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.
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.
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.