By Jake Miller
I don’t know about you, but when I read the news, I’m fearful of a growing illness. The more we talk about it, the more it is consuming us all.
But this isn’t about Coronavirus – or COVID-19. I’m talking about our “election infection.”
That’s at least what the Rev. Andy Stanley, the well-known pastor of Georgia’s North Point Community Church calls it. We are consumed by an addiction to talking about politics. This is an illness that is causing us to lose our livelihood. And the only cure for the “election infection” is being actively engaged in the process.
The problem is most of us are “slacktivists.” Author Eitan Hersh notes in his book Politics Is for Power that most of us who claim to be politically active really are just hobbyists.
Just as amateur ornithologists watch for their favorite birds in their native environment, we devotedly eye and listen to the chirping heads on TV. But we’ve lost our ability to dive deeply into investigative journalism, worse yet at financially supporting anything besides surface level click-bait reporting.
We are the armchair quarterbacks who sit, watch, and even “root,” for “our team.”
We express how we’re elated or offended after every time someone scores in a football game or a point in a debate. We have the attention span too. We then talk about politics at the water cooler as if as if we were spectators and critics instead of active participants.
Just as we enjoy finding and sharing stories on arts and crafts on Pinterest, we post with the intent of political persuasion.
As we spectate from the sidelines, politics makes us more and more disillusioned. We read and watch with a sense of awe while also being awestruck and feeling awful.
So what is there to do? Here are five suggestions.
Commit yourself to an organization: Think about your line of work: what organizations work to help you in your field, whether to earn more money, have better access, improve regulations, and benefit the consumer and public? Join one. Also, think about what political issue is your “slavery issue.” Meaning, 100 years from now, what political lightning rod would you be proud to be fighting for, and fighting on the correct side to help move towards near-future and long-term successes. Find an organization that supports your political belief, and work for it.
Find a campaign: The late U.S. House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill is often credited that “all politics is local.” Find someone in office or running for that office and pitch in. Most Americans would be surprised as to how being a super-volunteer fosters the winds of political change, even if you and that candidate are of different parties. And, if/when that candidate arrives in office, there’s now a system of accountability and advancement for the issue(s) and community you care about. And if they don’t, you’ll be all the stronger for the next campaign
Canvass and call: These two facets of a campaign mean more than any yard signs, any Facebook ad, any TV commercial, and any newspaper advertisement. Voters love to meet a candidate at the door, and a very close second is an excited volunteer with a passionate story advocating for an issue or a candidate. If you take the time to share the gift of your story and/or your candidate, you’re giving instead of receiving. In no other facet of life is this more important to move the political needle.
Donate: Don’t have the time because you’re too busy working? Put your money to work for you. While 22% of Americans claim to give to candidates and causes, only 12% actual do. The fact of the matter is it costs a great deal of money to run a race, even more to win. In fact, 91% of candidates who raise the most money, win. So if you want to play the odds, place your bets.
Run for office yourself: There is no more noble nor maniacal a thing to do on behalf of your cause and community than to become a candidate yourself. Whether it’s running for school board because you want to change the narrative so your kids have a better learning environment with happier teachers or because you want to run for president because you’re tired of the shenanigans and think you can do better, someone has to win the race. If you think you’re qualified and one of the best people for the job, you’d be doing yourself and the rest of us a disservice for staying out.
The window has already closed on running for office for 2020. But there’s still plenty of time to get involved in other ways this year. Pennsylvania holds its primary election on April 28. The general election is Nov. 3.
Jake Miller is a history teacher in the Cumberland Valley School District in Cumberland County, Pa.