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Don’t Like Any of the Candidates? Here’s What You Can Do.

A guide for the politically perplexed

by
Carly Pildis
March 03, 2020
Scott Eisen/Getty Images
Signage outside of a polling location at Wollaston School on March 3, 2020, in Quincy, MassachusettsScott Eisen/Getty Images

We are a few primaries in, and I am already hearing that you are feeling defeated. Crushed. Hopeless.

Your dream candidate isn’t doing well, or, worse, they were forced to drop out before the race really picked up. You are worried about America, and no one is putting forth a vision you completely buy into. You feel unheard. You feel powerless. And because of all of that, you’re thinking of staying home on Election Day.

If this describes you, even remotely, I have something you need to hear right now: Stop it.

Sure, presidential races are high drama contests, but they’re not what democracy is really about. Democracy is what happens EVERY DAMN DAY. It’s what happens with every vote on every policy at every level of government. And you can influence it regardless of how you feel about the person living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

You can be angry. You can be sad. You can have moments of disillusionment, and believe that the American experiment has failed. You are allowed to feel all that. But when you’re done feeling, remember the timeless lesson of Pirkei Avot:: You are not obligated to complete the work, but Lord knows you’re not free to desist from it. You can’t just stay at home. You can’t just give up. You have work to do. And so, if you’re looking for ways to chase away the election blues, here’s what you should be doing.

First, realize that the election isn’t over yet. It’s not too late to influence candidates on issues you care about. Candidates are still campaigning all over the country, and elections are the perfect time to influence a person vying for your support. The candidates still in the race are spending millions and working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to court you. So tell them what you want! Make clear, concise policy asks. Go to a town hall and ask a question. Write a Letter to the Editor to your local paper. Reach out to local campaign offices and build relationships. It is fairly common for a candidate to “evolve” under pressure while campaigning. Be a part of what pressures a campaign to give you what you want to win your vote. When you stay quiet, you cede power.

Second, remember there will be more than two names on the ballot in November. Every Member of the House of Representatives is up for reelection, as are 35 Senate seats. Americans across ideological divides repeatedly overemphasize the Presidency and fail to engage with their local representatives, who are far easier to influence. So if your party’s presidential candidate isn’t to your liking, you can still get involved in your local house race, volunteering, donating, and advocating for issues you care about. The House of Representatives is the People’s house. Make it your house by helping elect candidates you like, or someone else will. Regardless of who is in the White House in 2021, Congress will be able to have an enormous impact on almost every issue you care about, so start working to shape that Congress now.

Third, learn to fight every day, not just on Election Day. The future of this country is shaped on an ongoing basis, not in four-year intervals. Regardless of who is President after inauguration day, you can continue to influence policy in your country. Meet with your Senators and House Reps when they are in your district. Get to know the aides in their offices, and build relationships. Let them know that you are an engaged leader in your community, and that you have asks. Feeling overwhelmed? That’s okay! Advocacy professionals like me do this for a living. We are here to help. There is an organization advocating on nearly every issue, so if there’s some issue you really care about, just jump on idealist.org and find the right fit for you. Call up any of these organizations and tell them you are ready to get started. They’ll be thrilled to welcome you to the movement. Efficient organizations will teach you how to lobby, engage with your local media, and organize your community. They’ll teach you for free and enlist you in the work of pushing policies you care about. You will be stunned by how much influence you can hold and how far you can push policymakers. They may not say yes right away, but repeated engagement has an effect. This may come as a shock in our cynical era, but members of Congress care what their constituents think. Most Americans have no idea how powerful they are. Join a fight, and keep fighting.

Lastly, run for something. Yes, you. Run for the local School board. Run for City Council. Run for Delegate. Run for Congress. Run for a leadership role in your state party. Run for the PTA. Just Run. If you are unhappy with the direction of your party or of your country, be the change you want to see, which is how every great and meaningful political career ever started. Be the candidate you want to vote for. Start fundraising right now. Start training right now. There are former doctors, former teachers, former businessman, and at least one former bartender in Congress. Why not you?

Elections are either inspiring or heartbreaking, depending on how they break for you. Our long election cycle can be brutal and make you feel hopeless about the future. I remain full of hope. I remain ready to work for a more just and equitable America. It’s time to roll up your sleeves. Let’s get to work.

Carly Pildis is the Director of Grassroots Organizing for the Jewish Democratic Council of America, and an advocacy professional based in Washington, D.C. Her Twitter feed is @carlypildis, and her website is www.carlypildis.com.

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