On invalid signatures, rejection, reflection, and relief
I got the call Wednesday morning that I didn't have enough valid signatures to place me on the ballot for the Blacksburg Town Council elections. For those of you who had no idea I was attempting to run, check out the post here. I wanted to offer some thoughts on the process and results.
First of all, I procrastinated severely. I didn't even begin gathering the needed 125 signatures until Monday morning. They were due Tuesday evening by 7 p.m. My procrastination wasn't a sign that I didn't take it seriously. Rather, it may have been indicative of my hesitancy and over-thoughtfulness. As I mentioned in the post linked above, I love politics, but many don't like the idea of a pastor engaging in civil service through public office. I've considered running for various positions for a long time, yet I kept looking for a "no" rather than initiating a campaign.
Sometimes beginning is only what you're supposed to do.
So on Monday a.m., I launched myself at Blacksburg through social media and a two-foot campaign. Over the next 36 hours, I walked, knocked, stood and drove around town gathering signatures one by one. I met more new people in those hours than I have in a long time. Though exhausting, it was also refreshing. I realized again how much I enjoy life. I like people. I like interacting with them. This is strange coming from me, for I've always been a self-identified learned extrovert. It doesn't come naturally.
You can't be a Jesus follower and not like people.
Regardless of political positions, one of the undergirding thoughts behind serving in public office was simply one concept: love deeply. There is an appalling absence of love - genuine love - in our culture and public leaders and political parties today. I'm not talking about mushy, feelings-based love. I'm talking about hard-to-practice, do-what's-best-for-another love. Love that is a commitment before it's a cause. Love that is anchored in truth, not in making someone feel good.
I encountered an old concept called favor this week.
I don't mean the "I need a favor" kind of favor, even though that's what it may have looked like. I mean favor in the sense of undeserved goodwill freely given. In at least two different instances, I had relative strangers fill up petition sheets for me. One was a Democratic campaign worker who I met at the library. She graciously offered to get signatures for me while she sat there. Another was an acquaintance on Twitter who contacted me through that venue and offered to take a sheet around her neighborhood who is active in Republican efforts. Though I was running as an "Independent," both were amazingly gracious. Help always comes from unexpected places, and in those moments, I realize again how strange and pleasant it is to put yourself out there, to meet new people, and to learn to depend on folks who you may not even know.
It's no fun being rejected.
There were only a few people who were rude. Regardless of someone's political position, I believe everyone should have a fair shot at being on a ballot. The people who refused to sign were business people. In one instance, I pushed back a tad. Here's how the conversation went:
She: "I don't sign petitions."
Me: "Do you vote?"
Me: "You know that the people had to get petitions signed to get on a ballot?"
She still wouldn't sign. Then she informed me that her husband was a "constitutional theorist." I have no idea what that means, but whatever it means, I don't believe it equated to good citizenship in her case. Another businessman wanted to grill me before he would sign my petition but informed me that he was so busy he didn't have time at the moment. It was hard to communicate to them and a few others that signing the petition did not equate to supporting or voting for me. It just gives the petitioner a fair shake at getting on the ballot. I guess they viewed themselves as self-appointed political gatekeepers.
Being rejected was both disappointing and refreshing. One is self-explanatory. It was refreshing because I'm a pastor, and in church circles, most people know the pastor of the church they attend. I'm recognized while I'm out and about in town by people who have visited our church. Because of that, it's sometimes easy to mistake being known for being well-known. Being rejected because people don't know me provokes me to get out of my limited circle of influence. It propels me to diversify my relational portfolio. The community is larger than I think.
The political process needs to go digital and grow up.
It's not 1850 anymore. After failing to get the required signatures in spite of having 50+ more than I needed, I wish there was a better process - a digital one - for petitions. I understand and support the need for being personally present to vote, but I don't see the need for a paper trail for petitions and simply getting on a ballot. I say let the actual campaign trail sort out who gets elected, not technicalities on petitions.
Everyone should be willing to fail forward.
I think my main opponent through this experience was simply time. I just didn't get started soon enough. That said, I'm glad that I tried. Too many people simply sit on the sidelines and complain. To only complain is to abdicate responsibility. Get involved.
It's a convoluted process, I'll grant you that. It's not easy simply to start. I had a hard time finding out how to run, how to even begin. The only digital instructions I was able to hunt down on the web simply told me to go to the county registrar's office. I feel like there should be a consistent web link that says, "Think you can do a better job? Sign up for run for office here" or "Tired of complaining? Start serving your community. Sign up to run here." Instead, it's a paper chase. But deal with it, and get involved. You may fail, but fail forward.
It's a relief.
Finally, when the call from the registrar's office informed me that I didn't have enough valid signatures, my first thought, honestly, was one of brief disappointment. I don't like to fail at something that should be simple. I don't like to let people down. However, my immediate and primary thought was of relief. There's my "no," I thought. It's good to be told "no" sometimes. It's clarifying. For me, a "no" has also been an opportunity for redirection.
Our church is growing, and I certainly have enough on my plate there. However, I really do want to broaden my involvement and encourage others to do the same. I would hope that my church - any church - would be the kind of fellowship of faith friends that contribute positively to the life of a community. So much so that townsfolk would miss the church if it didn't exist any longer.
For all those who signed a petition, carried them around, spoke kind words, left digital encouragements, etc., thanks. It was a brief, short-lived experience that will continue to teach me a lot. I can't speak with the confidence of the Terminator and say "I'll be back," but I can speak with joy and say, "I'll be around."