I’ve noticed a lot of search engine hits from people searching for information on getting involved with politics, so I’m reposting this (slightly updated) piece I wrote after the primaries.
A reader wrote me an email recently in response to a post I had done about working for Jason Kander’s campaign. “How did you get involved? What is it like to get involved? What if you don’t know the right people?” Those are great questions that probably linger in the minds of a lot of potential volunteers who, in the absence of answers, wind up staying home.
How to Get Involved: The easiest way to get involved in a campaign is to call the candidate, or someone with his or her campaign. If you’re interested in getting involved more generally, or if you’re focused more on a cause than a campaign, then contact an organization with a good reputation for doing good work. Either way, use phone or email to contact the people involved, and they will be eager to get you involved.
What to Expect: Working for a campaign is not like The West Wing, or even Primary Colors. There’s a whole lot more phone-banking and envelope stuffing involved than there is policy discussion. You might as well leave your ego at the door, because a campaign runs on workers’ hands, not their brains.
That said, remember that you are a volunteer, and can fairly and justifiably decline the opportunity to take on a task you don’t like. If calling people and asking them if they would like to attend a forum with your candidate is outside your comfort zone, then say that to the person who is asking you to do it. Trust me, they’ll find something more to your liking.
What If You Don’t Know the Right People: Volunteering for a campaign is a great way to meet energetic, involved, interesting people, but it can be terribly intimidating. Often, the people you will be working with already know each other, and it can feel a bit like being the new kid in school. It can bring out the agoraphobic in even the most gregarious person.
Most of the time, that phase lasts for about 5 minutes. Volunteers are friendly people. They want to know you as much as you want to know them. They already like you because they appreciate the help and they agree with you about the person or cause you are mutually supporting. Small talk is really easy with this crowd. “When did you first get involved with (candidate or cause)? Are you originally from Kansas City? Have you worked on any other campaigns?” Trust me, by the end of your shift, you will not feel like the new kid in school.
It’s not too soon to get involved for the next congressional elections, and the gossip mill is starting to warm up about the council and mayoral elections campaigns, to be decided to 2011. Keep your ears open, and, if you like a particular local politician, call him or her up and say that you want to work on their next election. If you want to work on a non-incumbent’s campaign, call the out-of-power party’s number. Jessica Podhola is doing a great job as Executive Director of the Jackson County Democratic Party – you can reach here at 816-833-5232.
I know it’s a little intimidating to get involved in a campaign, but I can assure you that it’s easy to do, the work is unexciting but important, and the people are great. Believe me, election night feels entirely different when you’ve worked on a campaign, and, win or lose, you will feel like you’ve played a kind of significant role in helping Democracy work. You will have.