Thursday, September 5, 2013


Taking It To the Streets
photo: Jeff Markarian
Confessions of a Union Political Activist

September 5, 2013-- Here we are once again, Primary Election Day staring us right in the face. It's GOTV time folks-- a time when we activists try to mobilize support and make sure the promise of democracy is delivered right here in our local municipalities. I know a ton of union folks who should be able to relate to what I am saying here-- I certainly believe these observations are not just unique to me. I am going to be very candid here-- and if that makes you the least bit uncomfortable then I am probably doing my job.

Every year it's a bit of a challenge to motivate friends, family and co-workers on the importance of political participation-- whether it's educating yourself on the issues of the day or just making sure you know your polling place and that you are indeed registered to vote. I can't really think of anything else that even comes close in importance than making sure we have a functioning democracy. It's very hard work though-- and let's face some facts here-- a lot of folks just do not put volunteering on their list of priorities during election time or default to the belief that they are somewhat dismayed by "all politics" in general. I get that. I really do.

I hear the retorts in my sleep-- "I have been working all day and I have to go home to make supper for my family. Sorry, I can't make the phone bank." Or, "I have more important things to do. My elderly father is sick and he needs me." Yes, all very good responses but something still tells me that we all should be sacrificing at least a moment of your personal time once in awhile for the greater good-- because in the end we all will prosper together, or -- God forbid -- we all will suffer together as one community.

There are interviews to be scheduled, phone calls to make, documents to create and letters to write. There was research to be done and plenty of meetings to formulate strategics and share information. We checked voting records and canvass books-- and asked the tough questions. Through it all, I must tell you I have taken a slightly different approach this year on how to get things done for the people I serve. I have told myself the work of changing hearts and minds needs to get done so I will work twice as hard this year to make sure I can affect change the best way I know how. I know some of my colleagues will tell me I failed if I can't gather "so many" volunteers or "create a buzz around a certain candidate." I will not follow or wait for others to do the work they promised to do. So this year, I'm accepting the fact that I might once again spend more time "going it alone" rather than trying to convince others to join me in these endeavors. And, when you really examine all the parts here, change happens most often when it's "one on one." And this time, I'm coping with that realization extremely well. 

Another realization I have come to bare witness to is that you can always do more and accept that fact. However, at some point you have to tell yourself at the end of the day, "Did I do everything I could today? Do I have regrets about how I spent my time and worry what didn't get done today?" In the final analysis, you have to conclude, "Yes, it was a good day" and be satisfied with that.

Right now I'm personally making hundreds of phone calls by myself to my union brothers and sisters. I am knocking on hundreds of doors in my neighborhood. I am dropping tons of literature on the east side of the City of Rochester, and I'm waiting for every opportunity to talk to my neighbors and friends to make sure they have everything they need to make educated choices on Primary Election Day. Suffice it to say, my social media contacts are probably considering to "unfriend" me as we speak to lighten their inbox a bit. I get that too-- I really do.

Despite all the challenges and work ahead, I feel pretty good about what is to come. I believe in this unique thing called "American Democracy" and I have faith in the process and most of my elected officials. As a public employee and a democratically elected officer, I can't think of a more important relationship to have than with the folks and decision-makers who determine policy, budgets and priorities for our local communities. They can't do it alone and they need everyone's help to build stronger neighborhoods and communities. That's why it's critically important that everyone find their role and contribute what you can. That's why it's imperative working families and the voice of labor are always at the table.

By no means necessary am I implying that you should go it alone. There are terrific volunteer opportunities out there-- all you have to do is make the first move and know who to call.

If anything I said here struck a nerve with you-- let me know one way or another. I have developed really "thick skin" these days so I can take whatever you dish. Let's have a conversation and move our discussion forward. Even though this goes without saying, political action work and revealing one's soul is not for the faint of heart.


Ove Overmyer
CSEA Monroe County Local 828

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