Getting It Right
We know little in youth, and often that is a good thing. We are impulsive, we can be arrogant and we certainly do not know enough about the world to make big decisions. That being said, the current generation of young people happens to be one of the most motivated and politically active since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In my time within the political realm, I have learned four important lessons, and they are lessons people in politics should always keep in mind.
The small stuff matters.
The fall of 2020 was an enormous opportunity for everyone in politics. After a chaotic year of COVID-19 and civil unrest, the election season was in full swing. I wanted to help as much as I could and gleefully took a job block-walking around the Austin area, promoting candidates in the Republican party. It paid well, and the task was to knock on 1,500 doors before election day, beginning in October.
What I did not expect was how long and tedious the job would be. Austin heat persists in October, so walking through neighborhoods knocking on doors, and leaving flyers about potential candidates was not the most exciting thing in the world. But hey, making an impact is not always sexy. As far as the candidates I promoted, we won some and lost a few. While I wish we had won all of them (especially Texas House District 47), knocking on 100 doors a day to help get some of those candidates across the finish line was something I was happy to do. I may have been a small part of those campaigns, but when you want to make a difference, even the small things matter.
Angry phone calls will always happen. Listen when they do.
Texarkana received the gentler version of the winter storm last year compared to the rest of Texas. Chaos ensued. The grid was failing, pipes were bursting and the tragedy of people freezing to death in their homes was a reality.
I was fortunate to be in Texarkana during the storm, so I did not experience the difficult struggles so many Texans encountered. At the time, I had taken an internship in the state House of Representatives for a member in southeast Texas, which meant I answered the phones in the office before anyone else did. As expected, angry calls poured in from across the district and the state to the Austin office when I returned to work. We responded to every phone call and helped those we could by redirecting them to the proper people, whether an agency in the state government or someone from the district who could help. Yes, it was exhausting, but what mattered was that we helped every person we could. Angry phone calls from constituents and citizens are guaranteed in this line of work. What matters is that you buckle down, listen and help. Politics is not about you. It is about the people you impact. Help them at all costs.
Never stop learning. Ever!
Last summer, I somehow managed to join the ranks of college students (known as “hill-terns”) interning on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. In the office of Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, I met seven other students who I now consider dear friends. We worked from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm every day, taking calls and running around the Capitol Building with memos and letters for members of Congress. The most consistent part of our week was our online learning, which Senator Cotton had made part of our duties in his office. Each week we were educated on something specific, whether it was Congress, the Constitution, the problems of the American political system today or the occasional lecture on how our American government came to be what it is.
The message from Senator Cotton was clear; learning is more than just the experience of office running. Our minds need to be sharpened daily with ideas, arguments and discussions. The pursuit of knowledge is crucial in the development of humankind and something we must never stop pursuing. Within the political realm, politicians and their staff can become so caught up in ideology and politics that they forget to serve the critical public interests. Reading, learning and understanding everything possible keeps us from falling into that habit. While we can still be partisan, if we continue to embrace learning and expand our knowledge, we can improve the situations we are in. That includes reading opposing mindsets, understanding them and hearing their perspectives.
Public service comes before ambition.
The last lesson is the one I believe is most important. Not just because it is sound advice, but because I firmly believe it would help the political divisions we see today. American politics is fractured, and many of those leading it have completely forgotten what they are there to do. They shout about how they care for the public and accuse their opposition of hating the nation. The truth is their ambitions have blinded them to public service.
Ambition, like many characteristics, is good in moderation. In excess, it can be intoxicating and poisonous not just to the person but to the entire system. Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, other members of Congress and American politics as a whole could use a sobering dose of humility. It would make our country better.
To anyone hoping to enter the political arena, I have one request. Look beyond yourself before starting that campaign or taking that job. Consider whether you are pursuing a position for yourself or whether you want that position to serve others. Let’s try to get right what many of our current leaders get wrong.