David Rodeback's Blog

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Things To Do If You're Just Now Catching the Bug

No, no, not the porcine pathogen. The I-feel-like-I-should-get-involved-in-local-politics bug.

The election is one week away, and you're finally feeling the itch to do . . . something. Not just vote. Maybe this bug usually hits you on Election Day evening, as you stand in line to vote, and you always think, "It's too late this time, but next time I'm going to get involved." Maybe you're new to the community and just getting your political bearings. Maybe you went to church last Sunday, and they told you it's important to vote or even to "get involved."

Maybe you're motivated by a sinking feeling in your political gut, which you interpret as meaning that our ship of state is taking on water. You don't think you can bail meaningfully at the national level, so you're grabbing your bucket -- or your boot, whatever -- and looking for some local political water to bail.

Be careful with that church one. I'm hearing that at least one congregation was told last Sunday to vote this Tuesday, as in today, October 27, but Election Day is really November 3. Oops.

Now that you're showing symptoms of alert citizenitis, you may worry that, with only seven days remaining before the election, it's already too late to do anything meaningful. I have good news for you: it's not too late.

I myself have a chronic, probably terminal case of the bug. I've lived with it -- served it, some might say -- since about the fifth grade. It's like my allergies; it may go away occasionally, for a few days at a time, but it always comes back. It's chronic, as I said. And I just happen to know some things you can still do to get involved. These are things which will actually do some good, not to mention give you a little jump start for next time. And you don't have to stick your neck out too far to do them.

You Need a Candidate

First of all, you need a candidate. Find one that you like among our two mayoral and four city council candidates. If you're not sure whom you like, or that you like any of them, pick one that at least doesn't turn your stomach.

Here are four ways to begin:

First, at the informational side of LocalCommentary.com you can begin to get acquainted with all six. Here at the blog, on the commentary side of the site, if you backtrack a little or just stay tuned, you can find quite a bit of my commentary about the issues and the candidates. It's just one guy's opinion, and you probably won't agree everything, but you might get some sense of who the candidates are and where they stand on some of the issues.

Would you indulge a metaphor? I read Roger Ebert's well-written movie reviews partly because I enjoy good writing, but also because, even though my taste in movies often differs from his, reading an Ebert review gives me a good idea whether I will like the movie or not, no matter what he thought of it. (This concludes our metaphor.)

Second, once you know the names of the candidates, you can google them and find (in some cases) their campaign Web sites and in any case some news articles, blog posts, etc., about them and the race.

Third, ask a friend or neighbor. The one who is usually insufferable, due to excessive eagerness to discuss politics with anyone at any time, might actually be a good one to ask. You don't have to agree; just listen for a few minutes. Then remember that you left something in the oven and make your escape.

Remember, you're not choosing a spouse here, or even a shower curtain. You're just choosing a candidate to help for a few days. At worst, if you end up thinking you picked the wrong one, you will have gained at least that knowledge, along with a bit of experience and perhaps some momentum for next time.

Fourth, one good way to find a candidate is to go to Thursday evening's meet-the-candidates event, which is the last such event in American Fork before the election. It's from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. at the Senior Center in Amerian Fork, on Main Street near the library and Robinson Park.

You don't have to ask questions, just listen. If you can't make head or tail of the issues, choose by personality. That's not entirely a cop-out; personality is an important factor in politics and government.

If you decide that you care about a particular issue, and it's not discussed at all at the event, or at least not to your satisfaction, or you don't know enough to pass judgment, linger after the meeting and chat with a candidate or two. Ask them what they know about their issue and how they see it.

None of the candidates actually bites, to my knowledge, so the danger to you is minimal. You'll learn something, and if you're not put off by what you hear, you can, in that very conversation, ask the candidate what you can do to help his or her campaign in the last few days before the election.

(If one of them does bite you, think of the fees you'll be able to collect from print and televised tabloids for telling your true "candidate bites constituent" story.)

What To Do

If you ask the candidate how to help, or if you just want to help without asking, here are some of the possibilities. Each of them may nudge you out of your comfort zone just a bit, but you'll get over it.

  • Pass out the candidate's flyers door to door in some neighborhood of the city (not necessarily yours). Well-organized campaigns already have this distribution organized in every precinct, but there's usually a last-minute need for someone to fill a last-minute hole. You can usually do it in a neighborhood other than your own, if you prefer, and it typically involves just leaving the flyers at the doors, not knocking or (cringe!) trying to talk at every door. It's good exercise, too. A word to the wise: don't do this one on Halloween.
  • Put a sign in your yard (not between sidewalk and street, please). Be advised, this can lead to the discovery that someone in your household doesn't like that particular candidate. But not to worry. There's no reason that someone can't put up another sign in the same yard, supporting another candidate. I suspect that most candidates have a few signs left at this point, to accommodate last-minute requests. Some candidates may also have bumper stickers, though I haven't actually seen any.
  • Donate money to the candidate's campaign, either by sending a check in the mail, delivering a check in person, or donating online at the candidate's Web site. (At least one candidate Web site allows this; I set it up myself.) All donations are reported, but unless they exceed $50, the donor's name is not reported. So you can stick your neck out as far as you choose. $5 or $10 or $20 is a perfectly acceptable donation, but it's not unusual for a local candidate to receive individual donations of $100 or $200, sometimes even more.
  • If you're on Facebook and the candidate is, too -- the latter as a public figure, not just a private individual -- you can become a fan. (If you're not on Facebook, you have no idea what I'm talking about, and that's okay, too.) This is a small thing, but it's more than nothing, and it's free.
  • Tell someone else, preferably another American Fork voter, which candidate you like and why. Word of mouth is important at every level, but especially in local politics. The bold, hard-core citizen version of this is booking your candidate of choice for an hour in your living room, inviting your friends, and having a useful discussion of issues. (It might be too late for that this time.) Outside Utah, this is typically known as a kaffeeklatsch or coffee klatch, or just a coffee. Here in the heart of Mormondom it's sometimes called a cottage meeting.
  • Make an endorsement. Ask the candidate if there's anywhere -- probably the Web, at this point -- where your name could be added to a published list of supporters.
  • If you're feeling nutty and vivacious, volunteer to do a honk-and-wave on Election Day. That's where you stand at a busy corner (usually) with a big sign supporting that candidate, and wave at people driving by. I suppose you could even do it on Halloween and wear a mask.

What Not to Do

Please . . .

  • Don't do any of these things at church or school.
  • Don't do any of these things at or near an open polling place.
  • Don't get upset or frustrated if someone disagrees with you.
  • Don't immediately blame opponents if someone trashes, knocks down, or steals the sign on your lawn, because it's usually non-partisan, mischievous children or youth who do this.
  • Don't leave offensive, false, or foolish comments on the Web about a candidate. 
  • Don't believe every criticism of a candidate you read in the newspaper, on the Web, or in a flyer left at your door or in your mailbox. (Highland already has its October surprise; American Fork will likely have one, too, sometime between now and Election Day. As always, it will be mostly or entirely false; severely slanted, one-sided, or otherwise distorted; and . . . scurrilous. It may also be anonymous or -- forgive me -- pseudonymous, because not everyone is blessed with courage or honor.)

In other words, please use your head, obey the rules, and be civilized. Not that you wouldn't, but some others . . .

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