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The personal is political: Getting into town politics

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Coffee campaigns

In a small town, you can't hide from town politics. Any issue facing the town is discussed and debated and rehashed ad nauseum at the bus stop, the soccer field, the local coffee shop, the recycling center, everywhere. You have an opinion whether you initially wanted to or not.

Coffee campaigns

We've had some particularly contentious school committee elections in recent years. The differing opinions of the candidates have helped the dialogue about the schools overall, but there have been moments it has been predominantly negative and unhelpful. I understand there are high emotions about our children's education. I have strong emotions myself, but I want the focus to be on helpful and forward-thinking discussions and ideas.

It was in light of this that I decided to help an acquaintance with her campaign for reelection to the school committee. The bottom line is that I believe that her skills, her stands on issues and her demeanor make her an excellent school committee member and she needs to stay on the panel. For all the headaches, small towns offer a unique opportunity to be involved in politics. It took one phone call and I had a visible job. What I am doing for her is a little funny. I organize coffees. Like many places, there is a "way" things are done around here. Change to that way is slow and resisted mightily.

One of the ways for campaigns for town elections here is a series of coffees held in homes around town. The candidate identifies people he or she knows in various areas of towns and asks them to host a coffee. Then the candidate passes the organizing off to the official coffee organize. I help figure out the date, assist with invitations, introduce the candidate at the event and, most importantly, collect names of those invited and those who attend. These coffees typically occur on weekday mornings. When I first moved to town and received my first coffee invitation, I was annoyed by this. It seemed very presumptuous about the life I lead and, frankly, a little cliquey especially because the coffee was on a day I'd be many miles away in an office. I admit that because of that initial aversion, I never actually attended a coffee until I hosted one myself last year for another school committee candidate.

Thankfully, over the last several years, some change has crept into town and there are now some evening events to complement the daytime ones.For all the resistance I had to this type of event, they do a nice job of reaching out to many groups in the town. Just in working with the hosts identified thus far, I've met some really nice people, and I am sure to meet many more at the events themselves. Some no longer have children in the school system, some have kids that overlap mine and some have older or younger kids.

The events themselves tend to be somewhat poorly attended (after all that work); the main point seems to be everybody in town receiving some indication of whom a friend or neighbor supports and hopefully remembering that at the voting booth.For all the discussing and debating and rehashing that happens around town on school issues, I am determined not to be an idle complainer. If I have an opinion on how things are going, I need to do what I can to support the people who make the decisions. This is what I can do. This is how the personal opinions on the schools translates to the political for me. It's an example for the kids, too, about how even small efforts can have an effect on the political process, even in our little microcosm of a town.

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