Editor's Note: This year's political race has been incredibly difficult, and has often brought out the divide in our country. But what is most important to remember is to vote. On November 8th, go vote. Let your voice be heard, no matter who you are voting for.
If you’ve never been involved in local politics, it’s a little hard to understand why someone might want to put themselves there. Especially this year – politics probably looks like the last thing someone would want to do. We’ve had a dramatic year in politics, to say the least. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to stay away from it.
Local politics can be different, though. It isn’t always (we’ve had some of our own drama this year), but most of the time it’s much easier to see your impact. In 2012, one of our State Senate candidates lost their race by 78 votes – that’s the number of doors I can knock on in about two hours. When you call 25 volunteers and even half of them come in to help your candidate, that’s an incredible feeling. Every time someone tells you they’ll donate to or vote for your candidate, it can change your whole day.
I studied politics in college, and really loved studying and trying to learn about what was happening in our political atmosphere. I’ve found, though, that I’ve learned even more from working in the local politics. I’ve learned how to see people for who they really are, and how to tell when someone is (or isn’t, in some cases) going to be a great politician. I’m certainly no expert, but as an observer – there are just things you pick up.
When I’m frustrated with the state of the world, I watch my favorite episode of The West Wing. It’s called “The Stackhouse Filibuster,” and it’s about a Senator named Howard Stackhouse who filibusters the passing of a healthcare bill. As the episode continues, you learn more about why Senator Stackhouse executes the filibuster – because he wanted his voice to matter. And it does. I watch “The Stackhouse Filibuster” to remind myself that my voice matters.
But the thing that I’ve learned the most is that in order for my voice to matter, I have to use it. And so do you.
Using your voice can mean a lot of things, really. It can be voting, which is probably one of the most simple acts you can imagine. When you get your ballot in the mail (if you’re a vote by mail state), fill it out right then. You should have a voters pamphlet, but if you don’t you can call the local political parties and find out who they might be recommending.
If you’re in a state where you have to go in on election day to vote, I encourage you to take the time to do it. In my state, we’re a vote by mail state, so when I was in a different state for graduate school and had the opportunity to go in and vote, I took it. I hope you do too, no matter who you vote for. It’s important.
Another way to use your voice is to get involved with a presidential campaign. Whichever one you choose, you have the opportunity to talk to people about why your candidate is important. Sometimes you’re knocking on doors or making phone calls, and sometimes you’re just entering data. No matter what, you’re making an important statement. And that data entry is important – it allows campaign volunteers to make sure they’re talking to the right people each year.
For me, the most important way to get involved (besides voting), is with your local political office. More often than not, it means you’re working next to the candidates, and you really have the chance to tell them what you think. You also get to help influence what your community representatives look like. Some day, you might be sitting at a dinner with a local politician on either side of you, wanting to hear your story. It’s an opportunity to share your vision of the future with them, and maybe work with them to get there.
Politics can be tough. People don’t always want to talk about politics, so it’s often a difficult door or phone conversation. It might even be an incredibly difficult conversation with your family or friends. I get that. But what I will tell you is this: every difficult moment is worth it when you realize you’ve been able to truly make a difference in a race that’s important to you. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget, and I hope you get to experience it too.
Melissa Boles is a young professional living in Washington state, who is learning to cook, to keep a plant a live, and to love herself and others. She is a love letter and coffee date enthusiast, a storyteller, a greater fool, and a feminist. Her heart lies in helping people and improving the world around her.