Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Non-Scary Guide to Getting Involved in Politics

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.

(UPDATE: This coming weekend in Kansas City offers a rare opportunity to jumpstart your involvement. On Saturday, from 9-4 at the Uptown, the 21st Century Democrats are offering a FREE training as part of a program to develop "500 urban activists in field skills such as targeting, door-to-door communications, canvassing, data collection and analysis, message development and other important elements for winning elections". If you want to get involved, I cannnot imagine a better way to do so . . . Go here and follow the links to learn more and sign up.)

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 late to get involved for the November elections. If the presidential race has your attention, the Obama HQ is at Gillham and Linwood - just walk in and tell them you want to volunteer. If you want a more grassroots, local campaign, I think that Joe Volpe's race is going to be a lot of fun, and he even has an "I Want to Volunteer" button on his homepage. Whatever race has your attention, it should be easy to find a campaign that wants your time and effort.

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.

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18 Comments:

Blogger Brian Rules the World said...

I worked for a certain KC-area congressman who shall remain nameless, while I was finishing up my worthless poly sci degree. Though most of my job(and I use the term loosely as it was unpaid) was stapling signs together or passing out campaign materials, it was fun and it was good experience for a resume.

Also on the upside, I met some really cool people and plus got the real dirt about this guy, including how he couldn't keep his pants zipped and a Georgetown undergrad stole his blackberry while they were engaged in some illicit activity.

8/13/2008 1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan, you forgot the part about campaigns being as addictive as crack. And there's always another election just around the corner--city, state, national--and whichever party you worked with has your email, phone number, home address...

Andy

8/13/2008 2:58 PM  
Blogger Bobby said...

This post very much aligns with my experience as a first-time volunteer. I'll definitely be showing it to some of my friends who are curious about what I did the last 6 weeks.

8/13/2008 3:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another way you can get involved is to come to the KC DFA meetups where they will hook you up with a campaign and a candidate. And DFA offers great training if you want to learn even more. They meet the first Wed of every month at 7pm at Californo's in Westport.

8/13/2008 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you wish to get to know the Kanders simply go to the coven and be prepared to kiss the Devil's ass.

8/13/2008 4:14 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Another great thing about getting involved with campaigns is that you don't have to put up with people like anonymous 4:14. People like that don't get out of the house much, and spend their time trying to soothe their sad selves by tearing down their betters.

8/13/2008 6:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"spend their time trying to soothe their sad selves by tearing down their betters".

Glad you think you are so much better than others, Danny boy. A true closet republican in sheeps clothing no doubt you are.

Typical lawyer, politician, or any other asshole I know.

The politician you worship will no doubt change the world.

8/13/2008 11:53 PM  
Anonymous Captain Tuttle said...

People like that don't get out of the house much

I don't know about that. You get a lot of folks that don't have a life, so they make the campaign their life. They live and breath candidate X and party y and become totally unbearable.

8/14/2008 12:41 AM  
Anonymous Lance Weber said...

What do you think about the way Joe Volpe downplays his party affiliation on his website? I like him and would vote for him but didn't know for sure which party he was with based on his site.

Nice post. People should definitely get involved - the world is run by those who show up! Only a very small percentage of our population participates in politics and an even smaller percentage of that group is worth a damn. No wonder big business has been able to dominate the system. We will continue to suffer worse and worse government until we all get more involved.

Regardless of party affiliation, inspiring more people to become active is our only hope. I'm glad to see efforts like this, no matter how poorly produced they are. Grassroots training is a worthy endeavor but I am more immediately concerned with what is going on right now, not 5 or 10 years from now. I sure wish my own elected officials were doing more to train constituents on how to get involved with the actual business and oversight of government.

8/14/2008 1:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How soon do reelection campaigns begin? Can one help with planning a reelection campaign that is still 2 years out?

8/14/2008 4:22 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Anonymous 11:53 - I'm not necessarily better than anon 4:14, I was pointing out that Jason Kander is. As for me being an asshole, yes, sometimes I am. It's a character flaw I struggle with every day. People like anon 4:14 are, for me, like a double shot of good whiskey for an alcoholic.

Captain Tuttle - There certainly are zealots that get involved in campaigns, but they are a different sort of person than anon 4:14 is. Honestly, the people who get involved in a campaign don't get into talking nonsense about the other side - even around a table stuffing envelopes, someone who launched into a silly accusation that candidate X belongs to a coven and kisses the devil's ass would be greeted with awkward silence, and a subtle shifting of chairs away from him. That's just odd behavior, and nobody likes to be around people like that.

Lance - I'm surprised to see Volpe not display his Dem label more proudly. I don't know if it is oversight or strategy (in small campaigns, not everything happens on purpose).

Anonymous 4:22 (am!) - Now would be a great time to contact a politician you admire and tell him or her that you would like to get involved in a reelection effort. You might even get invited to some of the pre-campaign strategy sessions or offered a leadership opportunity, if you choose a fecet of the campaign for your volunteer efforts ("Candidate Y, I would love to volunteer for your reelection in 2010, and I'd be willing to focus my attention on getting yard signs out in high-visibility locations throughout the district.")

8/14/2008 5:59 AM  
Blogger Bobby said...

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/8/7/135051/9341/276/564161

It's the ground game that wins elections. If you want to get serious about helping out your party (either one), get out and volunteer. A consistent volunteer is one of, if not *the* most heavily sought-after resources on a campaign.

8/14/2008 9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who would post at 4:22 am???

8/14/2008 7:47 PM  
Anonymous Captain Tuttle said...

Honestly, the people who get involved in a campaign don't get into talking nonsense about the other side

I don't know. I have volunteered on a couple of campaigns. More than once I have had to listen to someone explain how the "other side" or "big brother" could be "infiltrating" our group or listening in on us.

Or how some "outside" group was trying to influence the election by hacking into Diebold machines. Or how candidate "X" was involved in blowing up the twin towers and it was all a big media cover up.

Granted, those folks were the minority, but there seem to be a few in every political volunteer group.

8/14/2008 9:57 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

wtf Brian, "worthless poli sci degree"??

It's the best degree in the world. The most fun to study, and as long as you don't want to remove brain tumors or design processor chips, quite practical.

8/14/2008 10:29 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

wtf Brian, "worthless poli sci degree"??

It's the best degree in the world. The most fun to study, and as long as you don't want to remove brain tumors or design processor chips, quite practical.

8/14/2008 10:29 PM  
Anonymous DKC said...

I love politics I just think the voting part is stupid.

8/15/2008 2:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Volunteer? I would say tool. Especially in your case Dan.

8/19/2008 12:27 PM  

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