My first day as an intern at Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis’ office made me realize one of many things: canvassing in a suit and tie on a 90-degree day is neither glamorous nor fun. It was my first time going from municipality to municipality, passing out flyers to local parks and city offices about an upcoming veterans resources and employment opportunity expo. For the uninitiated, canvassing is hot, uncomfortable, and requires arduous drives through late afternoon traffic. How do people like my supervisor and other staffers in the office do this as part of their everyday job?
I remember commenting to the staff member who took me out to canvass that I could not imagine canvassing in the middle of summer in a full suit, and he agreed with me that it was hard work, but for him it was worth it. For him, canvassing was not an inconvenience, but part of the intricate and necessary process of performing community outreach and relationship building with constituents. He said, “This is what I feel like I was born to do, I really feel like I was put on this Earth to serve in this capacity.” He went onto to explain his story, specifically how he started as an indifferent IT worker who had no interest in politics or politicking per se, but was pulled into the political process when Proposition 8 was on the ballot in California in 2008. After being inspired to be more active in local government, he decided to run for positions in his area, and finally became recently elected. His words in closing to me were most remarkable, “I ran because I couldn’t find a reason not to, literally anyone can run and make a difference. The sky is literally the limit for me right now.”
What I took from what he shared was that public service and community-building is a process. What matters is not the minute details, such as the inconvenience of canvassing, but the overall picture of what you want to accomplish, whether that be building a greater sense of community identity or increasing civic participation. In so-doing, the process of accomplishing a goal seems less of a chore and more as a rewarding experience when you have a clear vision of what you want. I believe this was the basic lesson the staffer wanted me to learn from my experience in the field on my first day. Learning about his history, the reasons as to why he became passionate and involved with local elected office, and his motivations for continuing his work ultimately made me reflect on my own aspirations and future; it is safe to say that I am personally undecided when it comes to running for elected office in the future, but I am still adamantly committed to working with and improving my local community by continuing to learn from those who came before me.