Two things which require actual effort:
1. Write one of those phony letters to the editor that appear at election time in all the local papers, including this one, extolling some courageous personal stance your candidate took, or time she took to nurse a wounded animal or help an old man or lady cross the street at great danger to herself.
This effort requires making something up, embellishing an actual event, or confusing your candidate with Abraham Lincoln. It also requires you to write something (possibly spell check it, editors like that, it makes you seem like you know how to use the buttons on your computer, therefore you are smart,) pay for a stamp and look for one of the ten mailboxes that the United States Postal Service has left in our community, and deposit the letter. In fact, the most difficult part will be finding the newspaper’s address and a postal carrier who has ever heard of it.
2. Walk a precinct or part of a precinct with a candidate or his precinct walkers (try to avoid a hill). Too much exercise can kill.
As I will explain below, these actions, many of which hardly qualify as “action” will catapult you to the top of Culver City politics. TRUST ME, JUST LOOK AT THE NUMBERS BELOW.
Let me explain the numbers. First, there are 40,000 residents in Culver City. Many are children and can’t vote. Many are not citizens and can’t vote. A few, we don’t know who, are convicted felons, on probation or parole, who have been unable to renew their franchise to vote. Unlike most small cities, none of the last category is actually on the Culver City council.
Of the 40,000 people who live in the city, only about 60% or 25,000 actually register to vote. Of the 25,000 who are registered to vote, only about 4500 vote in the city council elections and only about 3000 vote in the school board elections. (Last school board election over 5,000 voted, but we had a tax measure on the ballot, and three seats on the board were open.)
The candidates and their supporters loathe registered voters who fail to vote. They consider such non-voters as lazy, stupid, uncaring, mentally incompetent, mean spirited, and morally bankrupt. These same nonvoters often vote in the elections where the winning candidates send their loved ones off to war, destroy the nation’s forests, pollute the air, steal gobs of money through wasteful government (especially military) expenditures, but fail to vote when their schools, their policemen, their firemen and paramedics, parks, playgrounds, roads, streetlights, traffic lights, and the very safety of their neighborhoods and homes are at stake.
The registered non-voters’ main crime, however, is not to appreciate how important voting is to those who vote. The candidates, their wives, husbands, children, best friends, and supporters have poured their hearts in to these campaigns for months, up to midnight after a full time job, mapping strategy, preparing mailers, planning precinct walking, fund raisers, new ideas for improving or preserving the community. Candidates and supporters who have risked their family relationships, seriously compromised their mental health, and put their ego on the line every time they knock on a door don’t want to come up to a house only to have the resident say (as some always say) “oh, we never get involved in that” or “all politician are crooks” or “I don’t have time.” They don’t want to go to the door on Election Day to find a couple (as I have) who say they were too tired from golfing to go vote at 5:00 pm. These committed voters and candidates don’t want to hear that you “forgot” a right for which black people in South Africa fought for decades, and stood in all-day lines in 100 degree weather to carry out.
Damn it. People who vote think that voting is important. The candidates have encountered voters who are sick, they’re sore; they’re in a nursing home, they broke their leg, they have cancer, and they STILL vote, in person or by mail, and neither the candidates nor the voters want to hear your excuse for NOT voting. And they especially don’t want to hear you complain about your street tree or a pothole or how badly you THINK you were treated by a city or school employee if you didn’t vote.
So, back to the numbers: if, in a city of 40,000, only, say 5000 people vote, the voters are in the upper 12% of the politically empowered people in the city. And don’t kid yourself, the candidates and their supporters know who those people are and where they live and whether the neighborhood is a “high turnout” neighborhood.
I contacted two school board members. One school board member got about 450 lawn signs in his race; the other board member about 300 in hers. Taking the higher number, if you registered to vote, voted, and endorsed a candidate, you are now in the upper 1.2% of the politically powerful people in the city. If you put up a lawn sign, you are in the upper one percent; if you made any contribution, no matter how small to any candidate, you have now arrived in the stratospheric level of the upper .5% of the Culver City political elite.
Finally, if you actually participated by putting up balloons, or signs, or help take names at a fundraiser or political event, or actually walked all or part of a precinct, you are probably in the top 20 politically important people in the City of Culver City. If you contributed, endorsed, walked, helped, you have seen and spoken to the candidate, the candidate remembers you and loves you like his own mother just as much as he now DESPISES his pre-campaign “friend” (golfing buddy, co-worker, neighbor) who did not help or vote. When the councilperson reviews the voter list after the elections (and he or she WILL—YOU CAN COUNT ON IT) and learns some of his or her “friends” didn’t even vote, the non-voter—especially a non voter whom the candidate knows personally—will be condemned to political oblivion.
Check in tomorrow for the last helping of Steve Gourley’s essay, and please get your sample ballot and your pencil out of the pile of junk mail next to the telephone.