Have you thought about getting involved in politics, but psyched yourself out of taking the first step? You’re not alone. I have heard many stories lately of people with a desire to get involved who became too intimidated by the process.
Allow me apologize for all of the zealous politicos out there. Our enthusiasm can sometimes be overwhelming. There is a language and a pace to politics that is our own, and we forget that everyone doesn’t have the same experience. Let’s go slow and hopefully this piece will give you some courage to show up to a caucus meeting, club meeting, or begin volunteering for a local candidate.
First, you don’t have to know all of the issues. Pundits on cable news programs eat, drink and breathe politics 24/7. Most local activists and politicians do not. It is okay to sit, listen and ask questions. You do not have to know everything about gun rights, abortion and healthcare in order to be involved. The best new activists are willing to work and are hungry to learn.
Networking is simple but understandably terrifying. It takes guts to step into a room and build relationships with new people. Next time you are faced with this situation, try this–find one person you know. Mingle with them a bit, and then ask them to introduce you to someone else in the room. If you don’t know anyone, introduce yourself to the two people sitting next to you. Then, at the next event, find them, reintroduce yourself, and then ask for an introduction to someone else in the room. When you use this strategy over and over again, you will eventually know everyone at the event.
Finally, get involved. There are essentially three “levels” to getting engaged in political groups:
- Level 1 – Meet & Greet – Attend events and network using the strategy described above. Don’t worry about results; just make friends.
- Level 2 – Join a Committee – Once you find an organization and group of people you like, serve on a committee. This is a great way to learn the organization, begin to understand the language of politics, and be seen as a leader. Committee service can be as simple as planning a single event, or as complex as analyzing legislation. Choose a committee that utilizes your skills and is enjoyable.
- Level 3 – Become a Leader – The best place to learn politics is on the executive committee of a caucus or advocacy group. At this level, you will build a brand as a political leader, you will have access to all of the relationships in the organization, and you will have opportunities to network outside of the group in order to advance your cause. Within 3 months to a year of being involved, most hard working and well-networked political volunteers can run for an executive committee position and win.