18 months old – a Bernedoodle- and weighs north of 85 pounds, so controlling him can be a challenge, especially with outsized enthusiasm.  It seems he and Donald require handlers most of the time rather than running free,otherwise, who knows who they might bowl over?

 

Spade & DiamondBoth seem to enjoy chasing pussy (cats). Our two maine coon cats certainly hold their own and basically give the bouncy boy a run for his money.  He always seems playful, but the cats much prefer staying out of reach, much like many women in Donald’s sphere.

Both look for a surprise advantage, without thinking of the consequences.  In the case of the dog, it’s taking advantage of food left too close to the edge of the counter, never considering the consequences of this, even when he has a training collar on.  Remind you of anyone?

img_6149Both are Surprised They’ve Done Anything Wrong. Darwin will give you a look that says “Huh?  That wasn’t ok?  Since when?  I never got that memo!” Also sound too familiar when thinking of Donald.

Both Can Be Single-Minded in their Pursuits. At least when Darwin decides he’s going to chase a squirrel or eat the cat food, the consequences don’t have international fallout.

Both Look a Little Guilty for a Few Minutes, But Then, It’s All Over- For Them.  At least when a dog misbehaves, he can get over it- but it still makes us rethink our strategies for everything from storage of shoes to where we keep the dog treats. Donald likewise leaves wreckage in his wake, but similarly does not seem to care or remember it’s even happened.

We continually Hope Both will Grow Up.  Having a big dog means understanding that he will be a rambunctious puppy, but that it’s imperative to train him and help him learn manners. We know age will help calm darwin down a bit, but at 70, when will Donald finally grow up?

Both seem immune to Consequences- from time to time- and we make excuses for them.  At least when Darwin was a puppy, if he peed on the run, it was sort of expected, and we understood this was part of being a dog. I’ve seen people tying themselves in knots trying to explain Mr. Trump’s behavior- and frankly, my excuses for the dog, as a puppy, were more convincing.

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We hope their behavior will improve with experience and training- but sometimes, it doesn’t seem to stick.  We had to get a trainer and a training collar to help Darwin learn all the rules- a little shock can do wonders- but sometimes, he decides he just doesn’t want to listen, regardless of the consequences.  Trump likewise seems to go off and chase his own version of squirrels, even if his advisors have told him how wrong this is.

In the end, someone will still love him, no matter how bad he’s been.  I hate to admit it, but even after Darwin chewed my favorite shoes, I was mad for a while, but I forgave him. No matter what Trump does, there will always be some people who will love him and make excuses for him, no matter how egregious the behavior.

I just hope we’re smart enough to elect someone with a better and more consistent character than my 18 mo old Bernedoodle.

 

 

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Lessons Of The Empty Nest

Both of my kids are off at college for the first time.  It means there’s a lot more quiet, and a lot less laundry at home. That sounds great, but it’s an adjustment to a different sort of lifestyle, and I know it’s going to take a bit of time to find a new normal. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned so far:

  1. You need even fewer groceries than you think. I’ve been shopping for the appetite of teen boys, so I am used to milk, eggs and bread flying out of here in a few days.  I need much less fruit than I think, which is causing me to have more smoothies than I thought possible, in order to avoid wasting it.
  2. The quiet is awesome, but it’s also loud.  I remember wanting to have a little quiet to just think- but now, the quiet is almost lonely, especially at night. Being home alone without anything that has to get done seems like a dream for moms in a busy household, but the sudden silence can seem empty. The antidote to this will be found in friends and projects- and of course, the endless need to entertain the dog.
  3. Timing is different. Having uninterrupted time to get projects done is terrific, but there are fewer “timed stops” in the day, like when the kids would come home from school, signaling time to start getting dinner ready, etc. Now when my husband is late, it’s no longer about eating dinner in two shifts, but potentially either cooking later or putting things away and letting him heat things up when he comes home.  We will need to find a new pattern that works- I suspect there will be more soups and stews that are easily reheated in our future.
  4. There’s no real backup. Over the past few years, my kids have taken on more of the household responsibilities, from running grocery errands, to taking out the trash. When no one is home but me, it’s on me to take care of it.  There’s less to do, but no one to share the responsibility.  With a recent bout of bronchitis, being home alone seemed lonely and even a little scary after a particularly bad coughing fit.
  5. It’s made me more sensitive to people living alone. My husband has had a couple of business trips lately, so I have really been home alone, with no one else other than the pets to worry about. Time seems to stretch in ways it did not with so much more activity in the house. Developing a schedule and a list of things to accomplish will hopefully structure this time,especially on weekends, so it doesn’t seem so daunting. I know I’ll get used to this, but it makes me sensitive to what it’s got to be like when you live 100% alone.

I’m so glad I have my day job as well as my job as an elected official.  Keeping busy is what I have been doing for so long, I don’t really remember very well what it was like to have nothing to do. And surprisingly, it’s a bigger adjustment than I thought it was going to be.

I’ll find a new groove, but this is a time of flux, and it’s a little weird.  If you see me roaming the park with the dog more often than before, you’ll know why!

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