The election in Calgary is over and I can’t say I’m sorry. The amount of vitriol spewed, on social media especially, was disheartening for this campaign newbie to see.
I volunteered (for the first time) with two campaigns – the campaign to re-elect Mayor Naheed Nenshi, and with my friend Misty Hamel’s campaign when she decided to run for public school board trustee. During this process I’ve learned a lot of things that are relevant to both politics and life. (Maybe mostly the latter… Let me know what you think after reading this.) Here are five of those things:
1. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and do it.
The conversation about Misty running started months ago, but for a variety of personal reasons she only committed right before the nomination deadline. Despite running against an incumbent and someone who had been campaigning for years (who had connections and a significantly bigger bank account than we did), Misty dove head first into her campaign. She got the required signatures in two days, submitted her nomination papers, and bravely stood before the media to declare her candidacy. And then she started studying. She read stuff she needed to in order to be completely up to date on the issues, she learned more about the wards she would be representing, and she unabashedly joined the conversation. I’ve told her more than once that I couldn’t have done it, and I’m not just blowing smoke. I greatly admire how passionately and thoroughly she approached this endeavour.
2. Everyone can contribute something.
Our group of friends includes those who are politically involved and savvy and those for whom the idea of door knocking incites tremendous fear, and yet no one hesitated to help out. We had people creating websites and Facebook pages, distributing flyers, and writing campaign material. Others repeatedly put the message out to their networks and went door knocking with Misty. People helped her prep for the candidates’ forum and went with her to provide moral support. The lesson: You don’t have to be politically savvy (or even interested) to be part of doing something good for your community.
3. Talk to people on social media like you would talk to them in real life.
I am astonished, truly ASTONISHED, at the way some people talk to others on social media. Because Misty was an unknown with many great qualifications that happen not to include a background in education, certain people felt she was fair game. And those who supported her were called everything from stupid, liars, and cowards (for stating things that are true and publicly available in meeting minutes, no less) to “mean mommy bloggers.” They’re hiding behind screens and I dare them to say that to our faces. I doubt they would, but nevertheless if my children, years from now, saw my comments on social media I would want them to be proud of how I represented myself.
I learned this on my first night of being involved in Nenshi’s campaign. He has a reputation as being a person more than a politician, and nothing I saw in supporting him suggested that wasn’t true (or that it was just for show). There are many ways we can inspire people, and being involved in a political campaign is no different. Remember the people. Treat them like people. It’s not that complicated.
The other thing about being involved with Misty’s campaign is that I got to work as a team with some women I love and admire and, politics aside, that was a really positive experience.
5. Whether you win or lose, you can still change the conversation.
Nenshi won, Misty didn’t, but they both changed the conversation. Nenshi has been doing it for years, but Misty did it in under a month. She raised some valid points about the system she wants to be a part of and she challenged her opponents on things that matter. They both did it with humanity and heart.
And, after all, isn’t that what life is actually about?