Running for office is not in any way easy. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. But I became disgusted enough this year to run for office. Do I regret it? Oh Lord, yes – I often do. Will I continue, and will I do it again if not elected? Damn right I will.
We’re too far gone into an ugly, ugly situation politically for good people to not stand up anymore. So, here I am.
For the next month, I hope to hear from you – hear your insights and your issues – so I can keep taking them to City Hall, just as I’ve done in the past as an activist.
I’m here for you, and I am ready to keep mouthing off on your behalf. Open eyes, open ears, open mind, open heart, and – on your behalf – an open mouth.
Feel free to subscribe, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Atatiana Jefferson was murdered in her own home. This is “not okay,” to put it euphemistically. I’m concerned that her killer is going to be sent off with a slap on the wrist.
If your Black friend tells you not to call the police, even if you have not heard from them in a few days, do not call the police. This is not up for question. Until we can trust every officer in every city in every state, this is not up for question. Please respect their wishes and need for safety.
If you are a white person who needs some tips:
Please go check on your friend or loved one yourself. If you can’t gain access to their home and are really concerned, please talk to their neighbors first, because they’ll know better than anyone.
If that doesn’t work, please call the fire department instead. They may be already put-upon, especially in Houston right now, but they may save a life and not shoot your loved one in their own home.
To my friends in HPD: do not take this as an assumption that you, or every officer, is going to shoot a person of color, but we have a long way to go in Texas, and in this nation, and everyone needs to have a listen. There is so much in the way of training that needs to happen right now. Please respect the fact that this is a trust problem that many of us have right now. I’m a white lady that was once detained for 17 hours for a clerical error about a broken taillight, and that was EASY, compared to what my Black friends have gone through as I was driving them home in my car while they were terrified that they’d be killed just for being Black. They’ve had to worry that if they were in the back seat of my car, they’d be shot on the assumption that they were carjacking me. I’ve learned much from that.
Whatever training we’re doing in Texas, it’s clearly wrong in Dallas/Fort Worth, most of all. I challenge Chief Acevedo to do something about this. People should remain safe if they are in their homes and doing no harm to anyone. Domestic abuse calls and the like deserve intervention, and we’re failing on that – it’s time for the whole system to have an overhaul. I’d welcome a sit-down with Chief Acevedo on what we’re doing in our town with HPD.
The above being said, I propose this instead: a network of volunteers, much like we had in Montrose in the 1970s for the LGBTQ community, with a number you can call for checks on someone’s welfare without involving the police. A group that will provide someone trustworthy to make sure your friend is okay and safe, and you will not have to worry about them being shot in their own home by a rookie with a quick trigger finger.
It all comes back to community. Community and communication. These are the things that will save us. Talking to each other, listening, knowing your neighbors, these small networks that become larger networks. Listening. Listening. Listening. Listening to people who are not the same as you. You gain understanding and respect by listening.
Listening makes so much more of a difference than you’ll ever know, and you don’t even know how many lives you’re saving by doing that one simple thing, the one that seems scariest of all. By listening, you learn and grow. When you think you know everything, that’s when you know the least. Listening gives you a voice too.
Step back. LISTEN. Be of help. When you’re quiet for a while, and hear what people have to say, you can find the needs and become the helper you (hopefully) want to be. You make our city and our whole existence safer for everyone. There is a whole world outside of your own sphere, if you take the time to hear and care.
If you listen as much as you talk, you build a legacy, because you learn and grow. Please learn and grow along with me, for a better tomorrow for all of us – including you.
It was my least favorite part of the job, assembling those No on Metro signs back in 2012. Day in, day out, any spare moment we had – and those moments were few and far between, but the five of us would do it together, coffee in our ever-dustifying hands. The door would open, and there would be the guy with the dolly. More signs. Oh, here we go. I’d kept one just as a tangible reminder of things I’d done, so I could hang it up with my Women of Montrose Action Network charity-event apron and all the signs I had hanging about my tiny home from campaigns for which I’d volunteered.
At that time in 2012, I never would’ve imagined that I’d be assembling my own seven years later. Gone is the cameraderie of that little office on Richmond, but it’s still a meditative exercise after all this time. The smell of the metal and the carbon from the stakes brings the mind back to truly exciting times. (I may save a stake just to waft that smell across my face after the election is over. It’s like aromatherapy.)
50 down, to go to the early voting locations, and many, many more to go for people in the District C neighborhoods who want them. It’s not for the faint of heart, and definitely not for the faint of wallet. Thank goodness enough donors have come through so that I can finally have a presence in the district, beyond the civic meetings and the one-on-ones, even though that’s ultimately what keeps me going.
I ran into a friend on the street, a member of our working homeless population. His name is James White, and he’s an artist – I’ve seen him weave a cross out of palm leaves, the same kind of palm leaves that people would spend an hour weaving together when I was growing up in Catholic school. He wove it together in five minutes, and made it into a big heart, because he believes that any God out there has a big heart for everyone. He never asks anyone for money, he just gives his gifts to people. But the things he makes are genuine art, and he makes enough of a living to ensure that he has food every day, clean clothing to withstand whatever the weather situation is, and hopefully, a safe place to lay his head at night.
People like James deserve a shot. If I’m elected, I’m going to hire him to teach our homeless population life skills, artisan skills. James White is a Vietnam vet, someone who the system has failed so far, and he has no substance-abuse issues or anything of the like. He suffers from physical disabilities that keep him from having a “regular” job, but they don’t keep him from creating. He’s a colorful thread in the beautiful tapestry that is our Houston. And we’re failing him right now.
He wants nothing more than a tiny little apartment he can go to each night – and while we’ve done so much in that aspect, and we’re making progress, it is so far from enough to care for the people who are most underserved. I want people like James to be able to do their work and know there is a soft pillow waiting at home every night. To feel the turn of that key that says “this is my home,” a thing that so many take for granted. People like him are those who will keep this city moving forward.
I’ve been both “home-insecure” and “food-insecure” many times in my life, to use the popular terms. (Basically, they mean you don’t know where you’re going to live and/or eat, or how you’re going to pay those student loans.) I’m okay with being open about it. It might make you think about how many people in your life are going through things they may never tell you. So many people in Houston are one paycheck away from homelessness, starvation, abject poverty. The fact that we’re a collection of small communities has helped me in the past, so whenever I have the resources, I help people in return – especially because I’ll get them to admit they’re in trouble when they’re pretending not to be. I know that need for artifice and the “stiff upper lip,” and it gets you nowhere.
In conclusion: love yourself and love those around you. Reach out. Fight hard for what you believe in. Listen. Care. Use your imagination to come up with new ways to help. You don’t have to run for office to put forth an idea that might change all of humanity, or even just one person’s life.
And never be afraid to spend a Friday night assembling some yard signs. You get good at it after a while.
It’s still last night to me. Whether it’s a computer problem, another forum, another questionnaire or twelve, I’m just at it, for 18-20 hours a day.
And I’m dang tired.
My friends who’ve successfully made it into public office (and are doing great jobs) have told me that even on their hardest days, it’s nowhere near as bad as campaigning. And at this point, I truly believe that.
This campaign is honestly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And if you know me, you know I’ve done some hard damn things in my life. Yet, for as much as it takes out of me, it gives back some fire. I go places and meet people and they help me learn and refine what I’m fighting for, which was always them to begin with.
The young people living with HIV. The homeless man I met two months ago, James, who works hard on his art and sells it because he’s a veteran abandoned by the system but he’s “gotta work to have a sense of self and contribution to the world.” (He created a beautiful woven piece in the course of five minutes from a fallen palm leaf, and when he tried to give it to a person five feet away from him, that guy gave him $10 for it because that’s all he had. James accepted the $10 with joy, and went to go get dinner and a bus back to the overpass.)
People like James are the ones I care so much about. I have so many homeless and formerly homeless friends – true friends – in Houston that I’ve lost count. The thing that brings me the most joy is seeing people like Paul, who people used to mock and refer to as “Forrest Gump,” resurfacing after a year with a modest bike he’d just bought with money from his job, and a dignified place to live, and clean clothes and clean hair and resources to help him get off of the substances he’d been on, and get to the business of living.
I’d thought about Paul every day for that year – he had a multitude of mental issues, and I saw the decent heart inside him waiting to get out. I couldn’t help him financially, but my now-deceased fiance was the first to reach out to him, and teach me a whole lot about the real meaning of loving your neighbor. (Paul has never forgotten Cliff’s love and appreciation, and I’m glad for that.)
When people talk about the future of Houston, we don’t really talk about people like James and Paul. We don’t talk about the guy who comes up and asks me for a cigarette outside of BB’s on $5 Gumbo Mondays – the guy who can’t remember his own name, but I remember his story every time because I’ve known him for years. We don’t talk about Virgie/Ahmed/The Artful Dodger, whose real name I do not know, but he’s one of the most talented performers I’ve ever known (he fooled 50 people into thinking he was a refugee from Kyrgyzstan, and never asked any of us for a cent… he just wanted love, a sense of belonging. When he turned up two years later as an Irishman, we enjoyed his dramatic readings of Dylan Thomas poetry that he’d memorized, and he still never asked for a cent.)
Houston is its characters. Cliff once said that “all love is built upon foundations of quicksand” – Houston, the city he loved as much as I did – is quite literally built upon foundations of quicksand. I was born in the swampland of Toledo, Ohio, and – God willin’ – I’m gonna die in the swampland of Houston, Texas. It just took me a little too long to get from one swamp to the other, had to pass through the Smokies for a few years.
Here’s one place where I disagree with Cliff, though, much as I miss him every damn day. Not ALL love is build upon foundations of quicksand… and he’d agree with me on this… if you love your city hard enough, your feet will never sink in so far that you can’t march forward.
And you can summon strength to lift people OUT of the quicksand, and put a good foundation under ’em. I intend to do just that, no matter what it takes.
Much love to you. Email me, even if it’s after November 5. ESPECIALLY if it’s after November 5. My loud mouth isn’t going anywhere.
Campaign finance report finally complete! Still have six and a half hours to sleep before football, even. (Come join our weekly festivities at PJ’s and Cecil’s on W. Gray if you can, it’s a good time.)
After the Molly Ivins documentary last night, there was a Q&A with a fabulous woman (whose name escapes me right now, my brain is so very tired) who knew the Ivins family and was heavily involved with the film. I asked her what advice she thought Molly might give me as an outlier running for local office, and she said “Whether you win or you lose, have fun with it, and do all the good you can.”
I loved that, and I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned, and what my own advice would be to someone choosing to run:
2) Nope, never mind, go ahead and go for it. The people you meet on the campaign trail are going to make it all worth it and remind you why you got yourself into this foolishness in the first place.
3) Do your due diligence. I started out aiming for an At-Large candidacy but switched right over to a massive playing field because you have to go with what you know. Spend 20% of your time talking, 50% listening and participating, and another 30% really thinking about what the people you’ve met have to say. Allow their experiences to change and refine your own ideas and platform. Keep that open mind, and know what and whom you’re fightin’ for.
4) Oh my goodness do not try to do it all yourself. If you have great ideas and your heart’s true and focused, let people help you along the way. Appreciate them dearly, in whatever way you are able.
5) Get really good at Microsoft Excel. Even if you’re like me and save every dang receipt along the way, these campaign finance reports are some mind-numbing work. Also, write down every expense on paper too, because you never know when the screen on your laptop is gonna break while you’re visiting your mama for the weekend.
6) You can’t make every event or even complete every questionnaire. You can choose what’s really important to you. I’d encourage you to not miss things like the League of Women Voters’ guide or Ballotpedia or all that, though, even if you’re up until 4 am making sure it all gets done.
7) Don’t try to co-found your own business at the same time you’re running for office. You are looking at a world of hurt, just trust me on this one.
8) Keep the people who are closest to you and most supportive of you right next to your heart. Take time, even if it’s just an hour a week, to enjoy their company. They’re the ones who will do things like make sure you’re fed after another 20-hour day. Election Day will come and go, but the people who love you will be there for life. Make sure they know that they’re loved and valued. Communicate with them – they keep you grounded, too.
9) This may be the most important. There will be times when you’ll be exhausted and want to throw in the towel. The infighting and the backstabbing and the paperwork and the constant events and obligations and the mailings and phone calls from people who want your money are gonna wear you down. So, when you feel that way, remember these three things:
a: Get to know and love your “competitors.” Some may want to see your head on a pike, but not all of them. In fact, many may become friends because you want the same things. Love them and do good things with them after the election, no matter who wins what.
b: Don’t lose the reason you ran in the first place. Mark Twain, one of my lifelong favorite authors, once said “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Be honest. Be authentic. You might stammer your way through a speech because you’re running on 36 hours with no sleep, but people can feel your heart. They can also smell a phony from a mile away, so… don’t be one.
c: Read. Read until your eyes want to fall right out of your head, and you’ll end up needing bifocals by the end of the campaign. Your daily and nightly homework is going to consist of pages and pages of news, commentary, budgets, legal documents, community newsletters, you name it. The more you know, the more you can help, and the more confident you’ll be about being able to help.
10) Above all, in the words that Molly Ivins might’ve said to me as well: Whether you win or you lose, have fun with it, and do all the good you can.
P.S. If you’ve hung in there for this long, you may be a reader, and we need readers these days. You can follow my blog (and donate to my campaign – since I’m starting to get good at these Excel spreadsheets – or contact me about volunteer opportunities at wolfehearsyou.com).