When I was little, I didn’t want to belong to any political party, because it seemed like politics was a power-hungry world and I didn’t want the rot rubbing off on my purity and high-mindedness.
Also, you know, I didn’t think that people are actually evil. I thought if someone was evil, I could talk to them and show them a new way and we’d all hold hands and be friends at the end.
Now that I know better, I have no choice but to be more political. It’s not a matter of politics anymore, anyways. It’s actually more like battling fascists, Nazis, and evil, so things have changed. I wrote about my best tips of local campaigning here. I’ll probably stay pretty active here on out.
But, there’s still a side of me that questions the effectiveness of political campaigning. At best, you might get someone who wasn’t planning to vote to show up in the poll line. Or get someone else who was planning to vote, but hadn’t really thought about when, to really commit.
Compare that to the downsides. There is something noisy and intrusive about cold-calling people, passing out fliers, and knocking on doors. It’s not very effective at creating a conversation. If people stop to talk to you, mostly it’s because they don’t want to be rude, and since you’ve just met them, they’re not as likely to really open up.
If you, therefore, really, really, really don’t want to mire yourself in the messy and pedestrian and low-class occupation of electoral campaigning, then I think you have an out. Rather than engage in direct politics, just spend large chunks of time reaching out to people in whatever way possible to create good citizens in a very deep and lasting way. Do this at all times, not just during election season.
I once lived across from two little kids and their grandmother. Why did they live with their grandmother? I don’t know, I never bothered to ask. I talked to those kids only on the day I was moving away. I wish now I had gone over, introduced myself to the grandmother, and helped the kids with their homework if they ever needed it.
That was when I was a master’s student. And then it happened again when I was a PhD student. I lived across from a family of refugees – I think maybe from Myanmar. It never clicked in my mind that I should knock on the door, introduce myself, get to know the kids, and see if I could help out or hang out with them. In fact, I didn’t even realize that they were refugees until someone pointed it out, after about two years of being neighbors. If I had bothered to think about it, I could probably have figured this out much earlier.
Combined, the family from my Master’s and the family from my PhD adds up to quite a handful of kids who I could have taken to the UNC science expo, say, or to the string quartet concerts in Hill Hall, or I could have taken them to the computer labs and shown them how to use mapping software. Sharing my interests with the environment with them could have been really impactful, both in how they live their lives and how they later vote.
So if you really feel like electioneering is too slimy a business for you, then just be active in other ways that are deeper, sweeter, and less forced.
And as you build those deeper and sweeter relationships, you might even decide that the depth and sweetness of them will protect you from moral peril if you should one day also venture in the more direct and blustering world of direct political engagement!