Stepping Up

I never would have thought I would be raising my hand in a room full of political activists and saying, yes, I would like to run for office. But here I was, the only one raising their hand.

A week ago I attended a meeting of a local chapter of Pant Suit Nation, who were deciding that they wanted to do more than tell their stories.  I had not even heard of Pant Suit Nation till after the General Election, probably because I was a Bernie supporter and I had been inactive politically since the primary ended and my favored candidate had lost the nomination.

Back in February, I had joined a local Bernie 2016 group to canvass and call our neighbors. That was the highlight of my year, feeling like I could make a difference. I was thrilled to meet kindred spirits who shared my passion for Bernie’s ideas. I had read everything I could about his positions on issues and when I knocked on the door or made phone calls, I felt prepared and more confident than I had ever been discussing politics.

From as far back as I can remember, I have always disliked politics. I saw it as something others with bigger egos and more polished personalities, those natural born leaders, got involved with. Perhaps I felt helpless, that no one listened to me or the average person anyway, so why bother. Perhaps, it was the lack of a major candidate whose ideas sparked my desire to get involved.

On occasion, I did actually make an effort to support a candidate. The first time I did this was in the 2000 primary, I was enamored by Bill Bradley, and both my boyfriend and I were eager to join a student run group to help him. Then, before we even got started, he dropped out of the primary. After that we were behind Gore, but not with the passion needed to get out the vote for him. The next 8 years were depressing and I felt alienated from the whole political process.

But then, in  2008, a turning point, the democratic party nominated an incredibly dynamic eloquent person to run for president (I had voted for Clinton in the primary, but was perfectly content that Obama won). Obama’s campaign encouraged grassroots support and people like me started changing their perception of politics. I considered going out to canvass door to door, but with a newborn baby, it was easier for me to make calls to voters. A new innovative technological tool, the dialer, allowed me to make the calls from home, while tracking responses on my computer. I actually hate making phone calls, but I plugged away trying to do my part.

After the 2016 primary, I was deflated, done with organizing, engaging in politics. I knew Bernie was right, that we had to support Clinton, she was the far better choice, but I had lost my enthusiasm for political involvement. I felt talked down to by the democratic party elite, I considered dem-exiting. In a sense, I did. I live in a very blue state, so I had no problem voting for a third party candidate for the first time in my life. With resignation, that my vote would make no difference, I gave it to Jill Stein. Part of me yearned to vote for the first woman president of the United States, but I wanted to vote my conscience, and Clinton was expected to win overwhelmingly, anyway.

I went through a lot of mixed emotions in the days following Nov. 8, 2016. First, I felt this smug, self-righteous, I told you so, to those who had argued that Clinton was more electable. I was shocked that she lost, but not actually surprised. The last couple of months had reminded me of 2000, and I kept feeling that Clinton was going to be another Gore, but given the polls, I assumed I was wrong.

Soon my smugness became anger, how could people have not seen the writing on the wall! I also resented those saying that Bernie was in part to blame for the loss and it bothered me that democrats were so quick to demonize people who either voted for Trump or sat out the election. I looked around myself at my more conservative neighbors and could see why they had not turned out to support a democratic candidate, despite the horrific choice. Most had no enthusiasm for either candidate, and probably felt like I had for so long, helpless, hopeless, nothing I did would make a difference.

My anger turned to despair when I started seeing the bigotry of some Trump supporters coming out of the wood work and the president-elect starting to make terrible cabinet appointments. The people who were empowered were intent on destroying everything I believed in.

Fortunately, it was around that time, that someone kindly added me to the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group. Seeing for the first time a group of several million ordinary people expressing similar fears and concerns, has inspired hope in me. I see these women and men who are organizing local grassroots advocacy groups and am filled again with a desire to take action. Bernie has regained his voice, and continues to remind us that when millions of people stand together, we can not be ignored. I wasn’t an adamant Clinton supporter, but she was right: we are stronger together.

I went to my first meeting of the local pantsuit nation chapter, and instead of being the shy, non-committal person I often am, I jumped into the conversation. I became the official note-taker that evening, then still feeling insecure about my abilities,  I offered my help working on their website and signed up to organize the list of trackers of our elected officials. I wanted to join every committee, but there were plenty of others stepping up, so I just chose a few.

Finally, the organizer of the event brought up the possibility of our group supporting one of us to run for political office. Who here would consider running for office? She asked. I thought about Bernie, saying that we each can make a difference, that the only way to have progressive values is to have progressives run for local school boards and state legislators. If we don’t want our country to be run by elitists, we need to work our way into the system from the bottom up. I may not be a natural born politician, but I am one of millions who feel passionately, who know that it takes a village, each of us standing up to do our part, to right the wrongs and pave the way for justice.

I looked around the room of 30 or so women and one man, mostly older than I. No one had answered the question, would someone step up? Then I timidly raised my hand. I can do this, I thought. Yes, I think I can.