What Being Political Means
I talk politics—a lot. When in the company of family and friends and occasionally even strangers, I do not shy from raising objections to a hack, crushing some fool, or fulminating against a stupid, ill-considered, or unjust policy. It often happens that one or more of the persons within range of my unloaded spleen will, in response to it, offer the following advice: “You should run for office.”
Now this is one of the more tiresome comments that anyone can ever make to me. What does expressing an opinion have to do with seeking elected office? The former is the right and duty of all citizens; the latter requires a particular talent and temperament and the re-organizing of one’s entire life.
The encouraging of random people to run for office is indicative of a larger misunderstanding of what being political means. You have no doubt seen the repeated offering of the proposition on social media.
After the last election there was no end of high-handed posts encouraging people who did not like the results of the contest to stop bitching and “do something about it”. In speaking to a well-informed friend of mine about the current state of politics in America, I was in a similar vein asked “what are you going to do about it?” And there is always at the end of a group discussion on politics the question as to what ordinary people can “do about it”.
There is a widespread belief that protest, agitation, and running for office are the only legitimate forms of political action. This is just not the case. Speaking and writing—including bitching and moaning, which are only lower modes of them—are also ways of being political; you can do plenty of politicking by just speaking your mind in a clear, convincing, and interesting way.
Not everyone has the time to canvass for a candidate. A great many people find it awkward, embarrassing, and not a little silly to hold up signs at a protest. Some folks just don’t have the temperament to participate in so-called grass roots organizations. It doesn’t follow that such people don’t follow or care about politics.
So what else can you “do” to be political?
You must first remember that politics is not some strange entity floating about like a balloon. In a representative democracy, politics is the citizenry; you and I embody and express it, our hopes, fears, feelings, convictions, beliefs, and aspirations, and the way they change over time determine the course of it.
The much despised special interest groups are not special at all; they represent people who are more determined than others to influence law-making. But each person in these organizations only gets one vote, which must be kept in mind when considering another means of being political.
That is, making it your moral obligation to be intelligent—to resist lies, falsehoods, and attempts to confuse and fatigue your mind.
The power of the special interests groups mentioned above lies in their ability to influence elected officials by influencing their constituents. Taking a position in light of objective fact—which still exists despite what the powers that be would have us believe—is the essence of being political and is a necessary action for those who seek to live up to the idea.
Finally, vote, vote, and vote again—in every local, state, and national election. If you do nothing else, you must vote to be political. For in the end, the counting of votes is the only thing that matters in deciding how government will respond to political questions.
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About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.