While we recognize the limitations of any singular blog post’s ability to answer big questions like the ones we’re asking, our intention is not to tell you everything there is to know about this issue, but rather to open up a space for conversation, reflection, curiosity, and a consideration of all the other questions this one question sets in motion.
This blog post was conceptualized and completed prior to last week’s Supreme Court decision that will overturn the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision that provided federal protection for important female reproductive health rights. If you are dissatisfied with that decision we encourage you to consider how you can become an agent for change in your own community. This post will share a few experiences from people catalyzed into action by injustice and issues they felt they could no longer sit by and watch unfold. At the end we have shared several resources for understanding the process of running for local office and encourage you to check them out or share them with a person you feel would be the right advocate for change.
How and why do people get involved in politics?
In Washington DC, everything feels symbolic.
I recently was speed walking around the city skimming plaques on houses, sidewalks and statues, astounded by the depth of documented mainly political history on every corner. I also couldn’t get over how people (presumably politicians or the politically motivated ) wore suits in a city of such heat and humidity, but that is another conversation. As a visitor from the small mountain town where I live, being in DC felt like the epicenter of politics, the White House, the pentagon, THIS was where the things happened. What the things are exactly, I couldn’t tell you, there was just a conscious sense of separation between where I live, the decisions I make and this burgeoning metropolis where people aim to set the policy and laws that impact the world.
And still: there were yard picket signs urging people to vote for this lady and check-marked boxes indicating that this referendum was the “right choice” placed back to back in contradiction. Elections in D.C. are just as local, just as divisive and just as important as they are anywhere else. I began to wonder how and why people get involved in politics, whether they are in the middle of the mountains working to protect the environment or motivated by the urgency of big government that permeates our country’s capital. It also made me question the ways in which individual participation really could provoke change on a larger scale along with how media impacts that ambitious goal.
I spoke with my uncle George, longtime county commissioner of the Aspen County Seat in Pitkin County, Colorado and a good friend, Shannon Elkins who is currently running for House District 98 in Texas about their personal experiences running for local office, how and why they got involved and what they see as an outcome of their political participation.
For George it was a natural progression, he had been in leadership positions throughout the community, on local boards and was connected to many people already in office. He was apprised of the changes in policy being presented and when something came up that would be impacting his local public lands, he mobilized. He shared that the way he used media (newspapers, local radio etc.) was to say interesting, often provocative statements during meetings to ignite public reaction, emphasis on the action. Upfront with his ideas, his initiatives and the inner workings of his office, George was able to inform the community on issues that impacted them directly. Because of the local rulings of his county the general public were allowed to put together their own masterplan for land use, creating a direct form of democracy by becoming direct decision makers in their community. He gained the trust of his constituents by being an integral part of the place he was aiming to protect.
Shannon, had a bit of different experience. As a younger, gay, Jewish, democrat in the heart of Texas, she joined politics with the aim of making noise around a wedge issue she believed in: HouseBill 25 which restricts transgender student athletes’ participation in school sports. Shannon has been teaching math and special-ed for over 11 years and her passion on the issue is what inspired her to run, originally unopposed, for the opportunity to have a stronger voice in policy decisions. Her campaign has uncovered how little her friends and surrounding community know about the political process and also how excited individuals can get when they have a candidate who reflects and will fight for their shared values. She appreciates the opportunity to talk to people about their beliefs and how they feel those beliefs are being expressed in the political arena. As her political work has increased, she continues to recognize how social media can create an unrealistic echo-chamber of messaging and involvement based on use and political leanings. Shannon uses media to increase messages of hope and truthful information to share out, along with using platforms to garner support for her efforts.
Both Shannon and George affirmed that “politics is for everybody”. By joining local clubs, organizations or boards, learning more about the candidates in your area, applying to be an advisory board to elected officials, builds community. They shared the sentiment that democracy is in a precarious position, a divisive, two party system that is unsustainable in its current state. They also expressed so much joy in being a part of a cause that is important and how while, it can seem like a lot, every small action helps.
For me, politics as a whole always felt symbolic.
I am a registered independent so I can vote for what I believe, but politicians felt like this far away breed of suit wearers who really couldn’t take my perspective into consideration. After speaking with George and Shannon and reading/watching the brilliance of Rep. Chloe Maxmin and her rural campaign for House Representative of the State of Maine, I am reminded that the grassroots approach, the one on one conversations and pursuing local knowledge to advance political comprehension has a lasting, ripple effect.
Whether you are in D.C or somewhere else in the country, I urge each of you to write down your values, research your ballot and the individuals you are electing to represent you, find causes, groups and politicians who share those values and participate in democracy.
Or, run for office yourself and share your journey with us.
actions to take
Consider running for a local office in your community.
Support local leaders your believe in.
Share your experience with us!
Connect with an AC member for a one on one chat.
questions to consider
What are the things you care about?
What aspects of your life do you feel could be better?
What position could/should you run for?
Who in your network will help support your decision and positions?