Friday, October 21, 2005Everyone (including myself) talks about how important it is to be involved in politics. But to really be an activist takes more than a small amount of time. To just review, let me tell you what is entailed in working in a political club in a New York City election
1) Figuring out who you support. This means not only that you pay attention, but that you also have to go see the candidates and researching what they're for. If you're going to spend the next six months of your life trying to get someone elected, you sure as hell want to make sure you're backing the right horse.
2) Trying to get your club to endorse that candidate. Not all of your political allies are going to agree with you. Sometimes they are going to violently disagree with you, and you have to decide to what degree your own preferences are more important than your political coalition, or whether other folks in your club are persuadable.
3) Petitioning. In New York City, you have to get signatures from registered party members to be eligible for the ballot. For Mayor, you need 7000 signatures city-wide. No big deal, right? Wrong. First of all, if you only get the minimum your candidate gets a black eye. And second, we aren't talking about standing on a street corner. We're talking about rounding up a bunch of other volunteers (no easy task) to go out several nights a week into apartment buildings and knocking on doors. Getting into the buildings can be difficult (somebody has to let you in and the supers are frequently trying to stop you), it's very hot in the hallways, the voter lists are often a mess, and lots of people aren't home. If you do find someone, you have to convince them to sign, and lot of folks are a little suspicious of a complete stranger coming to their home and wanting them to sign on the dotted line. You get the picture.
4) Once petitioning is done, you need to start the "active" campaigning. This means standing on street corners early in the morning and on weekends passing out literature. And where does this literature come from? Well if you're not working directly for a candidate but with a club that has an endorsed slate, the club has to come up with the money to distribute it. This means raiding your own (tiny) treasury and asking the candidates you're supporting for money. And candidates are always so short on cash that such funds are hard to acquire. You get the picture.
5) In the week or so before the election, you stuff buildings. This means going back into those hot buildings and slipping flyers under doors. Now I've gone to the jungle and climbed up and down mountains, and stuffing is harder. Leaning over a couple of thousand times a day will really kill your back. It took me about 3 days to really recover, and a friend of mine (who did a lot more stuffing than I did and is younger than me) was a zombie for about a week.
6) Election day. Get the day off work. Get up at 5 AM. Be at the polls at 6. Stand in the blaring hot sun with no shade and hand out palm cards (a sample ballot printed by the club). Get a couple of breaks for water/bathroom/food. Keep this up until the polls close at 9PM. Then your job may be to go in and record the vote totals at the machines.
7) The campaign party. If you're lucky, you'll get to go. This year I did - I went to the Weiner event, where somehow I managed to stand on my feet for another couple of hours watching the returns come in and waiting for the candidate to speak. This is the rewarding part of the evening when there is excitement everywhere and you get your second wind. Assuming your guy is doing well . If he loses, it's just insult to injury. I have to tell you, the only person I feel more sorry for than a losing candidate is a losing candidate's volunteers & staff. Yikes.
8) Go home at 2 AM and get a couple of hours of sleep until you have to go back to work the next day.
It doesn't sound glamorous, and it's not. But to tell you the truth, I loved doing it. It's hard and it's often thankless, but there's nothing quite like realizing that you're making a Republic function.