Blogging Your Way Into Elected Office, or How I Learned to Balance Poles and Spin Plates
I've written before about how, without BlogHer, I would never have been on CNN, the BBC or in the NPR studios throughout the 2008 general election night. But the transition from noted, national (and sometimes even paid!) political blogger to public servant (in my case, Pepper Pike City Council Member) is far more infrequent than you might imagine. And, in my opinion, absolutely too rare.
According to Alan Rosenblatt of the Center for American Progress, as of late last year, I was, in fact, the only female political blogger to have run for an elected office, let alone win elected office. Yeah. No, really. (And the list we compiled only had a total of nine political bloggers.) We think that there might be additional folks in roles that fly more under the radar (for school boards or planning commissions, for example), but by and large, the tens of millions of bloggers who get a reputation for doing nothing but being in their pajamas and spouting opinions? They don't turn that passion into occupying an elected office.
Which is why I could not be more enthusiastic about BlogHer joining with The White House Project in less than six weeks and can set further into motion my favorite motto: Don't get mad! Get elected! I mean, are there any people madder than political bloggers? (Do not answer that.) And it's why I'm going to stand up and tell my story of going from political blogger to local office-holder as part of the workshop's opening session. I'd love for you to join me there!
I find writing about politics on a blog (mine is Writes Like She Talks) to be enormous fun. But what I love most about blogging is that, with just a few calls, I can make contact with the people I read about - who I'm writing about - who know things that I want to know, and I know others want to know too. Political leaders are never out of reach of the resourceful blogger who gets onto email lists, subscribes to emailed newsletters from think tanks, special lobbies or interest groups, and leaves comments on other people's blogs (including posts on BlogHer, which is how I got that CNN matchup, thank you, Morra Aarons Mele).
The newsletter method is how I ended up interviewing Marie Wilson, President and Founder of The White House Project. An effort called SheSource, whose goal is to land more women experts on talking head shows, had listed Marie as someone who would be available for interviews after the November 2006 midterm elections. I'd never heard of Marie, I'd never heard of WHP, but I had been blogging for more than a year and was very distressed at the paucity of female elected officials. I'd signed up for SheSource that fall (a free subscription).
A woman who had been the head of the Ms. Foundation for nearly 20 years, had started Take Our Daughters To Work Day (now Take Our Daughters and Sons To Work Day) and was now on a mission to get a woman elected president sounded like someone I had to speak with. Marie did not disappoint, and the 30 minute interview with her generated three blog posts which remain some of my most cherished entries ever:
More importantly, however, the now practically antiquated social media tool of good old, plain old blogging, in conjunction with a plain old emailed newsletter, quite literally changed my life. It set in motion for me the notion that women - any woman who so chose - could run for and get elected to office.
Within a few months of that interview, I was on the steering committee of the group's signature Go Run! program, scheduled for Columbus, Ohio in June 2008. A year after that, it was June 2008 and I was sitting in a room with Marie and 90+ attendees, watching Hillary Clinton give her primary concession speech which, ironically, was the same weekend as the three-day training. By Janury 2009, I'd gotten my city to change an unconstitutional political yard sign law, the local paper named me most influential person in my town and I was thinking, "Damn, am I going to have to walk the walk or what?" By March 2009, my husband and I had agreed that I would run for a city council seat. I pulled petitions in April. I filed in July. I got both the local newspaper endorsements in October, and I came in third (for four seats) in November 2009.
All because of a SheSource email, a phone interview and a political blog.
If you're thinking that you will not come under the Svengali influence of Marie Wilson, fahgeddaboutit. Once you've heard her speak, her words will echo through your head and come back at you over and over again. Data like the fact that of the 17 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who this week questioned Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, only two are women - only two! of 17!
Oh, I know - you say you aren't interested in running for office. But you know you want to see more women in office and could help someone else run for office.
Maybe you're now going to say that you could never be involved in electoral politics - it's too negative, too costly, too exhausting. But learning how the entire political process works, from the inside out, could definitely enhance your blogging about the people who are running for office.
Nah, you're "pfffffting" - politics really isn't for you. But guess what? I know you have a local issue, or a favorite non-profit or an international cause that is for you. That cause could benefit from you learning skills related to advocacy - including, but not limited to, fundraising and communicating your message (via social media, of course!).
Come on - you're a BlogHer, after all, aren't you?
Which also means that you are very likely fascinated with leadership, crafting a message and learning how to communicate it. Who wouldn't benefit even in the most generic way from skill-building related to those actions?
So, maybe you won't see me physically actually hold poles and spin plates atop those poles. But if you attend the BlogHer and White House Project training workshop, you are going to come away knowing that figuratively, at the very least, you can do it and you can help others do it too.
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