Perspective from Will Rasky: “So, wait…why do you want to do this?”
That was the first sentence out of most people’s mouths after I told them my plan to attend the local caucus, with hopes of becoming a delegate to the Democratic State Convention. I mentioned this to friends and loved ones, young and old, politically both unengaged and fanatical, and almost all …
“So, wait…why do you want to do this?”
That was the first sentence out of most people’s mouths after I told them my plan to attend the local caucus, with hopes of becoming a delegate to the Democratic State Convention. I mentioned this to friends and loved ones, young and old, politically both unengaged and fanatical, and almost all asked that same question.
“Uh, well, I think it will be fun and I want to ‘get involved,'” I’d respond, with limited certainty most of the time. That was my response before attending the caucus. We hear people say “get involved” so often, but what does that even mean?
Looking back on the caucus, which miniaturizes a political campaign, I can tell you that fun was only the first discovery. “Getting involved” is a different animal.
My caucus, that of Boston’s Ward 19, took place in the Painters Hall in Roslindale. I showed up early because the “campaign” was an eleventh-hour decision, so I thought I could maybe help set up and get to know some of the Ward 19 Democratic Committee leaders. The bizarre dedication of the leaders was immediately apparent, as I arrived an hour early and found everything had already been set up.
The ward’s leaders — running around like they were battening down the hatches before a storm — were extremely gracious, welcoming, and friendly, although I could only keep each person’s attention for a few seconds at a time. They needed to focus on the crowd, which would soon arrive.
Seemingly from one minute to the next, the caucus attendees filled the room. A steady buzz of chatter picked up volume as people darted from table to table, working the room and building their coalitions. Some came prepared, bringing an army of hopeful delegates and eligible Ward 19 voters for a specific candidate, while others — even if they supported candidates — just wanted to see the process at work. I was firmly in the latter group, slightly overwhelmed by the former.
The handful of 20-somethings packed together, perhaps for moral support, as the ward began its delegate selection process in the jammed main room of the hall. Ward 19 had twelve openings for male delegates and twelve openings for female delegates. Each hopeful candidate had to be nominated (which was as simple as making friends with your neighbors in the hall — an easy task, as I met great people that morning). Several dozen people ran and were nominated for the 24 openings, and each had a minute to speak.
I consider myself an able public speaker, but this was the first time that I was speaking to ostensibly promote myself to a bunch of strangers. I’ve always loved politics, and this “campaign” was for an office held and relinquished in a single weekend, but that didn’t help my nerves. As I tried to control my heart rate, waiting for my turn to speak, I realized the fuller answer to the question many had skeptically asked me.
Most of us tend to keep politics at arm’s length. Many politicians expend a great deal of energy in focusing on not appearing too “political.” Pull up a clip of a Sunday morning news show and you’ll see what I mean. The art of governing seems stale, and participating in the “Democratic Experiment” is not perceived to be a valuable use of time. I have always considered myself to be on the other side of this perception, and I went to the caucus because I realized that I ought to put my money where my mouth was and find the value in participating.
So here’s the value: I met a small group of people my age that feel the same way about getting involved in politics and government. These young people weren’t just the grassroots campaign operatives of this or that candidate, they were people who were involved in various aspects of government and wanted to put some skin in the game. While votes were counted, which offered plenty of down-time, we talked about what got us interested in politics and where we hope to go next. We recognized that we were going to be working together more going forward.
This wasn’t just a networking exercise — being with these peers was an affirmation of our decision to not be on the sidelines. I know a lot of talented, driven peers, who are going to make impacts on the world in whatever fields they dedicate themselves to. Some of those people are on the fast-track to making an impact in government. The general apathy around government is the reason that so many people — smart, capable people — quizzically asked me why I wanted to go to my caucus, but only we can do something about that. We raise the stakes for one another by virtue of simply joining the conversation and becoming part of civic life.
Being involved in local politics won’t impede success in one’s field; involvement will enhance that success. The process of “getting involved” does not end, and that’s because our form of government is constantly evolving. If we want to help shape that evolution, we need to do so actively. We need to make our voices heard, and if we don’t succeed in affecting a change right away then we come back for more, because those changes only happen when we’re there.
People under the age of thirty-five can apply to become youth delegates at the Democratic State Convention. I’ll apply for the opportunity to be one of those delegates, and we’ll see where “getting involved” goes next.