How Politics Works

Last night, I spent my evening at a meeting of the local Democrats, who are preparing for an election this year. It was a good turnout, and everyone was pretty confident about our chances of regaining a governing majority.

Some of the candidates were there, and they introduced themselves with short, unprepared statements. But mostly, the discussion was about phone banking, door-to-door canvassing, social media, voter registration, pushback against gerrymandering, get out the vote efforts, and covering the polls on primary and election days.

We talked about the different ways we could volunteer: Donate money or talents, host a fundraiser, campaign door-to-door with the candidates, host a barbecue and invite our neighbors to meet the candidates.

All the many ways to do outreach; the best ways to fit our circumstances and strengths.

In a local election, in a small town, there is no grand media strategy. The candidates have to get themselves in front of people, to make their case. And then it's about getting people to the polls, for an election they may not even know is happening.

This is the stuff that makes politics happen.

The thing is, Iain and I were the youngest people there, save for a young Black woman and a young Black man, who are running for the school board.

There wasn't a single young white person running for office or even showing up.

Now, I've heard an awful lot the past two years from young white people (especially) about how they want to change the Democratic Party. They're angry about the way things are done; they think the party isn't progressive enough.

And as I looked around that room last night, I thought: Welp, this is where you're supposed to be. But none of y'all were there.

This isn't a scolding; it's an invitation. Be your future.

Change happens from the bottom up, not the top down. Many of the pressing issues in your community will be solved (or not) based on who is elected at the local level.

And local issues necessitate their own understanding of effective solutions. Breaking up the banks did not come up as a potential solution to the local school funding crisis.

That's not snide. It's a serious observation about the limitations of exclusive focus on national politics.

Further to that point, I will (again) recommend this terrific piece by Josie Helen on who's responsible for mass incarceration: "If you want to fix mass incarceration but you don't know the name of your local district attorney—or you don't know when the primary is, or who is opposing them—you are making the biggest mistake you can make as a voter and as a responsible citizen."

It's but one example of many that highlight the import of local politics.

With federal funding for so many critical community programs on the chopping block, it's going to be more important than ever for progressives to get involved in local politics, to help our communities. To support the candidates who will make decisions that affect those communities.

I have volunteered my time and talents for local candidates. I have marched with candidates in local parades. I have offered my home to host fundraisers and cook-outs. I have posted signs in my yard. I have shown up, as and when I can.

Sitting in a church eating Oreos and talking about the mechanics of local elections, as I did last night, is not as exciting as being part of a screaming throng at a massive Bernie rally. But this is how shit actually gets done. It's boring and it's work.

If you're someone who wants to see change in politics, do the work. Show up.

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