A pretty scary realization hit me this week. I was in a room with about 35 young leaders, and when asked how many people had considered running for office about ten people raised their hands. When asked how many of those ten had changed their minds because of the current state of politics, about seven people put their hands down. What does this all mean? Fewer and fewer people are interested in entering politics, which means the people left on the playing field are those with extreme points of view. In essence, more of the same.
Whether we like to think about it or not, politics and policy affect us all. The bickering at the state capitol and in Washington may seem far-removed from our daily lives, but the reality is the resolutions from those fights will have an impact on our personal and professional lives.
Playing the game does not have to be a dirty word.
The last several years have probably made many of us in the nonprofit world more keenly aware of the impact political decision-making can have on the sector, especially when government funding cuts happen while service demands are up. What's happening at the capitol and in Washington is loudly knocking at the doors of our homes, offices, and schools. As emerging leaders, we can't just ignore it, cross our fingers, and hope it goes away. It's our time to step up to the plate and turn the political game into a game we're proud to be playing.
So what does "playing the game" mean? It doesn't mean pointing your finger at the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street and blaming them for all that's wrong with the world. It doesn't mean becoming so married to your political beliefs and party that you are unwilling to talk to the other side. That's how the game has been played, and we've all seen that winning that game means forced government shutdowns, a lack of compromise, and stalemates. When we play the game, we engage in the current political process. We write and call our elected representatives, and we VOTE. (We can't hold our elected officials responsible if we don't go out and vote!)
We are the new players. These are our rules.
Yes, the political machine is "broken," but it doesn't mean we're exempt from its defective outputs. We all have a role in changing the way the political game is played out now. If we can establish new rules about how we engage with the political landscape, we can become an influential force for creating a shared vision for our future. We can first begin with these ground rules:
- We have to engage not only with like-minded folks, but also with the people we disagree with.
- We enter policy discussions with complete awareness of each other's self-interests.
- We keep an open mind.
- We realize to develop sound and effective policy, we have to compromise.
- We make sure we're bringing the right people to the table—people that are impacted by the problem HAVE to be involved in defining and studying the issues, then proposing the solutions.
- We make a commitment to practicing politics and developing policies according to our new rules.
- We serve as the referees to the new game, and we don't hesitate to call foul on people who aren't playing by the rules.
Political decision-making doesn't just happen at the capitol. Policy development isn't restricted to elected officials. We all have experiences, beliefs, and values that we can bring to the table. This isn't meant to be some fluffy "go-get'em kid" blog post. Political change is hard, it takes time—lots of time—but things won't change if we're all sitting on the bench. You'll get frustrated. You'll get discouraged. But if we ever want to see a system that's effective, we cannot afford to disengage.
What other items would you add to the new rules of engagement?
What are some other way can we channel our frustrations to changing the political game?