Week 6: Walking in The Shoes of a Board Member

Maamaloa Finau of the 2019 CAUSE Leadership Academy

This past week’s CLA workshop really put things into perspective for me by providing me with a glimpse into the world of politics and how difficult it really is. Though this sounds like an obvious no-brainer, one’s understanding will change when going through a real political experience or participating in an advocacy simulation.

During the Lobbying / Public Comment and Advocacy workshop held by Andrew Murphy, we were all given various roles to play. Five people were appointed as board members and the rest of the interns were split into two groups: those that were in favor of the bill to implement a gender identity curriculum into elementary schools and those that were not. It was each groups’ job to persuade as many board members as they could in their favor. I was given the position as one of the councilmen, specifically the lead board member. The description of my position said that the people I represent were not heavily one-sided on this particular bill, though I still had  to keep in mind that I was running for re-elections next year.

Before the two teams were going to try to persuade me, I wrote down the questions I had for each side, but I knew in my head what my decision was. All my questions for those that opposed the bill were phrased in a way that assumed they did not want to be progressive or representative of everyone. As I wrote, I felt passionate about the other side who was in favor of the bill.

Maamaloa Finau of the 2019 CAUSE Leadership Academy

The first group that rushed up to me were those from the opposing side. I was ready with my questions, but I was surprised to hear their arguments as I realized I didn’t take all possible arguments into consideration. One of them said, “Absolutely, we want this to happen, but this bill is not ready. They are not prepared and if we do not come up with an actual good plan then this will set us back instead of forward". One of them told a personal story and talked about their family. As I listened to them, I felt guilty for assuming their reasons for being against the bill.

Members of the side that were for the bill came and said exactly what I thought they would, but I couldn't help but think about the opposing sides’ arguments. This team then mentioned how I’m running for re-elections and how they would be more than happy to provide funding for that and then they said, “vote ‘yes’ for this bill—be progressive”. After hearing both sides, I was conflicted between several things. My opinion now changed, but it was for a side that was labeled as being “non-progressive, bad, or against representation.” Even though this was a simulation, I really had to consider my own morals, in addition to the perceptions of others if I wasn’t in favor of this bill. I thought about re-elections and the benefit of getting funding if I was for this bill. The arguments against my own beliefs seemed to outweigh that decision. Finally, it was time for each board member to share their final decision in front of everyone. The majority talked about how they wanted to pass this bill to “put their foot forward towards change,” but I still had the opposing sides’ arguments in my head. When it came to my turn, I knew that others would not approve, but I chose to go against the bill and I said, “Although it is important to have a foot forward, I believe we should have our best foot forward and so, for that reason, I am not in favor of this bill.” 

Andrew Murphy with the 2019 CAUSE Leadership Academy interns

This whole experience showed me the pressures that council members and people with decision-making power face as they are expected to make the “right” decision. However, there is no clear “right” decision. In everyday conversations I would hear others talk about elected officials and label them as “bad” or “good” for not being in favor of certain bills. I pretended to be a board member for 45 minutes and I already felt so much pressure. I can only imagine how it would feel for real board members. We’ve fallen into this culture of easily denouncing others for what they voted for, but the reality is that it is not all that simple. There is the common saying of how not everything is black and white, there is a grey area, and this has shown me how in politics, not everything is blue or red, there is a purple area.