Friday Question of the Day – From the Forum – Getting Involved in Local Politics?

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

Andy uploaded a bit of a provocative question to the forum yesterday:

Many of us yuppies you see on PoP have decided to make DC home, long-term. And many of us are politically savvy, heck, many of us even work in politics or public affairs or communications work professionally.

But not a ton of people you see represented here are involving themselves politically in the District.

And you know many of us roll our eyes at the thing we read about or see ourselves every day, whether it’s business permitting headaches, bike lanes or DC council ethics. So I think we should all consider where we belong in making the District a better place. If not now, when?

So, what should we do to get involved? What is appropriate? Are there rules of thumb for diving into DC politics?

45 Comment

  • One way to get involved is to run to be an ANC Commissioner. The next ANC election will be November 2012. ANC Commissioners are involved with permitting and zoning, liquor license grants and renewals, traffic issues, such as the addition of speed bumps to a block, and many other issues. A good ANC Commissioner can have a positive impact on a neighborhood.

    • Well, I suggest walking before you “run” — just begin attending ANC meetings. Think about running as commissioner later. Also, go to a PSA (Police Service Area) meeting to learn about the crime in your neighborhood and to meet your local cops.

      You can also join a board or volunteer for one of the many localized associations. In Mt Pleasant, for example, we have Hear Mt Pleasant, Mt Pleasant Main Street, Mt Pleasant Neighbor Association, Historic Mt Pleasant, etc. All of these are opportunities to become involved in ways that speak to you.

  • How dare you move into a neighborhood and take an active interest in the people representing it? Blah, blah, gentrification kills, blah, blah, got here first, blah, blah, bitch set Marion Barry up.

  • gotryit

    Learn about your council candidates and vote smartly. Some of those people only represent their own interests and need to go.

    Also, I second the ANC involvement. That really can make a difference in a neighborhood. We’ve (successfully) worked with them to encourage crappy liquor store applicants to pull their liquor licenses. We’ve also (successfully) worked to make sure that good places for the neighborhood sailed through the process without a hitch.

  • Assuming you are aready registered to vote…..Start by going to your ANC meetings. Meet your ANC commissioner. Send your council member an email letting him/her know that you’re interested in what is going on. Thats what I’m doing, I’ve learned a LOT just from going to the meetings and getting involved. And I agree with JT, the best ‘first move’ would be to run for ANC Commissioner and start your career in politics there.

  • A friend of mine served a term as an ANC commissioner, and it sounded like a thankless job. Being an effective commissioner requires that you devote an enormous amount of time to your duties, and for no pay. This is really not easy to accomplish if you have a full-time job. Add to that the long, boring meetings that accomplish little to nothing because two of the job’s prerequisites seems to be stubbornness and short-sightedness, and by the time your term is up you’re totally disenchanted and ready to throw in the towel. And you never really get the ear of DC Council Members by being ethical and maintaining any semblance of integrity.

    I think it must take someone with extreme amounts of determination and patience.

  • I think many people get frustrated because this is an old city with old city politics (regardless of race Mr. Anonymous–centurieslong history of that in America with block captain politics and interest groups…developers, builders, Irish, Italians, Chinese…”blah blah” so STFU). Some stuff is glacial, some blink of an eye waton or rash, some inexplicable, but it follows a pattern unfamiliar to children of the suburbs. In a way it’s no more arcane than Congress. Still, it has a learning curve and take patience many folks dont have. I dont. All we can do is still assertive and engaged; attend and hammer elected officials, dont back down at community meetings but dont act like a fool, or racist clown, either. Act like the OWS 1% and vote with your checkbook–but dont assume that the scary neo Panther activist is your enemy (she could be fronting for some even scarier developer) or that Latinos dont vote. Rightly assume you’ll have to make alliances with a few dumbasses. But it’s worth it. Its your home.

  • As JT, JH and Brian have said, get involved with your local ANC. I don’t believe most residents realize the kind of impact their ANC has on their community, and I don’t believe residents realize how much of an impact they can have on their ANC.

    The number one way to play a role in your community is to get involved with your ANC, be it as a commissioner, volunteer or just involved resident.

  • Andy, thanks for submitting this and PoP, thanks for highlighting it.

    As for direct political involvement the ANC Commissioner sounds like a good place to start. If one doesn’t have the time and/or patience (among other things) to commit to that then perhaps becoming an active member in your community is more realistic. This is obviously nothing profound but being part of community meetings (i.e., school, library, etc.) would be a more indirect route to become politically involved. Organized entities, esp well-populated ones can influence specific political discussions that are important to the participants. If there isn’t yet a group that fancies your interest(s) then start one and tell us about it!!

    I’m staying tuned for more suggestions from PoPville.

  • Most neighborhoods also have a civic association you can get involved with . . . a smaller commitment than running for an ANC seat, but involving many of the same people and issues.

  • austindc

    Our neighborhood list serve was a great way to learn about ways to get involved. It’s how I learned about the Sherman Ave. streetscape meeting that’s happening this Monday. Of course PoP is how I found out about the Georgia Avenue business association meeting, which was also a lot of fun! Our ANC is also really good about letting us know what’s going on in the neighborhood.

  • I second the thought to get involved with your ANC – whether you run as a commissioner, join a committee, attend the meetings or just find out who your commissioner is and let them know you’d like to meet them and be involved. I ran (and won) in my neighborhood shortly after buying our house, and I have met more people than I otherwise would have. Sure it can sometimes be a thankless job, but knowing that you and your neighbors are helping shape your neighborhood and surrounding area to be one that you want to live in for a long time is pretty rewarding.

    If you want to start small, start attending the civic/neighborhood association meetings. They often talk about and hear the same info that the ANC does, with less red tape, and often ANCs look to the associations for their thoughts on issues.

    Good luck, and thanks for wanting to take part!

  • What about giving money?

  • A blog that promotes city-wide voter registration and offers detailed information on candidate positions seems like a good way to get new people more involved and use some of the skills mentioned by the OP. To build a dedicated readership, you would probably need to take a stance on issues which means being willing to take heat, but if successful it’d be much more effective than running for ANC at a city-level. There are already examples of this model (GGW namely) but none where the scope is all issues affecting the District proper.

  • Focus on the at-large commission seats. Mobilize to support and vote for candidates that reflect “New DC” rather than “Old DC.” Or become one of those candidates yourself and build the coalition to challenge and win. See, e.g., Patrick Mara, who came pretty close to accomplishing this in the last special election. (And for the record, I don’t know that guy from Adam, or even if it’s fair to say he’s “New DC” or not, but I was surprised/impressed at the traction he got in the special election.)

  • It may sound crazy, but not being involved is the same is being involved. This is because everyday concrete decisions which impact your everyday life are being made in your name. Ironically, PoP’s, strength as a forum is based in your relative inactivity in neighborhood issues beyond the superficial. And many of this forums advertisers are paying to use PoP and similar forums as substitute for neighborhood and local political involvement to line their pockets at the neighborhoods expense.

    Run for ANC or not, work for a Congressmen member or not silence and and relative inactivity speaks loudly.

    As well, we take for grant that many don’t know how to be involved, some one else always did it for them.


    • +1

      Disturbing but true. Too many people think that online activity (which is easy, fun, anonymous and convenient) substitutes for being active.

      It doesn’t.

      You have to get your hands dirty, take risks and feel some pain.

    • Shut up Billy. Your particular method of “community involvement” is detestable- using scare tactics to push the agenda of a minority. We see through you.

    • I think I might agree with some or all of this but I’m not totally sure I understand what you are saying.

  • I second the point about Civic Associations.

    Someone should start a blog about crime in the city and pin each Council Member down on his or her views on sentencing, enforcement, etc. Everyone is interested in crime, and the readership would skyrocket.

    I can’t do it, cause I commit crimes and don’t want to write about myself.

    • gotryit for murders… I’m not sure that a blog about car break-ins would really take off.

      • I am not thinking of a blog that simply covers car break-ins. Rather, I’d like something that highlights and explains where Council Members stand on such things as sentencing. I don’t see that type of valueable information — which would help people to make informed decisions when voting — on homicidewatch’s site.

        • austindc

          I’m with you Bloomingdude, except when you go on your epic crime sprees. Anyway, I would vote so hard for politicians who were willing to address the crimes that bug me most. Everyone is going to try to be tough on violent crime, but there’s lots of other stuff that goes on, and it would be great to know how politicians feel about it. If you were to start such a blog, I would read it. If only you weren’t so busy with your jewel heists and cattle rustling. And honestly, given some of the threads I see on PoP, I bet people would follow a car break in blog.

          • -6,700,0000000000

            The nature of my sprees were supposed to be just between us.

            Watch your back, Austin. Watch your back.

          • Ooops.. I meant to say “was” not “were.” My grammar is as bad as Billy’s.

            It’s the fumes from all the cattle rustling.

  • Another way to get involved is to join the various recall efforts that will start January 1st…

  • As a homeowner in NW for 8 years, I have learned one thing about DC politics:

    If Jim Graham is for it, I am against it.

    Jim Graham doesn’t represent homeowners. He only represents those that live in section 8 housing and those that might be targets of ICE. Homeowners need not apply.

    • +1 Ole Jimmy is now over DYRS, public safety be damned

    • That’s funny. The homeowners on my block–American white people so they are human beings, unlike those section 8 folks and Latinos–have all been helped by Graham on matters from crime to dumping to dealing with DC Water to assessments. That dude is fair from perfect. But neither is Eric Cantor, or Hillary Clinton, or Mitch McConnel or Milke Bloomberg. If you can do a better job–then you run. But you better be prepared to tell these Section 8 & latino people they are nothing but cockroaches to you. Hey some of them are scum. But many have a chance to grow and in turn grow this city. And besides, I’ve met many a “homeowner type” who are scum, too…

  • I’ve often thought that federal ethics rules are a big impediment to civic involvement in DC. Federal workers are banned from a lot of partisan political activities under the Hatch Act. Although there’s a lot they can still do (run for ANC, for example, because it is non-partisan) I think a lot of federal workers might chose to avoid the headache of having to look at the regs or consult with their ethics officers. (Ethics officers are notoriously over zealous about these kinds of things. They act like you’re a criminal when you ask the most benign question.)

  • The 3 rules of thumb to having a voice in DC politics:

    1) vote – primary election
    2) vote – general election
    3) vote – an special election

    You can write letters, post opinions on forums, or chat up friends about the issues of the day that are of concern. But the pols only pay attention when they have a chance of winning or losing your vote. The real power lays in the ballot box.

  • I would echo JH’s comments about the importance of voting in local races, but beyond that, join organizations (League of Women Voters, DC for Democracy, DC Vote, Sierra Club, to name a few) which help provide the necessary background information to make an informed vote. There are a lot of issues that arise in this city, and the media coverage usually just gets at the tip of the iceberg.

  • If you are interested in helping the District in terms of Federal interaction, like motivating Members of Congress. I’m sure DC Vote, CM Michael Brown or the Mayor’s federal affairs team would be glad to hear from you.

    • That’s a joke, right? Those are the people that wake up every day hoping they don’t hear from any concerned constituency.

  • Granted, my ANC (6A) is one of the better ones, but it has plenty of committees: alcohol and beverage, economic development, transportation, crime. So there are ways to be active.

    you can subscribe to your ANC’s notifications so that even if you can’t attend every meeting, you can prioritize the ones that necessary (like for ex., if your ANC proposes a moratorium on liquor licenses even though the area still has plenty of boarded up buildings).

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