What Is Service Politics Anyway, And Why On Earth Would I Want To Volunteer In Essex When I Could Be Powering Down Kit Kat and Three Muskateers Bars In The Darkness and Privacy Of My Own Home?
There are a lot of things not to like about your average political campaign. But the worst for me? The sense of sheer wastefulness. America spent $2.4 billion on the 2008 Presidential election, a very large part of it for ads that changed absolutely nothing — except the bottom line for consultants and television stations. In a word, that’s obscene. But not all of those resources were wasted.
Once Barack Obama had the nomination in hand, his campaign launched a huge initiative, to bring about grassroots change on the ground in communities across the nation — before the general election. The idea was to devote part of the campaign’s resources and volunteers to people and projects in need, without waiting for November.
I was out in Denver for the Democratic National Convention, as an elected State Delegate representing Vermont. And I can tell you that every afternoon it was an amazing sight: a big long line of yellow buses, lined up to take a small army of volunteers to locations across the city. My bus, headed up by Congressman Welch, went to a predominantly Hispanic school that needed a new playground.
And we built them one, all of us working together, in the space of a single afternoon. It was a satisfying feeling for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I knew when I got back on the bus that win or lose come November, that playground would be standing — as would the whole series of projects that volunteers accomplished that week.
That’s what a national campaign can do, when its volunteers are encouraged to think about something besides putting a single candidate in office. That’s what a campaign can do when the people running it decide that they’ll serve the community now, rather than making it conditional upon election.
That’s called service politics.
I’ve chosen to run a very long campaign, because the Senate race from Chittenden County strikes me as the toughest in Vermont, short of a statewide bid. In order to cover all of this County, you need to build a solid organization from the get-go, you need to raise money and you need to convince hundreds of people to help you get your message out.
You need to build what amounts to a successful small business, from the ground up.
But when this race is over, I’d like to be able to say that I ran something more and better than a political campaign.
Win or lose, I want to be able to point to projects we accomplished along the way — some small in scale, some not so small — projects that will continue to change life for the better in our cities and villages going forward.
And we’ll be starting this push in Essex Junction, on Halloween morning. Think of it as an alternative Halloween: instead of egging cars and spraying Nair in one another’s hair and gorging on Kit Kat bars, we’ll start the 31st at the Essex Teen Center, helping them refinish and upgrade their big dancehall meeting space.
We’ll be sanding the floor, painting, washing windows, as extreme a makeover as can be done by a healthy group of volunteers in the space of three hours.
If you’re one of those people who, for no logical reason, enjoy volunteering and getting things done, come on down. If you’re the parent of an Essex teen, come on down and bring your son or daughter.
We’ll be meeting up at Martone’s Deli, 16 Main Street in Essex Junction, at 10:30 am on Halloween morning, and then walking over to the Teen Center at 11.
If you’ve ever sat through a typical political event — listened to dull speeches, watched donations change hands, eaten rubbery chicken and wondered whether any of it mattered — I promise these service events won’t leave you feeling that way. I think you’ll feel satisfied. You’ll feel like politics doesn’t have to be a dirty word.
We’ll look for you on Halloween morning, while the sun’s still up, and long before the dead begin to walk.