After the 2016 national election, for the first time since being elected Class President in high school, I decided to run for office. Those feelings of loss and confusion that had plagued me since that election had made it difficult to figure out the next right steps, but I finally snapped out of my fugue state when I heard President Obama’s call to action while giving his Farewell Address in Chicago:
“If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in.”
Actually, maybe inspired isn’t the right word. I felt directed. Compelled. Instructed. President Obama’s clarity and advice was a welcome relief. He didn’t mince his words: he told us exactly what to do and how to do it.
I listened intently, and I did what he directed us to do: I found an open spot at the top of the ballot in my county of nearly one million people. Our local Democratic Party had been unable to find anyone willing to run, and since I found it morally unacceptable to leave that spot blank, I showed up and dove in—just like President Obama told us to.
No one expected me to win. No one expected me to even come close. In the history of DuPage County, there has never been a Democrat, or a woman from either party, as Chairman. 180 years of white, republican men as Chairman. Plus, I was considered a political outsider— even though I am extremely involved in my community. I write about politics and have been a Precinct Captain in my local township for two terms. I just wasn’t someone most folks within the local political bubble knew about. And I think that was actually to my advantage. I used my vast social network, my community involvement, and convinced my circle of high-octane friends —all from outside the party tent— to get involved and help my campaign.
It turns out I surprised not only my opponent and the entire local Republican Party, but I surprised my Democratic Party, too. They had no idea it was possible to come this close to winning. I proved beyond any doubt that it was possible. I wanted to win and ran as hard a race as I could. It doesn’t feel good to lose. Being a highly competitive person in a highly competitive field, I understand what it means to win and lose, but losing really stinks.
The hardest part of losing is not knowing what to do next. You have all this momentum, all this energy, all this unfinished business. You go from 100 mph 24/7 to putting your car in park. I regrouped, rested, and reflected on everything I learned in my very large race. I felt like I had earned a Poli Sci PhD’s worth of experience in fifteen months. I was not the same person at the end of my campaign as I was at the beginning. I am not naive, but I am an idealist, proudly. Idealism is at the root of American politics, or it should be. I mean, read the constitution! It’s hard to imagine a more idealistic article ever written. Its beautiful, shining idealism is like poetry to me. I refuse to lose my idealism.
But I certainly have shed whatever naivety I may have once possessed. So, when the 2020 election talk started heating up and I saw another opening on the ballot…well, I hesitated this time before diving in. Because now, I know too much. I know what it takes, what it means, what it feels like.
I know what it takes to have the courage to look someone you’ve never met before right in the eyes and say, “You can’t scare me away,” after they approach you at an event and whisper, “you might want to watch yourself, your opponent plays dirty and will use everything against you. Look what they did to <so and so> who had to drop out of her race.”
I know what it means to be told by township leadership to flat out not run. “We need you to just focus on being a PC. That race is unwinable.” It simply means they have a lack of vision—they literally couldn’t imagine what I was capable of doing.
I know what it feels like to be told by Republicans and Democrats alike, “We need a man to win. People aren’t ready to elect a woman to this position.” It means they just haven’t seen it done before.
I know what it feels like to be told in a group email where I was the only woman, “Your ideas are too ambitious, and we will not support them.” It feels like you’ve time-traveled back a century. Or two. (And funnily enough, those same men came to the “ambitious” event I planned and pulled off in order to be on hand to greet the Governor, Comptroller and Attorney General of Illinois, stepping in before they even reached me. They were shocked I was able to gather so many heavy-hitters in one place but not too shocked to show up and try to take credit.)
So I had to ask myself (and my husband, and my four children, and my 89-year-old Dad) if this is something I can take on again.
When I think about campaigning again, my knee-jerk reaction is a very loud and clear “oh, hell no.” Campaigning is an extremely narcissistic, ego-boasting endeavor which feels really weird if you are not comfortable with either of those traits.
It’s also a very different beast than holding office. One is about pushing your name out there, hustling, convincing others of your worth, constantly.
The other is about work: getting it done, efficiently and effectively, though creative problem solving; thinking outside of the box; helping others; being of service to your community.
I am mistrustful of the distasteful aspect of campaigning and absolutely in love with the idea of getting shit done. But you can’t have one without the other.
So I have been talking to people I trust, people firmly on Team Lynn, people who care about me as a person not just a candidate, asking questions, looking at all angles of this thing. Can I do this again, should I do this again? I have a great life. It is extremely full, extremely comfortable, extremely fulfilling. And yet, there is this constant siren call to get involved, to help, to serve. It feels like a compulsion, it feels like it comes from outside of myself.
When I told people I was going to run the first time, about 90% said some variation on the theme of, “But politics is so dirty! It’s sleazy! It’s filled with horrible people!” I find it devastatingly sad that we think of our political system this way. In my idealism, it should not be this way. And then I ran, and saw up close how the sausage is made. And it is very hard to not be disillusioned by our political system. But I still feel— stronger than ever, actually—it’s not supposed to be this way. I am not sure how it got this way, and I don’t really have to time to figure that part out because you know what? Rome is burning.
Somehow, as a country, we have found ourselves in an inescapable nightmare that the majority of our country has been desperate to wake up from. We have been waiting to be rescued (“It’s Mueller Time!”) and waiting to reach bottom (“Surely it can’t get any worse?”), wringing our hands and gnashing our teeth, waiting and watching from the sidelines, shrugging: “What are we supposed to do? Politics is just so dirty!”
Well, what if we changed the narrative that politics is dirty? Put lie to the notion that all politicians are lacking in scruples, principles and integrity? What if instead, we purposefully elected people with ethics and honesty? What if we flushed the people that got us into this mess—from both parties—out of the system? What would our political system look like then
Because I see two options before me. Option One: accept that this is just the way things are. Politics and politicians are dirty, corrupt, and the entire system is flawed and demoralizing, and therefore, unchangeable. Or, I can believe in Option Two: we can be better than this, we can do better than this. There is room in our political system for change and change-makers. The majority of people want honesty, ethics, morals and values— both in our political system and in our elected officials. We can affect change from within, we can fix this mess. It is possible. There is hope.
And that is how I arrive at my answer. When I think of my idealistic vision of how things could be, my vision that I refuse to let go of, the only answer I come up with that is acceptable to me is: do it. Go for it. Don’t give up.
The first time I heard President Obama’s Farewell Address, it was his quote above that grabbed me, got me up off the couch, out of the post-election slump of 2016 and running my first race. But going back and re-reading his speech, I’m struck by something. It’s actually the second part of this same quote that grabs me, a part that hardly even registered the first time around. But now? Now, it’s my new mantra:
“Persevere. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America – and in Americans – will be confirmed.”
I am running for DuPage County Board, District 4. I’ll continue to write about my campaign on DemCast, and I hope you will join me on this journey.