A Beginner’s Guide to Changing the World: Running for Office
October 14, 2022
Election season is just around the corner and the political scene in the United States is shifting. In 2018, a record number of millennials signed up to run for office and political action committees like Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress supercharged a movement to encourage new (and often young), “everyday” candidates for public office. Notable success stories of these organizations’ support include AOC, Jamaal Bowman, and Cori Bush.

It’s undeniable: the American public has championed new, sometimes-unlikely, grassroots candidates.

Are you ready to jump in, make change, and represent your community, but unsure of where to start? Your road to the next election cycle begins today with these five steps.

1. ) Reflect and know your why.

Before you launch your campaign, it’s important to be crystal clear about why you’re running for office. Ultimately, it will be important for you to clearly articulate what compels you to serve, but long before a public statement is prepared meaningful reflection and a deep understanding of your own motivations can provide clarity in the face of challenges or conflict. When there are difficult choices to be made, a return to this initial “why” can provide needed perspective.

Consider the following questions before continuing on the path to candidacy:

  • What impact do you hope to make?
  • What are your guiding values?
  • What is your mission and vision?

2.) Explore the options and research what’s required - both for the job and official candidacy.

Log onto your city, county, or state’s election website to learn about specific roles, election timelines, and rules you should be aware of. First time candidates often explore running for their local school board, or city council. Experience in these environments helps build your campaign resume and allows you to make a meaningful difference for your local community. As you learn, make note of any age or residency requirements, other rules, and timelines for submitting your candidacy.

3.) Unite your “home team.”

Check in with the people who form your support system. Campaigns often involve the whole family and taking on a new role will require shifts in routine. Share your reasons for running with the people closest to you, then take the time to listen to any concerns they share. Even with enthusiastic support from your family and friends, serious conversations will be necessary: running for office can impact your family schedule, division of workload, and finances. Are you willing to invest personal finances in your campaign? Will additional travel be required? Do you need to arrange supplemental child care, or schedule quality time together more intentionally? Proactively address these possibilities before decisions are pressured and urgent.

Additionally, review your current employer’s policies; you may be required to notify them of your intention to run for office.

4.) Build relationships in the community.

The foundation for your campaign is quality relationships with the community; this is a critical component to both understanding your potential constituents and being known by voters. As a civic-minded individual considering the path to public service, it’s likely you are already building meaningful relationships in your community. Consider investing more time and energy in this endeavor by volunteering with relevant public and nonprofit organizations, and even getting to know existing officials who might be willing to mentor you, or partner with you.

5.) Pursue training and support resources.

There are a number of resources for new candidates including short seminars, bootcamp style weekends, and longer term intensives offered by organizations across the political spectrum. Emerge America hosts an array of candidate training programs. Run for Office offers a free online course. She Should Run specifically serves women interested in running for office regardless of political leaning.

Finally, approach local officials; express your interest and ask lots of questions. Reach out to your supervisor of election, folks who have previously held the office you’re interested in, and others who have run before. Find out what they wish they’d have known before they ran, and what their hopes are for the next person in the role. Get to know people doing the work you believe in; they may even be willing to mentor you, or partner with you.

You can make a difference today by encouraging those in your network to register to vote. While millennial candidacy rates have risen, millennial voters have the lowest turnout of any group.



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