My politics bind me to my community — near and far

I embraced politics in the most personal ways in 2018. After a year of action and engagement, I’ve never felt more bonded to my community.

A year ago, my husband Adam Cornell declared his candidacy for Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney in Washington State. Last night, he was elected to serve our community’s 800,000 residents for the next four years. When Adam declared his candidacy, we decided together that I would run his campaign. Though I had no experience in politics, we both knew I could figure it out as we went.

People have asked me what I’ve learned along the way. Above all, I can say that I’ve never felt more connected to my community, and more clear-eyed about how I can effectively participate. We have met wonderful people and encountered organizations doing exceptional work. I struggle to express how grateful I am for the people who work to make our community a better, more vibrant place.

Here are a few things I learned this year:

1. Politics is local

If you are looking for a way in — a way to learn and participate — politics is happening in your community right now. And you are welcome there. In our county, there are 777 precincts, and 10 state legislative districts (LDs). There are leadership roles in each of those precincts (most Precinct Committee Officer roles go unfilled), and regular meetings of your LD. The discussions and decisions at those meetings matter. That is where community members learn about the issues and are moved to become candidates, where candidates secure endorsements, where candidates and electeds gain visibility regionally, and move up the ranks. It starts in these rooms. Go see!

Each LD has its own website and public meetings. You can find your Washington State LD here.

2. Politics are national, and personal.

A year ago, I joined the Run to Win Facebook community, managed by EMILYS List. It is a support group for pro-choice women either running for office or supporting those who are. The group has grown from several hundred people when I joined a year ago, to over 5,600 members today. There has been news all year about the number of women running for office, called to action by a brand of politics that is hateful and divisive. This is the group where I watched, came to know, and learned from like-minded, action-oriented leaders.

The group includes women from every state, running for everything from US Senate to the union lead of her community’s symphony orchestra. It has been beyond inspiring to watch the group grow, and to rely on each other for guidance on issues big and small. Not only did I learn a lot about how to run a campaign from this community, I also met new people, and was able to pay my learnings forward.

In this group, I met Emily Randall, who is narrowly leading in a state senate race in a red district in the west Puget Sound. I met Lauren Davis, who was elected last night and will serve as the youngest member of the Washington State House of Representatives. I met Satya Rhodes-Conway, who is running for mayor of Madison WI (2019). I have been able to support their campaigns in small, but (I hope!) meaningful ways — beyond just giving money — even though in some cases, I live very far from the districts they aim to represent.

If you’re curious about running for office, Run to Win is holding an informational training/orientation session in Tukwila, WA on 12/1. This is also a great way to learn how you can help a woman run for office if you’re unsure you want to be a candidate.

3. You CAN affect change in support of the issues important to you.

In mid-2016, feeling helpless and distraught about the senseless loss-of-life to gun violence, I attended a small gathering at a friend’s home in support of a gun violence prevention initiative that was on Washington’s 2016 ballot. It was just days after Adam had responded to the scene of a mass shooting in our community, where three young people died at the hands of a 19-year-old wielding an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle he didn’t know how to use, enraged because he was unable to control a woman with whom he had an intimate relationship.

I was scared to be there. I was afraid that mine was a minority view, and that I was in danger because of it. I gave less than $100 afraid — fearful! — that the NRA and its intimidating, gun-carrying members would come after me for my position. But that afternoon I learned that in fact I am in the majority. Alliance for Gun Responsibility CEO Renee Hopkins, said that afternoon, “Washington State is the tip of the spear.” Laws passed in Washington by the legislature or by citizen initiative are models for other states. By affecting change here, we were affecting change elsewhere.

When we learned in May that Adam was running unopposed, I hopped over to volunteer on behalf of Initiative 1639, a gun violence prevention measure. I managed volunteer signature gathering coordination in Snohomish County in an effort to get the initiative on the 2018 ballot. On this issue, it is so easy to feel helpless and intimidated. But as I gathered piles of completed signature pages, and my doorbell kept ringing with new volunteers eager to contribute to the effort, I knew I was making a difference. My work would affect my community, and communities beyond my state.

Last night, 1639 passed with 60% of the vote. This is not a partisan issue. This is a public health issue, and the public wants more balance between rights and responsibility. I feel so privileged to be part of making this effort to help keep my friends and neighbors — you — safer.

4. Public service is a gift. And those who give are rewarded.

This year, I’ve come to meet and know so many people who serve our community, in myriad ways. Most of the time, the work of elected officials, committed volunteers, and career public servants goes with little or no thanks. Most of the time, the people who serve do so because they are energized by the prospect of improving the lives of others, and by the pursuit of justice. They get far more than they give, but the sacrifice is real (emotional, financial). Even if their vision is different than yours, their contributions have value. When you have the opportunity, thank them for their service. If they are in a position to help you achieve your vision for a better community, ask them to help you work toward that vision, but be sure to thank them for listening, acting, and serving.

The 2016 election was devastating. I felt blind and belittled. But my experience in 2018 has given me new hope, and a new path for participating. It is not an easy path — it takes work, resources (time, energy, money), and commitment — but I have come away with a sense of what the terrain is like, who walks it with me, and where it can lead. I hope you’ll join me here.