Last night I canvassed for my Alderman. He was only elected last spring, so he’s not running for reelection as Alderman yet, but for the Democratic Committeeperson. In Illinois, the political parties elect representatives for this role apart from another elected office, and though most committeepersons are also their ward’s alderman, they have to be separately elected.

It’s second time I’ve volunteered, because the Alderman himself showed up at my door one December evening and I felt a rush of civic responsibility. I don’t know him well, and I’m not certain the other person running (who seemed very pleasant when I met her at our neighborhood festival last October) wouldn’t be better. But he showed up and asked, and I couldn’t think of a compelling reason to say no.

The first time I volunteered, I spent two hours calling other volunteers, scheduling them for future shifts. I didn’t want to do that again, and I was not disappointed. I was the only volunteer in the office with a single staff person. He had me making calls to voters for the first 20 minutes or so, but because there was only one computer to work from (the calls come up on a screen one at a time), he asked, “Have you ever canvassed?”

“No.” He wrinkled his face a little. He clearly needed something else to do with me.

“Do you want to?”


Campaigns seem to be the kinds of operations where, if you’re game to try something new and minimally competent, you can be of use. So out I went with a map of a neighborhood and a newly-installed app on my phone. I spent two hours pressing apartment building buzzers and tapping “not home” on my phone screen. And to the few people who came to the door and spoke with me, I was with the Alderman’s campaign–no training, no zealous conviction, just a few hours free on a weeknight and an inflated sense of capability.

It seems a serious requirement for political engagement is a willingness to publicly claim belief and warrant for things you’re actually under-qualified to claim.

Viva democracy.

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