Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Put down the clipboard: why you shouldn't run for office

Have you heard the advice that if you don't like the direction of society you should run for local political office?

I help people run for local office. I lead a group that does 750 - 1,500 volunteer activities for candidates every year--many of these candidates are for local races driven by talking to people at their doors.

Will running for local office change things? No. Not by itself.

Why won't running for local office change things? See below.

What is the most likely outcome if you run for office? You'll lose.

Another likely outcome: you will be absorbed into a political party that's designed to protect the status quo.

And even if you're elected, it matters little.

Public policy is set by forces way above local government. This is the essence of Neoliberalism. Neoliberalism sees public policy as an economic decision, cost-benefit analysis. Public policy should be optimized around the interests of the capital class and care for the commons in society should be limited to the amount approved by the capital class.

There is a bottomless pit of money available to enforce social hierarchy--a key demand of "Conservatives"--but the amount of money available to uplift people needs to be reduced so that a zero-sum fight between groups within the 99% becomes inevitable.

So, even if you're elected to your school board, what are you going to change?

Electoral politics without an ideological framework to fight for change... the elected official (you) become a cog in a system that is failing (by design).

As someone who has interviewed or seen hundreds of candidates for elected office in the last twenty years, few of them--even the most progressive--are talking about changing the macro-political forces that define our reality and limit our options at the local level.

Progressive candidates for office have a tough challenge. One, the message should be tailored to the office in question. Votes want to hear that a candidate at least cares about their priorities: more jobs, better schools and less crime. They want to hear that the candidate has some specific plan or idea to fix a specific problem.

Voters aren't ready for a short pitch that the system is fundamentally rigged against them and that running for office is part of a long game to radically overhaul the economic system. At least voters weren't ready for this message prior to Bernie Sanders' 2016 campaign for POTUS.

Corporate media has assiduously avoided systemic critiques of capitalism and the economic system. One trick popular with liberals (liberals = capitalists who pay lip service to the values of the Left), is to claim that Neoliberalism isn't a precisely enough defined term. Ergo, no criticism of Neoliberalism is valid because Neoliberalism doesn't really exist.

Voters know that great economic injustices are being perpetrated. Bernie Sanders' campaign spoke to this feeling of injustice.

But how much do voters have a sense of a framework for what a just economic system would look like?

And even if the voters in your community are wicked educated, can you deliver economic justice through good policy in your school district?

If you believe in your heart that we exist in a fundamentally unjust economic system, what are you doing joining the system at the lowest level? How are you going to avoid simply being a cog implementing the injustices against your neighbors?

One value of having socialist parties on the ballot: votes for socialist candidates are a clear statement against the capitalist status quo. When socialists get votes, it shows there is a block of voters open to redistributing wealth from the 1% to the 99%.

But Democrats and Republicans have cooperated to exclude socialists from electoral politics.

What should people do, if not run for office?

We do need candidates. So, some people should run for office. But it requires a peculiar set of skills to be smart enough to do it and be disciplined enough to grind out door after door while staying on a message that is partly the bullshit the average voter wants to hear. Plus there's the grind of the fundraising. And there's the people skills that go along with hiring & supervising campaign staff. And the judgment of when to follow the campaign manager's directions as if she's a dominatrix and when to fire her like a grifter who is trying to con you out of your life savings.

If running for office were easy... democracy might work better.

Build a local political organization. I, along with my significant other, Melissa Lindberg, are co-chairs of Northside Democracy For America, a Chicago affiliate of Democracy For America (Wikipedia). Part of what's necessary to change politics is local political organizations that are accountable to their own members.

Here's my challenge if you are still tempted to run for office. Research what independent political organizations exist in or near your community. Find out how much help you can get from the progressive political infrastructure that exists and how much your are going to have to build your campaign from nothing.

BTW, do you know a bunch of smart, capable people? Less than 10% of them will volunteer on your campaign doing stuff that's useful. They'll take-up your time giving you advice, telling you how to spend your money and time. But few of them will find knocking doors, making phone calls or raising money to be within their comfort zones.

If your community has progressive political infrastructure that supports you running for an office that's a fit for you, that's a good sign.

If your community lacks progressive political infrastructure, you should probably work on building the progressive political infrastructure so you and others have a base to run from in the future. If you go this route and want to affiliate with a national organization (not a requirement), please consider Democracy For America (Mari Schimmer or Jessica Carter).

The other thing the entire United States needs is local media outlets that are progressive.

If you want to democratize local government, you can likely accomplish more by picking one unit of local government and going to each public meeting and blogging about it than you can by running for office.

If you want to persuade your community to be more progressive (or socialist), you can likely accomplish more by becoming a local journalist on a niche of local issues than you can by becoming a local elected officials.

I've done my best to dissuade you from running for office. If I have failed and you live in the Chicago area, contact me. I'll try to help you.

One more thing: whatever path you choose, your going to have to find other people to work with and support you. Politics isn't a venture for individual superheroes. Great candidates help, but teams win elections. This is as much true of building local political organizations. One can be a lone gunman blogger, but you'll probably run out of steam.

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