Update March 2011: I'm currently a candidate for election to Richmond's City Council.
At a local business networking event tonight, someone noted that they'd heard a rumor I might be getting involved in politics locally. We had a good conversation about it, and I thought I'd use it as a jumping off point to share a little more about my own political aspirations.
Sometime during my college experience, I decided that I was going to run for the Presidency of the United States of America. I was mostly serious. I mean, I announced it on the Internet for crying out loud, so you know I wasn't just messing around. I figured out that I would be old enough to be elected President in the 2012 elections, and I dreamed my dream from there.
I've since figured out that national politics is probably not for me, at least not anytime soon.
It's not because I dismiss the importance that the political process at that level plays - indeed, I think it's having quite an impact on our lives every day, and needs people of integrity, values and passion to participate. But when I wrote about the things that I thought a successful politician needed to be or do, I didn't realize how incompatible they are with the current state of the national political scene:
This will mean not campaigning about issues, but rather exposing the wounds of our culture and offering suggestions for healing. This will mean recognizing positive social interaction as the most important part of successful citizenship and promoting such interaction to the end that the will of the people may be more clearly and immediately heard. This will mean refusing to propose "programs" and budget changes as possible solutions to our country's many problems, but rather addressing the problems at their source and empowering the individual citizen to get passionate enough, excited enough, and angry enough to enact positive change. This will mean refusing to participate in the handicapped, ineffective political process, but instead inventing new and creative ways to create a government that is truly belongs to its people and not to its own members or processes.
What I believe now is "right here" is the place I can be most effective and rewarded in my desire to contribute something significant in my time on Earth. In other words, changing the world is, for me, no longer about going "out there" and making a difference for "those people." It's not that I don't care about out there and those people, it's that I know I can help them the most by being attentive to the land I call home. This feels more sustainable ("what if we all cared more deeply and actively for the people and places in our own communities?") than what national and global politics tend to be about ("what if we all went out and tried to make laws and coerced agreements about how everyone should live, enforced with fear and oppression?").
The sayings are cliche, but it's because they ring true: "All politics is local." "Think globally, act locally."
None of this negates my passion for politics at all levels. I can't help but follow the daily goings on of Washington D.C., the dreams, successes and missteps of our President, the behind the scenes power plays in Congress, the drowning pool that is our news media.
And that translates very much to the local level - even though there may not seem like a lot that can stir one's blood in a City Council meeting in Richmond, Indiana, or in the finer points of comparing two mayoral candidates, this is where I now find the real fascination with political influence and maneuvering. These are the people who live around me, who know this place for what it is, who have to look me and our neighbors in the eye every day and think about how well we're doing. Local politicians are the ones who can (if they want) care enough to actually make a difference.
So am I going to get involved in local politics? A run for Mayor or City Council, maybe? I don't know. There's certainly part of me that thinks I have some skills and perspectives that could make a positive difference in the community, and I would be honored to be able to pursue them in that context. But there's another part of me that wonders how it might limit me, how it might change my ability to actually get things done. What would I have to sacrifice? How frustrated would I be with enmeshing myself in the political realities of a firmly entrenched governmental and social structure that isn't serving all of its citizens (let alone other forms of life) very well?
And then there's the possible meanness. The person I was talking to at tonight's event noted that Richmond is a town where people can get beat up upon pretty badly when they dive into the political scene. Whether it's party politics or personal agendas, fear or ego, I could imagine that things could get pretty nasty pretty quickly. I'm not afraid of standing up for what I believe, and doing so against tough challenges, but I'd need a good reason to put myself in those particular tough situations.
All of these considerations plus some logistical concerns (e.g. a business to run) lead me to no firm conclusion at the moment, and if I figure that if I'm going to jump into politics, I need to be darn ready and sure about it. The last thing I want is to have another "I will run for President!" moment only to realize later that I would have been more effective following another path. But there remains a rumbling in my heart and mind that says "hmm, you might be able to do that, do it well, and make a difference that matters."
I will pay attention to this rumbling and see where it takes me, be it toward politics or in some other direction entirely. Stay tuned.