In politics, elections can be compared to applying to college — it’s a lot of work and the stakes are high, but it’s just the beginning of four years of real work ahead. From meetings to protests, laws to budgets, it’s what comes after the election that turns a vote into long-lasting change.
The journey continues as the election results come in. If your candidate wins, it’s easy to think the work is done for the next four years. On the other hand, if your candidate loses, there can be an urge to give up on politics. However, neither victory nor defeat is permanent.
For the winners, there remains the legislative work of turning campaign promises into laws. For everyone else, there’s the opportunity to change politicians’ minds, especially as they consider how to win reelection. Politicians often evolve on issues, and this is especially true in local Berkeley politics, where most candidates are Democrats and there isn’t as much of an established partisan divide.
Once in office, our elected officials essentially work for us. Imagine working somewhere and getting no feedback until four years later, when you’re either fired or rehired. It wouldn’t turn out very well. As bosses of our elected officials, we must tell them what we want and hold them accountable when they don’t deliver, whether it’s by email, phone or public protest.
And while it may feel like one vote is just a drop in the bucket among thousands on Election Day, when it comes to following up, your call, email or public comment might be one of just a dozen that an elected official receives on a given issue. When you contact an elected official directly, it’s as if you’re speaking with the voice of thousands of people.
Let’s look at three important local issues on the ballot this year in Berkeley: housing, policing and climate change. Local candidates have made these issues the focus of their campaigns, and there are also ballot measures on these topics. Individuals following up on these issues will shape how the legislation is carried out.
Take housing, for example. Many candidates acknowledge that Berkeley has a housing crisis and that we need a combination of tenant protections and new housing to address it. The differences are in the details: where to build housing, how tall buildings should be, which income ranges or other categories to prioritize.
If housing is what you’re interested in, join an organization that focuses on this issue, such as the Berkeley Tenants Union or South Berkeley Now. You can also reach out to Berkeley City Council members and offer your help in writing an ordinance or getting support for changes currently in progress. You can even ask about opportunities to serve as a commissioner on the Planning Commission or one of Berkeley’s many other housing-related commissions.
For those who marched this summer in support of defunding the police, now is the time to get familiar with the city’s budget process and labor contracts, as well as the new Police Accountability Board that will soon be created if Measure II passes. Again, contacting the mayor and City Council members is critical — they’ll be the ones voting on budget and policy changes proposed by the board.
Climate change will also be a big issue at the city, state and federal levels. If Measure HH passes, Berkeley will have additional funding to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from buildings and transportation and help people affected by climate change impacts, such as wildfire smoke or heat waves. Have an opinion on what’s needed most? If HH passes, show up at the Climate Action and Energy Commission meetings that will advise where the money should be spent.
The amount of follow-up needed in politics can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, you’re not on your own. There are plenty of political clubs, nonprofit organizations and neighborhood associations that have years of experience and are eager to have more members aboard for their lobby days, panel discussions, social activities and other events.
For the really dedicated folks who want to run for office one day, political clubs are also the place to build a base of supporters. A good way to start is to ask a friend who’s involved in politics for club recommendations, contact a candidate whom you supported, whether they won or not, or even email a club president or membership director.
In Berkeley, a list of neighborhood organizations can be found on the Berkeley Neighborhoods Council website. In California, political parties and clubs are organized by county. While many clubs in Alameda County are Democratic clubs, Republicans, Libertarians, the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party each have Alameda County branches as well.
Just like making a plan to vote leads to higher voter turnout, making a plan to stay involved after the election leads to more follow-through. Give yourself some time to rest and catch up with everything else in life and put a few calendar entries in the time ahead as reminders to follow up with the people and organizations you want to work with.
Even after your vote has been counted, it’s important to make contact with elected officials to ensure you continue to get a seat at the table.