Not happy with how things turned out in the 2010 election? Or excited and fired-up by the results? Either way, it's not too early to start thinking about how to get involved for 2012. And rather than let this opportunity slip by, I wanted to write a little bit about what I've learned after eight years of being actively involved in politics. It's actually much easier than you might think to get connected and to make a difference.
First, I have to confess that I spent a dozen years wishing to do something political before I took the leap. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of other people are like that, because I've witnessed this phenomenon in the past where people -- particularly women -- who want to get involved in politics don't do so because they aren't quite sure how to best devote their time and they really don't know if they can make an impact. So rather than overwhelming you with a long list of ideas (although if you want more, by all means, read MoveOn's 50 Ways to Love Your Country), I've selected five simple ones.
1) Sign up for a local political group. There are a lot of these, so they're easy to find -- especially with the searchability of the Web today. Search anything relevant to your area "Springfield Republican" or "Jackson County Democrat" and see what pops up. Search on Facebook too. Go to local government meetings or local political meetings. Meet people there. Listen to what they're talking about. Chances are, they have similar concerns to you.
Find out what the hot issues are locally. See who's running for office that might fit with your interests. Read local papers. Learn names of the players. Even if you do nothing more than this one thing, you will be more informed than most people in your area, and it will make you a better voter when the time comes.
2) Give money. Find candidates or causes you believe in and contribute whatever you're comfortable giving. For people who are really busy, this is a great way to feel involved. Whether it's $5 or $5,000, the campaigns appreciate every dollar. It's expensive to pay for stamps for mailers. It costs a lot to fight negative attacks on TV. And any issue that's worth fighting for will require money from a significant number of donors before it's put to rest. Most people don't know what EMILY's List stands for: Early Money Is Like Yeast. Give early to campaigns and it helps them secure a strong position in a meaningful race. The more money they raise, the better chance they'll have of winning. Every campaign now has a website with a "Donate" button. It only takes a minute to contribute.
If you're willing to help raise money, the campaigns will love you even more. Raising $500 for an event or more can make you a valuable part of a local campaign. Fundraising is a learned skill, but some people are great at it and really love doing it. And when fundraising involves something or someone you believe in, and the money is mostly raised through events, it can be both fun and fulfilling. Asking the campaigns who the finance director is or just contacting whoever's name is on the remit envelope will usually get you going in the right direction.
3) Volunteer for a campaign or political organization. Everybody knows someone who's involved in politics. Even if you have a friend who's in the opposite party you're in but who's politically active in your area, ask her how she got started and who to call. She should know. And refer to the first suggestion above. Find a candidate you like and stick with her (or him). Whether it means only meeting that candidate once and helping out at a local office licking envelopes for a massive national campaign (like a Senate race) or whether it means being assigned as the campaign blogger and social media liaison for a statewide legislative race -- very likely for bloggers -- keep at it.
The longer you volunteer and the more you show your skills, the greater responsibility you'll be handed. But be forewarned -- volunteering on campaigns can take up an infinite amount of time. Know your limits and be proud of any time you can devote. And if you don't have much time, you can still lend your name as someone who endorses a candidate. It will be greatly appreciated. Also remember -- your voice as a blogger has real value. Any time you blog about someone or something important to you, you are giving that individual or issue a larger platform for the message to get out to the public. That in itself is a volunteer service to the campaign. Don't discount the effect it can have on races. Word of mouth is how people learn about candidates who inspire. Tell your friends. Advocate on behalf of the campaigns.
4) Run for office. Easier said than done, right? Yes, but. There are some incredible organizations working with women and training us to run for office. They're operating all over the country and working with multiple political parties. So if you want to run for something, there's really no longer an excuse not to do it. We all have our reasons -- the kids are young, there's no open seat on the city council, you're not interested in being scrutinized by the public, the opposition and the media, you're too young, you're too old, whatever. None of that matters if you can do a good job and you want to do it.
BlogHer partnered with The White House Project for a training at the BlogHer '10 conference in New York and we worked with the Women's Campaign Forum to get some great candidates to you this election. Now we want to make sure women of all ages know about The 2012 Project, part of the Center for American Women and Politics. Here's a little bit about why they're doing it:
Women over 45 – the baby boomer generation – are the most ready talent pool of potential female candidates. These women are typically at the top of their professions, have fewer family responsibilities, are more likely to be financially stable, and have deeper roots in their communities. Efforts to recruit and train young women are essential, but young women are only half the recruiting solution. With one-third of all American women now 50 or older, the undeveloped half of the solution is to engage this group.
5) Encourage others. Brazil just elected a woman president. Rwanda now has twice the percentage of women in elected office than the United States does. Numerous countries have had women prime ministers. We've fought hard to get the representation we have, but even after the "year of the woman," we gained no ground in terms of our numbers in Congress. Partisan organizations like Emerge America and the National Federation of Republican Women are working on building pipelines for women. The Women's Campaign Forum has highlighted a number of related training groups and projects through their "She Should Run" program.
It's all about encouraging the women you know to serve in a public role. Who's that friend that chairs every committee and seems to always be informed about local issues? Get her to run! If she doesn't want to run, tell her to look into applying for an appointed position. (See the California Women's Appointment Project as an example of how it works.) Find a friend who you know likes to watch political news shows. Bring her to a local chapter meeting. Invite your neighbor who always chats politics to a fundraiser. Women like to be asked. We're more likely to seek encouragement than men. But we legislate differently.
[R]esearch by CAWP shows that while women have legislative agendas as varied as their male counterparts, they are more likely to place issues relating to women, children and families on a legislative agenda.
Want to hear more? "An ongoing study by Sarah Anzia at Stanford University and Christopher Berry at the University of Chicago has found that districts served by women legislators are at a distinct advantage over those represented by men." (The article links to the downloadable study.)
If you look just at BlogHer's network of 21 million women and collectively encouraged 21 of those women to run (that's 0.000001% of women bloggers), that would be 21 more potential women legislators who are educated and articulate. We have a great example in Jill Miller Zimon, a BlogHer contributing editor who now serves on her city council in Ohio. By encouraging each other, we can find more amazing women like Jill who can make an impact -- in 2012 and beyond.
Finally, this should go without saying, but the most important thing to do between now and November of 2012 (ideally well before the primaries) is make sure that if you move, or if you haven't voted recently, to register early in 2012 to vote so that your vote will count when you turn in that ballot. And make sure to get an absentee ballot if you won't be near your home. I know it's a long time off, but I've heard stories of people so wrapped-up working on campaigns in one state that they're away from home and can't vote on election day after working tirelessly to get someone elected. It may seem like a long way away, but Republican presidential candidates will be announcing their intentions early in 2011 and campaign organizations are already forming.
With the resources we have available to us now online and off, there is no longer any excuse not to be an active political participant for those who wish to do so. The future is in our hands. Whatever the reason is that motivates you, remember these five things, pick one of them and give it a try.
Sarah Granger has worked on national, statewide and local campaigns as a staffer, consultant and volunteer. She blogs here and there, and she curated BlogHer's political content for the 2010 midterm election.
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