On Being Politically Involved: Reflections To Date

By: Giselle General

Since I got my citizenship in 2012, I enthusiastically voted in every single election, simply because if feels right. After attending a few leadership workshops and campaign schools since 2015, I warmed up to the idea of being more politically active. I started in 2017 during the municipal election, when I helped a candidate with Get Out The Vote on election day and cleaning up her campaign office afterwards.

And then this year, I volunteered for a partisan election, helping a candidate in the weeks before the election. The I agonized for months on which candidate and which party to volunteer for, and then decided to volunteer for my riding’s candidate for the Alberta Party. She knocked on my door during the very, very painfully cold weekend in mid-February 2019, when it was about -30 degrees. I must say, kudos to her for braving the cold, she was definitely shivering as I make conversation with her while not cracking the door too widely.

Here are some of my thoughts about this eye-opening experience. Since I plan to run in just a few years’ time, I really appreciate every single moment throughout this experience.

I have to embrace the concept of being imperfect. It took internal convincing and a lot of reflection for me to accept that there is no perfect party, no perfect candidate, no perfect platform, and supporting one is still okay. Not gonna lie, the violent and evil portrayal of politics definitely played a role. If you think about it, why be a part of something that seems to be inherently “bad”? I talked to a campaign manager who said he supports most of the policies – not all – and still has dedicated the past six months supporting two candidates. This is what encouraged me to just give it a try. The amount of passion, anger – yes, but also the enthusiasm of making a dent, a bump, a way to push forward the change that they believe in, it is quite infectious.

Discovering my own style is still a work in progress. This is something that I realized, no one else will teach me. Sure, there is the script for door-knocking and making calls, but I have to work on my conflict-averse tendencies, my fear of getting yelled at. Terror is the right word for me to describe how I feel sometimes, and I try to apply the stuff I learned during therapy to be compassionate and understanding towards the most important person in this experience – myself. I would love to walk long distances to knock on doors and talk to people, but my left leg and foot has been giving me trouble for a while, and after about two hours, I just have to listen and get off my feet. I feel awkward about not remembering everyone’s names, but volunteer frequently enough and you’ll see them again and again, and they become more memorable.

I felt out of place sometimes from being a newcomer. I’m not really well versed in our province and city’s political history, but I took it as an opportunity to learn. From learning what Stephen Mandel has done when he was a councilor and Mayor, to hearing people talk about Peter Lougheed or Ralph Klein quite often. It’s fascinating to read between the lines, the anger, enthusiasm or the faraway looks of these people when they share these stories, the first-hand experiences they had. In each crowd, I still can’t help but do a demographic scan on who is in the room, based on age, livelihood, ethnicity, immigration status. Until it happened, I didn’t quite appreciate how thrilled I felt upon meeting a few Filipinos in Edmonton who are quite politically active for many years and decades.

It is much safer than I thought. When my partner and I went to the Philippines last Christmas, we drove by a funeral for a mayor who is recently murdered in La Union. I then realized that the election is six months away and remembered that election season – which always include deaths – has officially started. I knew it would be different here, but I was still blown away. You can stop supporting a political party, announce it on social media, and stay alive. Despite the occasional sassy people at the doors, anger on social media, and the election signs that get vandalized, there has been zero deaths among the candidates. During the campaign schools, I have met former politicians with jobs in various industries, and they seem happy, engaged and overall okay. This is mind-blowing for me, and I will try to never take for granted.

It is a great way to meet people that can be connections to do other good things. In my campaign team, at least two of the volunteers are lawyers, and one is a law student. Because my day job involves pro bono work and helping those who cannot afford lawyers, it became an opportunity for possible new volunteers. This is quite unexpected but I’ more than thrilled to accept. I met neighbours and when I tell them that I also help with our community league, I hear their opinions and comments about how things are. I’m glad to learn – and pass along to my partner – that some of these lovely people appreciate the community newsletter, the primary way that we give back to help out.

It is much easier than I thought. 99% of the time when door knocking, either people are polite, or do  not answer the door. I’m blown away with all the different ways that voting is made convenient for most people. Maybe one day, if the flaws of technology are managed, that online voting becomes a possibility. I’m saddened and confused why the voter turnout around here is not close to something like 95%, but 70% is record-breaking and that’s good!

Finally, making an impact does not end on election day. I know of many people who are not thrilled about the elections results, and it’s great that many of them are organizing and mobilizing to address the concerns that they have. I appreciate being able to call or send a letter to our elected representative. It’s easy to call them out on social media. There are lots of advocacy groups and volunteer initiatives to be a part of to fight for what you believe in, until the next election day. As far as the provincial election is concerned, I’d like to explore ways on advocating for certain social issues and appeal to the elected representatives – not the party leader – to see if they can bring those perspectives when passing legislation.

What’s next for this year since there is one more coming up? Similar to the provincial election, I would have to agonize on which party to volunteer or donate for. I wonder if it is socially acceptable to volunteer or attend events hosted by multiple parties before making a decision on who to actually endorse. In terms of community involvement, 2019 would be the most unique for me to date.

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