By Mark Brazaitis
Before November 8 and the election to the presidency of a man whose views on everything from women’s rights to immigration to climate change are antithetical to mine, I’d been content to sit on the political sidelines. But after November 8, I could no longer be a mere observer.
So I ran for a position on the city council in Morgantown, West Virginia, where I live and work.
I’d never run for public office.
And if I won, you can, too.
Pick an Elected Position You’d Like to Fill—Passionately. It’s hard to campaign for a job—whether it’s for school board or Congress—you don’t want with all your heart. It’s too easy to demur on campaign events or fund-raising phone calls. It’s too easy to say, on a cold or rainy day, “Hmm…I think I’ll postpone knocking on doors until the weather changes.”
Accompanied by my teenage daughters, I collected signatures during a blizzard to get my name on the ballot. During the four-month campaign, I knocked on more than 600 doors.
Tell People You’re Running. Don’t be shy about sharing your ambition with everyone you know. Your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family will doubtless be encouraging—and they may know people who have experience running campaigns.
Having spread the word about my intentions, I was soon in touch with a quartet of local, energetic, and talented twentysomethings, fresh off volunteering for Bernie Sanders. They volunteered their expertise in everything from designing campaign signs and radio ads to putting together targeted walk lists to helping me find people who shared my community spirit to knock on doors. Without their savvy and skills, I would have run a far less poised campaign.
Anticipate Attacks. Be aware of what might be used against you—and be proactive. Politics, to quote Chairman Mao, is “war without bloodshed”—even at the school-board level.
I pre-empted attacks about my past battle with depression by writing an essay, published in USA Today, in which I explained how my struggle with mental illness had made me a stronger person and candidate. The issue never came up in my campaign.
Of course, other issues did!
Study History. Like the seasons, politics is cyclical—and so are political take-down strategies. The more you know of the past, the better prepared you’ll be for the present.
During a debate on the local Fox News-affiliated radio station, both my opponent and the show’s host interrogated me about my membership in what they obviously saw as a radical organization, Mountaineers for Progress, which advocates for disenfranchised people in West Virginia. In their insinuations, I heard echoes of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s infamous question “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?” In answer, I pointed out that while progressives supported me so did my 83-year-old neighbor and a dozen of her retired friends. I turned to my opponent and said, “You’re afraid of the Golden Girls.”
Be Wary of the Dog. Studies show that the best way to win votes is to go door-to-door. But proceed with caution. As I canvassed a local neighborhood, I was bit by a dog. Worse, its owner seemed indifferent to my bleeding backside. I’ve written about it here.
Celebrate Human Connections. In contrast to the dog owner were dozens of people across Morgantown who were happy to speak with me—and to share their hopes for our city. I loved our conversations. Win or lose, I was grateful to have made new friends—and to learn about my community.
Three days before the election, I canvassed in one of Morgantown’s poorest neighborhoods. Gazing around at the modest homes, and contemplating the residents’ tough circumstances, I despaired of finding people who would be motivated to vote. But at the first door I knocked on, the 70-year-old woman who answered, a widow who’d lived in town her entire life, smiled at me and said, “I’ve been following the election closely. I’ve read up about you. And, yes, I’ll be voting for you.”
Mark Brazaitis is the author of seven books, including Truth Poker: Stories.
Photo credits: Amy Pratt