The 2018 election really started on Nov. 9, 2016. That’s when it started for me, at least.
I had gone to bed the night before feeling sick to my stomach. When I woke up, I reached for my phone and pulled up Politico.com, which confirmed that the nightmare was real: Donald Trump would become president.
I had thought our nation better than that. I had thought we couldn’t elect someone so vulgar, so cruel, so ignorant.
But we did.
I had sat on the sidelines throughout the 2016 election. That morning, the day after, I vowed never to sit on the sidelines again.
I got involved this year thinking I needed to do something for the benefit of the campaigns I cared about. But a funny thing happened along the way: I realized just how much volunteering on a campaign benefited me.
As Election Day continues and we wait for results, I thought I would share 5 ways YOU actually benefit from volunteering on campaigns.
1. You Get to Know Your Neighbors
I know a handful of neighbors on my street located in the far reaches of North Austin — the part that’s actually in Williamson County. But, late this summer, I started block walking for Beto O’Rourke (running to be my U.S. senator) and John Bucy (running to be my representative in the Texas House).
That’s when I really got to know my neighbors.
I met a new high school graduate who would be voting for the first time. Her parents are Republicans, but she plans to vote for Democrats.
I met a Republican who, despite the candidates I was representing, invited me in to look at his taxidermy. We had a nice conversation talking about anything but politics.
I met an administrator from Round Rock ISD who gave me an education about public education in our area.
I met a nice couple that loaned me an umbrella to get back to my car after an unexpected thunderstorm arrived.
I met a woman who had just moved into the neighborhood — and who was eager to learn more about all the candidates, no matter the party they represented.
I met people of all ages, all genders, all political leanings. And I enjoyed every conversation. No one was mean. No one was ugly. Even when I talked to the staunchest of Republicans, we shook hands and smiled at each other and chatted about the weather or college football.
I’ll actually miss block walking when the election is over. It’s rare that you get a chance to get out of the house and really mingle with the people who share your streets, who shop at the same grocery stores, whose kids attend the same schools, etc.
2. You Get to Know Your Leaders
I’ve always thought of my representatives as people who I see on TV or on pieces of direct mail. I’d never really thought of them as people with whom I could talk one-on-one or even develop relationships.
But, since I started volunteering for campaigns, I’ve had several conversations with my city councilman, who would know me by sight if not by name. I stood next to the mayor of Austin at a get-out-the-vote rally. And, hopefully, John Bucy will be my next representative at the State Capitol, and I’ll be able to say that I know him, too.
What I learned about my political leaders is this: They want to hear from me. They want to hear from you, too. Part of their job is listening to constituents, having conversations, learning about our everyday lives in the city, county, state, etc. — and creating policies that improve our lives.
They are far more than moving images on the TV screen or smiling pictures on direct mail. They are people representing people, and it’s nice to get to know them.
3. You Better Understand Diversity
A long time ago, I decided to see diversity as a chance to learn about other people and their beliefs and lifestyles rather than as a chance to live in fear. But, until I started volunteering for campaigns, I didn’t realize just how diverse my little portion of Texas was.
While block walking, I met people who live in downright rural portions of Cedar Park. I met people who live in 3,000-square-foot homes and people who live in 500-square-foot apartments. I met Spanish speakers and English speakers, as well as people who spoke languages I couldn’t even identify. (And that’s not to say I want everyone to speak English. Rather, I wish I were multi-lingual so that I could better communicate with them.)
I met people who are straight and people who are gay. I met new voters, and I met people who told me they were simply too old to get out and vote anymore (even though I offered rides to the polls).
I met plenty of Democrats and plenty of Republicans. I met lots of independents, too.
The one thing that unites us: our humanity.
And I’m glad to have had the chance to experience just how diverse Williamson County can be, and I’m glad to have experienced our humanity first hand. We see so much anger on social media and in the news. It’s the humanity of the people around us that allows that anger to finally melt away.
4. You Access Energy
Back in 2006 and 2007, I looked around and realized that I hated the direction our country was headed. I grew up in a conservative family. I had voted for Republicans in my first few elections. But, leading up to 2008, I invested time in learning about issues and evaluating candidates from both parties. It was during that time that I realized I fit much better with Democrats.
Barack Obama was running for president back then, of course. It’s been 10 years, but there’s one thing that remains indelible about his campaign: the energy.
There was so much energy around his every rally and appearance. People were talking about it, people were passionate about it, people were hopeful about what the future would bring.
I thought that energy had been lost somewhere along the way — until I started volunteering for campaigns.
When you block walk with people, when you phone bank with people, when you just step into a field office, the energy washes over you. There’s activity and purpose and, yes, there’s still hope for what the future will bring.
5. You Influence Outcomes
I knocked on more than 100 doors this past Sunday. My family got home from church, I changed clothes, and then I got in my car to visit the field office shared by John Bucy and MJ Hegar.
What else would I do? Stir all afternoon? Scroll through Twitter searching for news that would provide a glimmer of hope? Try to take a nap? There’s no reason to stir and search for glimmers of hope when you can actually do something.
Volunteering for campaigns takes you off the sidelines and places you into the action. In the past, I’ve been restless about the outcomes of elections and I’ve hoped for the best — but there’s nothing like actually getting involved and doing your small part to influence the outcome.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to go vote. Polls in Texas are open until 7 p.m. And, if you’re in line when the polls close, no one can kick you out of line — they have to let you cast your ballot.
If you’ve already voted, you’re probably looking for something to do to pass the time before returns start rolling in. I passed the time by making a photo gallery of my campaign experiences from the past couple of years.
Take a look at the gallery below, and get ready for a historic night. In the meantime, we’ll keep our fingers crossed for positive results when those returns start rolling in this evening.