One of the best ways to change things in your community is by running for a local government office. But how do you actually do that? Lindsay VanSomeren shows us how.
Raise your hand if you’re not happy with the political state of the country. If so, good news: by running for office, you (yes, you!) can change things from the ground up.
Maybe you think I’m crazy. Who would vote for me? What could I possibly do? How the heck do you even run for office?
I sat down with Ross Morales Rocketto, millennial campaign wizard from the nonprofit Run For Something to get the scoop on the ins and outs of running for local government (yes, it is possible, even for a young person!).
Start With Your Why
According to Ross, the most important thing is to start with your Why. Why are you fired up? Why—and what—do you want to change? This can be as simple as wanting to make your school a better place for your kids, or something grander like reducing voter disenfranchisement.
Figuring out your Why will drive every decision you make going forward if you run for office and after you are elected. It’ll be your compass. Don’t ever lose it, or you’ll get lost in a political quagmire.
Consider Your Options
Next, ask yourself: do you even need to run for an office to change the thing you’re passionate about? Would your efforts best be served through some other community involvement, or is an elected position really the best place for you to have an impact? Maybe all you really need is to round up some friends for a good old-fashioned protest.
If you do decide to run for office, “it’s important to start talking to people that are in your circle of trust about what you’re thinking about doing and starting to gather their input—especially people who you know may have been involved in politics before,” says Ross.
These are people who you can bounce ideas off of and who won’t spill the beans before you’re ready to announce your candidacy. They’re friends who will be on board with your campaign from the get-go and can help be the springboard for your efforts.
Pick Your Target Office In Local Government
Your next task is to research offices that can help serve your Why. Ask things like, “Who currently serves in that position? Are they of the same party as you or a different party? Is it a non-partisan office? When are the election days? Is it a two-year term? Is it a four-year term? Does it pay? Does it not pay?” says Ross. Some offices are full-time, whereas others are only part-time so you’ll need to keep your day job.
Additionally, some people do better in certain types of elected positions. Leaders tend to gravitate towards roles like mayors or governors. Bridge-builders can do well in city council, school board, or state legislature positions.
Set Up Your Campaign
You’ll need to jump through some legal hoops before you start campaigning (you didn’t think this would be as simple as running for class president, did you?). Each office has campaign filing deadlines and requirements. It might take some legwork on your part to find those out.
“The websites are a mixed bag between city and county election offices,” Ross says. “You can always go in there and request that information. They have to give it to you if they have it. In my personal experience, most of them do have it…They want to give that information out.”
Once you register your campaign you’ll receive an official ID number that you can use to open bank accounts and other necessary tasks.
It’s off to the races!
Your new occupation for the time being will be listmaking. You’ll need lists of people who can volunteer for your campaign, people who you can ask to contribute to your campaign, and lists of potential voters you can talk to.
Once you find some good volunteers, you can work on finding money. This is where the real grunt work—calling potential donors—begins. “You do that for hours a day. This is the least favorite part of basically every candidate’s campaign. It’s called call time. Everybody hates call time. Nobody likes it. I’ve never met a candidate who likes to do it. It sucks but you have to.” You could also create a savings goal for your campaign, and work it into your budget.
You’ll also need to start getting the word out about yourself. You can find out who’s voted in past elections, knock on their doors, and introduce yourself and what you’re all about. “This is where I think the Why becomes especially important is because it’s not just for you. It’s also for your message. Policy isn’t enough,” says Ross.
Increase Your Intensity
When you first start out, you’re just getting your name out there and telling people what you’re about. As time goes on you’ll take stock of where you’re at. How many diehard supporters do you and your opponent have? Then you’ll target the persuadable people in the middle.
The last stage of any campaign is the Get Out The Vote (GOTV) effort. It’s crucial that you reach your supporters and make sure they (and their votes) make it to the ballot box.
Maybe all of this sounds like it’s a lot of hard, confusing work. It is. But luckily you don’t have to reinvent the wheel and do this entirely on your own.
There are tons of organizations out there with the sole mission of helping you run for office. Run For Something is one organization that recently launched this year to provide training, support, referrals to other similar training organizations, and even financial contributions towards young progressive candidates.
The response has blown them out of the water. Says Ross, “When we first launched on Inauguration Day, we thought 100 would sign up in the first year. The first weekend over 1,000 people signed up.”
The desire to run for office is spreading. The only question now is: will you be one of them?
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