By Nancy Smith
The great thing about public service is that it feels so pleasurable to win and see your values carry the day. On the other hand, it can nearly break your heart to lose a vote. My first victory came when I was the Advocacy Chair on the board of directors for a non-profit food pantry. After a dispute at the food pantry became belligerent, the volunteers wanted to hire off-duty police officers to prevent the situation from occurring again. I persuaded the board that having armed personnel would send a contradictory message with our value of treating people with dignity. Other methods, like training people in conflict resolution, would be a much better response, I argued. The board agreed.
Delighted with my victory, I proceeded in my role as Advocacy Chair to help the low-income people in our area even more. I advocated for bus stops that would better serve low-income people and the continued funding of food stamps and other programs, and started a letter writing campaign in support of government programs that helped people in need.
Given the important work that the nonprofit was doing, I was surprised when someone successfully made a motion to do away with the role of Advocacy Chair. It passed by a very slim margin — but still! After my shock and dismay subsided, I dissected what went wrong. Part of the problem, I determined, was my inability to think on my feet in a public meeting. During a heated discussion, the President of the Board cut our comment time from three minutes to one minute. So much for my written comments! Even now, I cringe when I think of the inarticulate nonsense that came out of my mouth during the one minute I had. Let me just say there was a chicken getting its head chopped off. My values of fairness, of the injustice of blaming poor people for being poor, the futility of false dichotomies and all the other insights I had to share were all wrapped up in a headless chicken? How does one even start to improve from there?
I moved to California, registered as decline-to-state and buried myself in a Silicon Valley start-up for four or five years. But my values followed me and would not let me rest.
I resolved to get better.
So, I started my long road to improve myself and to make myself a better public servant. I spoke in public every chance I got. I wrote stories. I studied emotion in the psychology department at Stanford. I took Dale Carnegie training, then assisted at Dale Carnegie training classes. I served on the boards of several non-profits, then moved onto boards and commissions for my city and county. I registered as a Democrat again, and joined Rotary International. After many years of hard work and diligent practice, people started nominating me as the leader of their committees or commissions. I eventually served as Rotary Club president and started a Democratic Club.
During this journey, I have to constantly renew my resolve to learn and improve. After a victory, my spirits expand and I aim to do too much. Backlash ensues and the cycle repeats. With my growing skill and maturity, my recovery cycle is now much shorter. I am finally confident enough to talk from my deepest values day in and day out. I’m ready to Emerge—it is time now for me to run for office.
We need women now who trust their voices of integrity. We do not need falsehoods in the times of great challenge facing us. Income inequality will always be with us, but the amplitude of it can be dampened through legislation. Resolve with me to Emerge — if not in 2016, then as soon as you can be ready!