I’ve never really been involved in local politics. It’s just not my jam. Now best believe I’m all about the Presidential elections. I was all about mobilizing to get the Obamas in the White House – foam fingers and everything. And I will say that as far as local and midterm elections go, I am at least the voter who knows there is an election, fills out my ballot, gets my sticker and then I’m peace out. Civic duty done. That was me. Until my best friend decided to go for her big dream and run for an elected position in a major city. Then it became personal.
I jumped in as a relative first timer into local politics. All the way in. I did it all. For over a year. And I found myself experiencing a flood of firsts that has shifted my view on what civic duty these days actually means.
First, I found the Dept of Elections. In my city, it’s in the basement of City Hall and you can go there. Pretty much anytime. And watch them count ballots. Who knew?
I found out what it’s like to be a political fundraiser. Many of the people who I assumed would jump in immediately and early based on personal relationships ....well let’s just say, phones started to go a little quiet. Ok no big whoop. I’ve raised millions of philanthropic fundraising dollars. I can certainly raise thousands of political fundraising dollars. Well I found out pretty quickly that political fundraising is a different thing altogether. There are different motivations. In philanthropy, there is an underlying assumption of altruism and trust. In political fundraising, there’s a healthy amount of skepticism at jump. And after several rounds of early phone calls, I realized there are more “maybe laters” than I expected.
And it takes calls. Lots of calls. And texts. Lots of texts. And emails. So many emails. I soon came up with a hashtag #youaintmaxedoutyet and used it to jokingly shame people into maxing out their donation. Which I learned in a local race like this one, was raising three quarters of a million dollars, in $500 increments. $500?! Do you have any idea how many $500 donations you need to get to $750k? A helluva lot. So I called a lot of people. It was a rare and humbling experience. But I learned that you can really reconnect with people who you thought you already knew in unexpected ways. You can uncover their concerns and passions in ways you may not have before. And it was abundantly clear that we all care about and love our community. So that was a win.
I found out that canvassing (a.k.a. door knocking) isn’t all that bad. Many people open their doors in this town (which blows my mind cause lawd knows we don’t open doors for nobody we’re not expecting). I had some lovely conversations with really caring folks and saw more firsthand about how people live. And I found out there is an entire generation of 20 and 30 somethings living in their grandparent’s paid off homes making six figures at Twitter. The transfer of wealth is happening. Right now. But that’s for another conversation.
I found out the terrifying power of the media narrative and what it feels like to be on the receiving end of judgment, criticism and gossip – whether accurate or not. I saw the coalitions being developed. I saw the ugly political machine at work. I cyber argued with moms on Facebook about why my best friend was the best candidate. It was unreal. Again, this was not me. This was not my jam. But my best friend was in the ring and my job was to be in her corner. To encourage her I would send throwback 90s videos like Mariah Carey and 2Pac at 5:30am to get her ready for whatever the day would bring. And anytime you can rock to 90s music, well that’s just a win.
I also found out what it feels like to lose. Yup. She lost. The race was incredibly close. At one point, there was a 26 vote difference between the candidates. I don’t think I had ever seen a situation where literally every. vote. counted. We ended up having to wait several days to confirm the winner due to our city’s ranked choice voting system. This was an excruciating week of local politics in action. No one could breathe. My phone was blowing up by the hour from people all over the country asking for updates (we had now reached national headlines). We hovered anxiously for the 4pm update each day. We gave it our all until the very end. And it was a gut punch. It felt like grief and it still hurts. That was not a win.
I love my best friend and I’m so so sorry she lost. But I know she’ll be ok. I know we will be ok. I know we’ll continue to dance to 90s jams and reminisce about college life – before there were husbands, kids and big political races. Because we know the power of the win is the journey not the destination. And I could not be more proud of her. The resolve, courage and tenacity that this mother of three brought to the table should make every person proud. She WENT FOR IT. All of it. And that is the biggest win in my book.
Because of her I also now better understand the incredibly passionate people who we depend on every year to facilitate our voting democracy. I understand these people a little better now. I understand the late nights and early mornings. I understand the tears. I get the deep belief. I have a clearer view into the work it takes to get the candidate you believe in with all your heart and soul elected for office.
I think now that I’ve been taking them for granted. Because ultimately, our voting democracy (when implemented fairly and justly) is elegantly and beautifully designed. By the grace of God, this year it happened to be designed for a black woman like me who is just one generation removed from the passing of the Voting Rights Act. I became a part of that implementation. In my own city. In my own way. And that makes me proud.
In 2020, I hope we can appreciate these folks a little more. I hope that we can all jump in like our best friend is running. There’s too much to do to expect the small few to carry it all. They need our help. They need us to say yes. Champion the issues you care about. Stand with the candidates you believe in.
Just say yes. Over and over. Until the yeses lead to the wins - at the ballot box or along the way.
Then continue to say yes. Say yes until your city, county and state makes you the proudest you’ve ever been. It’s time.
See you on the streets,
LT Hilton is a Founding Ambassador with The Ambassadors Circle, a collective on a mission to inspire and equip our tribes to Do More Good. In her role as Ambassador, she focuses her efforts across nine passion areas like the environmental crisis and criminal justice reform. She also works to #producemoregood by offering full-service fundraising, marketing, and production services to help amplify the efforts of do-gooders who are leading some of the most important social movements of our time.