I volunteered for my Alderman’s campaign office last night. A wrinkle of Chicago government is that political parties elect “Committeepersons” for each city ward, which is frequently the Alderman, but it’s a separate election. So I spent two hours calling strangers on my personal phone talking to them about a vote I hardly know anything about.
I was there not because I have strong feelings about the 40th ward Committeeperson race, but because my Alderman showed up at my door one night a few weeks ago to talk to me about it and then invited me to volunteer. I said yes, and his campaign called a couple weeks later. That’s it.
I could have just as plausibly been volunteering for his opponent. I first learned of the Committeeperson role and election from her, when she handed me a flyer at a neighborhood festival last fall. Honestly, if she had knocked on my door instead of my Alderman, I might have accepted her invitation to volunteer.
It feels like a mistake to restrict this kind of political engagement to the highly motivated and those deeply committed to a candidate’s ideology. I’m neither. My Alderman is also organizing phone banking for a Democratic Presidential candidate I’m not jazzed about, but that isn’t keeping me from accepting a personal invitation from him to help with something else he cares deeply about, namely my neighborhood. I also can’t really say yet why a resident of my ward ought to vote for the Alderman instead of the lady with the flyers. I suspect I’ll learn more about that from inside one of the campaigns than from outside.
Politics and government are probably best learned by doing.