I recently lost an election for city council here in West Hollywood, but I’m doing fine. Really.
More than just ‘fine,’ actually. I learned a lot! I’m not saying that to put your mind at ease; I am saying it for the folks who continue to ask me “How are you doing?” I’m great. Remember, losing is the next best thing to winning! (Think about it. Ties don’t count.)
Seriously, I couldn’t be better. Unless, maybe, if I sold a TV show this year. That would be great.
Okay, yes, losing sucks. I put my entire life on hold in order to focus on the campaign. I spent tons of time canvassing, speaking to crowds, meeting new people, and reading more about local issues than ever before. The campaign required much more time than I’d anticipated. I stopped writing my novel and I stopped filming YouTube videos. My diet went to shit. In fact, I gained ten pounds in the month of February, which virtually undid all the fitness gains I’d made in the prior three months. Running a political campaign by yourself isn’t easy, and I didn’t realize how stressed I was until after the election.
Despite investing all that mental, emotional and physical energy in my campaign, I still lost the race.
But here’s the exciting part: it was totally worth it. Because the knowledge I gained from participating in this race is worth more than winning the office. Here are a few of the lessons I learned while losing my election for city council.
I learned a lot about my city. Losing doesn’t take that away.
I always assumed that I would become involved in politics at some point in my life, but I didn’t even consider running for office this year until after Trump won the National election. That’s when I realized how much a Trump presidency could affect my community, and I started to look for more opportunities to make a difference locally. Running for city council in WeHo seemed like a great opportunity.
However, up until the point I decided to run, I knew very little about the local issues people cared most about in WeHo. I hadn’t been paying attention to the City’s debate about development, or how a lack of housing coupled with population growth is crippling Southern California. I didn’t speak up during West Hollywood’s debate about raising the Federal minimum wage or react to the City’s timid efforts to address homelessness. These were all issues I cared about in a broader sense — but I was ignoring the role of our local government in solving these problems.
During the campaign, I was asked a myriad of questions about the issues during candidate forums, for news paper op-ed’s, and interviews for Democratic club endorsements. I sat on panels, entertained questions in strangers’ living-rooms, and met with City officials. Everyone wanted to hear my take on the local issues I’d practically been ignoring.
So, I started studying. I studied so that I could answer questions in a competent manner, because I didn’t want to sound like an imbecile. I downloaded so many articles that my computer ran out of storage space.
Losing sucks. But what if I had been too afraid to lose and had decided not to run for office? I wouldn’t have been compelled to learn as much as I did about the issues that are impacting us, and how a Trump administration threatens them even more. That information is powerful, and studying WeHo’s history was a valuable investment of my time, even though I didn’t win.
I also learned a lot about myself. (Including how to lose.)
In researching the issues, I also discovered how I felt about them. My opinions changed as I confronted various points-of-view from different members of the community. Everyone has an agenda, and most people are passionate about a single issue. That’s why they get involved; to fight for one thing that is impacting them, typically in a negative way. (Most people do not show up at city council meetings to fight on behalf of others, let alone to thank council for their hard work.)
When you run for office, you have to learn about ALL of the issues people care about, not just the ones that matter to you. That’s what being a representative is all about. I want to represent everyone in my city, to the best of my ability. That means caring about issues I might not have cared about before, because they are important to the people I represent. It also means discovering opinions I didn’t even know I had, and then changing them, humbly, when confronted with new information. God politicians are intelligent enough to dissect an issue, and humble enough to change their mind when new facts are compelling.
I discovered that I can do that. I’m a good listener, and I like to listen. I learned that I care more about people than I care about winning, and I am proud of that. This might not be the best political strategy, but it’s something I learned during my losing campaign.
I learned that I’m good at this.
This process taught me one thing above all else: it taught me that I will be a great politician someday.
Running for office required a significant amount of courage. I had to defend myself against people who called me unqualified or, worse, ‘undeserving’ of being a city council member. It required intelligence and humility to convince them that they were wrong. Losing the election taught me that I care enough to keep showing up to meetings and events, even though this one campaign failed. The loss was a test, and I passed.
I am stronger than I thought I was, and I have the skills to be an effective leader. Winning any campaign requires you to connect with a specific number of voters. Next time more people will know who the hell I am before the campaign even begins.
I’m not giving up, and neither should you.
If you are considering running for public office, you should dive in. I may have lost the election, but I got people talking. My campaign fueled conversation and debate about the issues I care about, and I learned more about the issues that matter to others. We encouraged many new voters to turn up for our municipal election, and voter participation increased in West Hollywood by 35% (from 20% to 27%) in part because of my efforts.
We’re all standing at a crossroad in our democracy. It’s important that we all find the courage to speak up in whatever ways we can. The only requirement for democracy to work is for the People to participate. I lost my election, but I learned so much. That knowledge will help me to be a better, more proactive citizen, and to fight for the rights of everyone in my city.