Things I Learned as Campaign Volunteer

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.baby on the campaign trail

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.

delivering campaign flyers4. Politics is about people, not politicians. 

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?

This Post is Not About Politics

A few weeks ago, on impulse, I signed up to volunteer for our city mayor’s re-election campaign.

I am not a political person. I swear loyalty to no particular political party. I dry-heave in my Shreddies hearing political rhetoric (and when, three or so jobs ago, I had to write some of it, I felt as though I had sold a piece of my soul). I have worked for two levels of government (federal and provincial) and I can almost certainly say never again. I always vote, though, except when I’m not allowed to.

Not long after we moved to Calgary there was a provincial election in Alberta. We weren’t eligible to vote at that point and, having just left a provincial government job in another province that exposed me to some choice bureaucracy, I was sort of glad, and chose to pay little attention.

We continued to settle in a new city and I started to hear more and more about Calgary’s mayor. Not a typical politician, Naheed Nenshi is logical and smart and frank and funny. He’s great on Twitter and he responds to completely ridiculous questions with completely awesome answers. And he did a great job during the floods.

Even so, my choice to get involved in his re-election campaign was not especially well thought out. Tonight, as I rushed around trying to finish dinner and get a baby to sleep and make myself look somewhat presentable after a very, very hot day so I could go to a volunteer orientation session, I had a moment of wondering if I was crazy. I’m going back to work in a month. Do I really need to do volunteer for a political campaign?

It turns out I do. But it’s not because he needs the help.

re-elect Naheed Nenshi sign

At the beginning of the orientation session, Mayor Nenshi talked a little bit about why he thinks this election matters. He is pretty much uncontested at this point, so why campaign at all? Why not just wait for election day and do a happy dance then? Because you should never take anything for granted, he said. Because the city matters. Because we have an opportunity to create an even better community.

I sat and listened as Nenshi talked about hard work and long history and standing up against intolerance. He talked about pride and passion and a little bit about politics, but what he had to say really wasn’t about politics at all. It was about community.

And that’s why I’m volunteering for this campaign.

Calgary has always felt like home to me, even though the time I’ve lived outside this city far exceeds the time I’ve lived in it. When people ask us if we miss Victoria, Rich wavers a little bit but I’m a solid no. I lived there for most of my life but it’s not where I’m meant to be anymore.

I volunteered because I want to be inspired. I want to be part of something. Tonight I was both.

I also volunteered because I believe it will give me the opportunity to help make this community I’ve come to love, and which I’m so grateful to be living in, even better than it is today. And I there’s really nothing at all political about it.

 

How to Pimp Your Blog

A heads up (for bloggers mostly) that I’ve got a post up on the Sverve blog called Pimp My Blog. Come visit!

How to Create a Sharing Community for Your Blog

LEGO vs. the Flood

We sat on the floor in Connor’s room for a while this afternoon. I sorted mounds of LEGO while Connor built things and Ethan chewed on the body of a T-Rex.

Earlier, we had gone down to a community devastated by floods to hand out food and bottles of water.

“What did you think about that?” I asked Connor as we sat in his clean, dry room. “All the mud? All the ruined houses and the people throwing out all their stuff?”

“It was pretty cool,” he said, in his five-year-old way.

Ok, I think. So he wasn’t scared by it.

“What did you think was cool about it?”

“I dunno. It was just cool. And it was sad.”

So there’s that, at least.

*****

Today marks five days since the river banks broke and the floods destroyed so many parts of Calgary. 100,000 people—10% of the city’s population—were evacuated; some of them are home again, many are not. But it’s not like any of them can simply unlock their front doors and walk in as though they had been on vacation.

In the worst areas, there is mud everywhere – contaminated mud that drips from the couches and lamps and appliances that sit on front lawns. People have had to rip flooring and carpet and drywall from their homes. The streets are now full. There are huge trucks blocking streets as they pump water from basements. They are loud. The people doing the clearing are wearing rubber boots, gloves, and masks. They are covered in mud.

Bowness-flood3

Having two small kids, one of whom is still breastfeeding, makes it difficult to help as much as I feel I should. As much as I want to. I feel as though I should don old jeans and put on my boots and take some gloves and a shovel and just start digging people out. And not stop until all the mud and guck and crap is gone.

But I can’t really do that, so I have done other things. I’ve dropped off supplies in three different parts of the city. I’ve tweeted out information trying to connect people who can help with people who need help. I’ve donated money.

But I needed to do more, and I wanted Connor to help. So this morning we went over to an affected community not far from where we live and walked the muddy streets where homeowners and neighbours and volunteers are trying to clean up.

We went with my friend Erin and her two kids, who had loaded up their wagon with fruit and water and granola bars. Connor and I baked muffins and took those along with apples, bottles of water, and protein bars. We stopped every person we saw to ask if they needed something.

Bowness-flood1

It’s hard to help a five-year-old understand what has happened and what it means for the people affected. A big pile of soggy drywall is meaningless to Connor. We’ve told him people have had their houses ruined and have to throw out most of their things, including their toys. He knows that, even if he doesn’t entirely understand it. In one breath he’s talking about how wet things are and in the next he’s asking to go to the toy store to browse the LEGO aisle. To him, “going without” means not getting the new set he has his eye on.

I don’t expect (or even really want) him to understand the level of devastation we’ve seen here. But I did want him to be involved in helping. So we went.

He was entirely nonchalant, no matter what we saw. He insisted on being the one to give people the bottles of water and he wanted to hand out the muffins. But he was unfazed by the mud and the piles of rubble. Such is your perspective on natural disasters when you’re five, I guess.

*****

LEGO sorted by color

At bedtime, after we brushed teeth and read stories and turned out the light, I looked over at the bins of sorted LEGO. They looked bright and clean and perfect, unlike the muddy dollhouse I saw this morning sitting atop of a pile of rubble. Clean LEGO, dirty dollhouse. What a world of difference a few kilometres makes.

“How was your day?” I asked Connor, beginning the nighttime ritual.

“Good!” he said. I could tell he was deeply satisfied, though I wasn’t sure whether it was from being a helper or because I (finally) sat with him to sort LEGO.

“What was your favourite part?”

He thought hard.

“That we got to stay home this afternoon.”

Ah, I thought. It was the LEGO.

“That was your favourite part?”

“Well, no. I just said that to make sure you knew. My favourite part was giving people water.”

He looked almost embarrassed. He likes praise, but often shies away from it.

“That was my favourite part too,” I told him. “I’m really glad you came with me. I was really proud of you today.”

He rolled over and then over again, burying his face between the bed and his wall. This is his way – hiding and playing rather than acknowledging.

“Were you proud of yourself today?” I prompted.

“Yes,” he admitted with a smile.

So there’s that.

The pride, the knowing – it’s there. He has taken it in, in his five-year-old way. The carefully sorted LEGO will be scattered again, but this—the feeling of being there and knowing he helped—will remain.

 

 

Flood

My world is a little wet right now. We’ve had unbelievable amounts of rain in the last little while, and in the last two days it finally started to spill over. Calgary is flooded, to an extent that I don’t think anyone ever could have imagined. It’s unreal.

Photo credit: Mike Morrison

Photo credit: Mike Morrison

People have lost their homes and iconic parts of the city are completely under water.

Photo credit: Mookie

Photo credit: Mookie

I can’t describe how this makes me feel, but I’m teary, and I don’t normally get that way with tragic events and natural disasters. It’s just…so much to take in.

Photo credit: @bohemian_me on Twitter

Photo credit: @bohemian_me on Twitter

In any case, one of the amazing things to see is the support given to first responders. It never fails. The love is amazing, and when people talk about Alberta flood 2013 I’m sure this is one of the things they’ll remember.

I’ve shared a bit about that on the Huffington Post. (Please send good (and dry) thoughts.)