“Crap, crap, crap crap.” Those were the words I muttered as I walked to my car after our July Town Democratic Committee meeting. Somehow, someway I had just been convinced to run for one of our Town Board seats. I was more than a bit numb imagining the months of uncomfortable attention that would follow…campaign pictures, yard signs with my name on them, interviews, mailings…basically my worst nightmare. To say I am an introvert is an understatement. I am one of those people who was MORE productive during lockdown, whose hands shake a bit whenever I speak in public, who gets heart palpitations thinking about going to a party where I don’t know anyone. How could I possibly survive this? Given the political make-up of our town, defeat was a sure thing. Why would I agree to do such a thing? Why would I set myself up for humiliating failure?
Let’s go back a bit, about 30 years. Thirty years ago, I went to college in a very liberal town, in a very blue state. I loved it. After that I continued my education living in glaring red, blue and purple states but ultimately, 16 years ago, I jumped at the opportunity to come back “home” and work in the place I so loved. I fell in love with a house in a small town and haven’t looked back since. The only thing – despite the bright blue hue of my state and the more muted blue of my surrounding communities – I live in probably the most ruby red town in the county. My neighbors are nice, community members are hard workers and come from a variety of income groups but, as you would expect, some cracks appeared with the election of The Former Guy. Flags, signs, t-shirts, and hats sprouted. Hurtful comments directed at people in local businesses were made. It was sad. Fortunately we didn’t experience violence as was true in other places, but still…
The Town Democratic Party became more active, and I joined up. We all worked to get Biden elected and to flip our area blue in the 2018 and 2020 elections. Despite Biden’s win, our area stayed red. So, as we approached the 2021 elections, we became committed to making sure we had candidates on the ballot. For years, the GOP candidates in our town have run unopposed. Like a lot of small-town politics, people vote for who they know, who they knew in high school, who is familiar. People would complain about things happening in the town but still the officials ran unopposed.
I had been doing a lot of social media work, had joined DemCast, been a member of Geeks Resist and had taken over my Democratic committee’s Facebook page so my fellow Dems knew me as a good communicator. I had been telling people to get involved, saying it was our duty. So when the subject of candidates for town board came up, all eyes turned to me. It was time to put up or shut up. Everyone promised to support and campaign for me, so how could I say no? Now, as I walked back to my car, I was in shock.
I began making lists of why this was the right thing to do, and it all came down to this…people deserve choices. No one should run unopposed. That is not democracy. Why would people vote if they have no choice? How do people who aren’t in the majority know they have allies if no one runs? If you look at our local officials you would think everyone is male, white, over 60, straight and Christian. This is simply not true. There are POC in our town, there are Jewish people, pagans, and atheists. There are scientists and farmers, immigrants, and refugees, cis and trans, gay and straight, Democrats, Libertarians, independents, and Republicans. But only Republicans are represented at the polling booths. This is wrong. We might lose, we might lose badly, but people deserve a choice.
Campaigning has been odd as we must limit activities due to the pandemic. The opposition doesn’t even feel threatened enough to put up yard signs, but some people have come to our events. Small numbers, but they came. We got some cheers when introduced during a summer community carnival and people have put up signs, made phone calls and canvassed. A few new people have been recruited to the town Dem Committee and some people have said they appreciate having a reason to vote.
As we approach the election, what have I learned? Yes, I will lose. Based on the voter registration numbers, all Democrats would have to vote, and all independents would have to vote for the Democratic ticket. It would also help if about half of the Republicans stayed home. But what I really learned is that people need a voice. They need to know they are not alone. The people I have talked to sincerely want to have better lives and really want someone to help them, to represent them, to advocate for them. I can do that. The mere fact that I decided to run has been important to people.
Thursday, I did what I had been dreading: I went to vote. Dreading because I thought seeing my name on a ballot was going to be embarrassing. But as I went, I realized I could vote early because people in my government took a stand to make voting more accessible. I had voted for those people, and they had made a difference. When I looked at the ballot, what struck me wasn’t my name or that I was actually voting for myself, but that for the first time in several years, there were names in the Dem columns for positions in my town. This. Felt. Good.
Why am I writing this on the eve of my great political “defeat”? Because midterms are coming. Because our democracy is on the line. Because no one should run unopposed, and everyone deserves a voice. If you are like me, introverted, nervous and hesitant, I want you to know running for local office is not that bad. Get out of your comfort zone. People will support you. People will talk to you. You will make a difference to them. Despite all your fears and trepidations, you can make a difference. Please run for office. Please make sure all voices are heard. Surprisingly, I realized why, despite fear and a seeming lost cause, we all must step up as I re-watched “Dr. Strange.” There is something that everyone in public life or contemplating public life needs to hear. As they discussed fear of failure, The Ancient One turns to Stephen Strange and says “arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all…It’s not about you.”
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