I am beyond super excited about the growing numbers of people interested in political involvement, and I genuinely do not mean that in a patronising or sneering way. I don’t care when you got interested in politics and when you decided to start doing things at whatever level: I am glad you are here. I hope you stick with it. I hope we find ways to support each other to make that possible, because going it alone is really, really hard.
Which is actually what I want to talk about today. I’ve talked about reinventing the wheel, but I want to take this in a slightly different direction, and that is this: Take advantage of experience.
There are a lot of extremely experienced people, including current and former political operatives, legislative staffers, lawmakers, and others who have TONS of experience and knowledge who are freely offering that up to you. (It’s a good idea to support their efforts with cash though too because it is work.) They’re offering their expertise — something that politicians and lobbyists actually pay a lot of money for — for free because they think it’s important. Because they want to encourage people to be politically active, and they’d also like to support people by guiding them in the direction of great stuff to be doing.
These people are a lot more experienced than I am. When I have questions or concerns or want guidance on how to take action, I often turn to them — they’re often helpfully preemptively posting information for me to review, but I’m unafraid to just ask, after searching to make sure they haven’t already answered my question. They’re familiar with the ins and outs, they know what works and what doesn’t, and they understand how to work the system. Sometimes I learn things that surprise me, and I’m glad I didn’t waste my energy doing something that wouldn’t have been productive!
Sometimes they deliver hard truths, or say things that disappoint me because I really was hoping for a better answer. It can feel kind of deflating, but that information is still useful. They aren’t trying to kill dreams or tell people to only colour between the lines — they’re explaining the facts of life. And delving into ways we can work within those facts, and perhaps someday change the system. They don’t tell us these things because they hate freedom, but because they don’t want you spinning your wheels and getting frustrated.
Sometimes people encourage actions that just don’t have any effect, like signing petitions. (Don’t sign petitions.) Those in the know advise against this because it’s a waste of resources, and like, literally does nothing. This isn’t a feel good action — it doesn’t accomplish anything. It should not feel good to do nothing. It’s wasteful because it distracts from things that could have a meaningful impact, and it can contribute to burnout, but also to ‘click and done’ activism, in which someone signs a petition, doesn’t do anything else, and feels like they accomplished something. They didn’t. Unless, of course, you’re talking about organising a petition to get a person or issue on the ballot!
At other times, people have advice that is actively harmful. Calling legislators who don’t represent you, for example, ties up their phone lines so their own constituents can’t get through. It also adds fuel to the ‘paid protesters’ fire. Don’t do that! Unless, of course, you have been specifically, explicitly invited to do so.
Sometimes people recommend things that are about a split in opinion, like primarying representatives they don’t like. And this gets into a complicated grey area, because those in the know are advising against it with the advantage of a lot of very solid evidence based on a deep understanding of the system and years of experience. Some experienced political operatives disagree and are all for it, noting that people who are new to politics have never been told they can’t do something, so sometimes they come up with an innovative and cool solution that those mired in the system think is impossible.
It’s okay to disagree with those in the know. Doing so isn’t wrong and they are not infallible. Their goals don’t always perfectly align with yours. But it’s worth taking advantage of the tremendous free resources that they are offering you because they want to help you. They don’t want to discourage you. They don’t want to make you feel bad and wrong for not knowing something. They don’t want you to feel like everything is pointless so why even bother honestly. They just want you to maximise your energy.
When they’re telling you something that goes against your preconceived notions, or contradicts with what someone said at knitting circle the other day, or doesn’t mesh with your beliefs, dig a little deeper. Find out the logic behind the statement. Explore the fact that possibly they are actually totally right, even if what they’re saying isn’t quite what you want to hear. Find trustworthy people in the know who can hook you up with solid, actionable details.
And if you don’t like the facts of how the system works? I don’t blame you, I’m not in love with the system either, which is why I am working to change it, and you can too — and I’m sashaying through the front door to do it, because I know it works, rather than throwing rocks at the windows as they close the curtains to shut me out.
Image: To Assist the Hearing, Arallyn!, Flickr