Though yesterday’s writing prompt seems a bit redundant (what election is there that ISN’T political?!), I will answer it.
Since becoming voting age, I have never missed an election at the civic/regional, provincial or federal level. As the years have drawn on, I have also tried to become more active in the interim periods between races (mainly by writing opposing politicians). I also have tried to become more active in what one could call secondary races at the local levels (school trustee elections).
For the past 2 trustee elections, I made a cheat sheet a few months in advance (depending on other life factors demanding my attention, like work). I research each candidate as best as possible (using their submitted platform and online sources, if applicable). I also email each candidate questions based on my concerns and concerns in their platform statements. Using the responses (as sometimes, lack thereof), I widdle down the candidates to the maximum number necessary.
While I won’t automatically eliminate candidates that don’t respond to emails, it is a large factor of consideration, particularly in candidates running for re-election. While I understand that people are busy, not responding to voter communication comes across to me as arrogant. As though you don’t feel you need my vote. Though that may be the case, I’ll remember the name if they ever have aspirations for a higher office (like city councillor or mayor).
I have always voted in real-life elections because I always recognized the importance of paying attention. Though work and other considerations distract me from a lot of the minutia of political discourse (particularly at the local level. Social media is (and always has been) terrible when it comes to driving citizen engagement at this level), I try to stay in the loop. This is easier said than done since the drivers of many local campaigns still think we’re in the dark ages of newspapers and cable TV. Though I can follow Bernie Sanders and local Pizza businesses on Snapchat, Tik Tok and Facebook, the only local election content that often slips into my everyday stream is the odd youtube preroll paid for by a candidate.
Participation in local politics has been falling off a cliff for the past few election cycles all over the place. I think I can highlight a big reason why.
For starters (to the older generations on a high horse), quit complaining about the young people not paying attention and meet them there they are. Previous generations are just as ignorant of what didn’t make the cut of cable TV. So enough hand waving as though you are any different.
In reality, politics is far more all-encompassing than just what we keep tabs on VIA the news. When it comes to all manner of organizations, politics tends to play a role in finding success within said organization.
And when I say organization, I am meaning pretty much any organization. Rather than finding a threshold wherein one could expect these processes to take shape, I will instead share an excerpt of an interesting article I found.
Whatever else organizations may be (problem-solving instruments, sociotechnical systems, reward systems, and so on), they are political structures. This means that organizations operate by distributing authority and setting a stage for the exercise of power. It is no wonder, therefore, that individuals who are highly motivated to secure and use power find a familiar and hospitable environment in business.https://hbr.org/1970/05/power-and-politics-in-organizational-life
Though the article is focused on the business world (the source IS the Harvard Business Review), you can apply the dynamics to any organizational structure. Where there is power to be attained, there will be politics.
Organizations provide a power base for individuals. From a purely economic standpoint, organizations exist to create a surplus of income over costs by meeting needs in the marketplace. But organizations also are political structures which provide opportunities for people to develop careers and therefore provide platforms for the expression of individual interests and motives. The development of careers, particularly at high managerial and professional levels, depends on accumulation of power as the vehicle for transforming individual interests into activities which influence other people.https://hbr.org/1970/05/power-and-politics-in-organizational-life
I hate how they interchangeably swap out business for organization, but again, the focus is on the business world.
Though I never had much trouble when it comes to participating in politics on a local/regional/national (even on an international level, at least in terms of engagement), the everyday kind of politics has always been hard for me.
Every place wherein one works (short of organizations with very few employees) has some kind of political culture. And in almost every instance therein, one’s path to success isn’t always as clear-cut as it should be (the best always rise to the top). It is often a game of who you know and/or who you are chummy with.
This was made explicitly clear to me when I started working at a place that seemed to be shifted by fairly few political influences (or at the least, they are good at keeping the human factors in check). This is in comparison with previous workplace cultures that valued turning a blind eye and just accepting things as they are.
I have trouble accepting that some stupid problem (be it a real-world issue or an idiotic corporate policy) is just how it is to be. When there are real-world consequences to be had (be they productivity, aka financial inefficiencies, or actual risks), I believe in corrective action. Though I am not in a position to do anything about said issues most of the time, I AM in a position to be a squeaky wheel.
The problem with many of the organizational structures I have worked within in the past is that they don’t take kindly to the squeaky wheel. Instead of viewing it as constructive feedback, they see it as at best, a sign of a negative personality and, at worse, as a challenge to the power of the authorities in charge. I have been told that I needed to be less negative formally on one occasion, and heard through the grapevine that this negativity was costing me shifts (and thus, affecting my life) another time.
This was where I concluded that my direct authority must have been seeing my squeaky wheel routine as a challenge. This is despite the fact that I pose no risk to their position whatsoever. There is no way the people that put him in place would put a mismatch pain in the ass like me at the leadership table.
I contrast this to an organization that does not do everything it can to beat its squeaky wheels into submission. An organization with leaders who may not always agree with one’s views, but they also don’t actively discourage you from making them known. An organization with a leadership which isn’t inherently disconnected from the frontline work environment.
When you spend vast amounts of your life in organizational and political environments that clash with your values, you begin to think that the problem is you. The reason for your misery is your refusal to go with the flow.
Just shut up and go with the flow. It’s not rocket science!
And yet, you just can’t do it. And it certainly doesn’t help when you keep happening across articles on platforms like Harvard Business Review (aimed at everyone from executives to middle management types) outlining ways to bring general improvements to organizations of all types. The potential is so obvious, but the pathway is blocked by . . . humans embracing all the worst aspects of organized humanity.
Thus, we end up with a cautionary tale. What happens when you overstay your time in an environment inherently antithetical to your values?
Not only do you hinder any path to success you may have otherwise had within the organization, you also never actually FIX anything. Whether the squeaky wheel is loudly protesting or silently seething, the same old inefficiencies and incompetencies continue to exist.
I chose to exit and finally found a place that seemed to fit my values.
If you are okay with going with the flow in an organizational structure unmatched to your values, then so be it. If this place of work is making you question your values, however, it may be time to consider other options. It’s not easy and can take a lot of time. Nonetheless, your sanity may depend on it.
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Where humans are organizing, there will be politics. Though it may be easier to count yourself out of it all, it is not in your (or anyone you care about)’s best interest.
Politics can affect every aspect of one’s life. From laws, ordinances, and regulations of governments, to rules and regulations of HOAs and Condo boards, to your career trajectory in the workplace. Though actively participating isn’t always easy, neither to are living with the results of neglecting to do so.
How can one become more politically active?
That, of course, is context-dependent.
Regarding local politics, I like what Ignite International has to say:
Getting involved in your community is a helpful way to further understand the issues that people in your area are facing. Consider attending town hall meetings or volunteering locally. As you hear from others about their concerns, you can also create connections. No matter what political path you go down, connecting with community members helps you have a deeper understanding that will influence your next move.
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One way to help your community is by becoming an activist or community organizer. Use your voice to organize marches about certain issues, start a conversation online or rally people around a cause. Either way, you’ll be ensuring that people continue to be reminded that something needs to be done to help make your community better for everyone in it.https://ignitenational.org/blog/5-ways-to-get-politically-and-civically-involved-that-arent-running-for-office
When it comes to politics of the national variety, this PDF is full of helpful hints.
Most of this information is US-centric, but you can take what you need to know and adapt it to your local region and country.
As for organizational politics, that is where things become tricky. Though all politics are arguably tricky, organizational politics tends to be far more susceptible to human biases and bad traits than broader local, regional and national politics driven primarily by other agendas. For example, a bad decision made by a co-worker or HOA board member can inflict much more stress on you than most decisions made by politicians at any level. Although we don’t tend to think of these workplace situations as political, they are.
As such, the first decision you must make is what you value in the given situation. Are you interested in becoming a rising star and making a career of it? Or are you more interested in keeping within your ethical/moral boundaries and values?
Some may argue that the dichotomy I just painted is ridiculously rigid. As in all generalizations, the net is cast very wide to have the best coverage. Nonetheless, given my personal work history (and a great many stories I’ve read on places like Reddit) I suspect that a great many people may find the parameters relatable.
As such, the choice is yours. If you want to adapt to interpersonal politics, search engines and youtube are excellent sources to help with your journey. You can find articles from current professionals and outsiders who know the corporate game well.
If that is not the life for you, then there are just as many sources in the realm of search engines and YouTube to help make the transition a reality. Two of my favourite creators in this category are Joshua Fluke and A Life After Layoff. Both offer methods (ranging from the obvious to the unconventional) that most people can utilize to achieve career growth in whatever sector suits them best. And most importantly, both of them have a far better grasp of the dynamics of internal corporate politics and culture than pretty much anyone else in the public space, the news media included.
That brick wall that seems to exist between your everyday reality and the reality that your superiors (particularly c-suite level individuals) see . . . it isn’t imaginary. Many of them really do have their heads up their ass.
Every one of our situations is different. Sometimes the options of adapt or get out are far easier said than done regarding constrained job markets. And when it comes to other aspects of politics, not all of us have the time to shake things up at the HOA or any other level of politics.
While I completely understand this reasoning for shying away from politics, I encourage everyone to remember that life goes on outside your little bubble. Though direct participation may be too much to ask, at least pay some attention to the events of the world around you. Lest you not be surprised when a power-seeking idiot of a neighbour (or fascism) suddenly shows up in your neighbourhood.
As for those that refuse to play the game at all . . . I also get it. I didn’t sign up for this either.
Nonetheless, the negative influencers who know how to play the game of politics are advancing themselves into positions of power over you. If you want even the chance to have such a position of influence, you best learn to play the game.
After all, you are a pawn in it already.