How to easily get involved in local politics

Patsy Mink, U.S. Congresswoman and the primary author of Title IX. Check out Ahead of the Majority to learn more about Mink's story.

Patsy Mink, U.S. Congresswoman and the primary author of Title IX. Check out Ahead of the Majority to learn more about Mink's story.

This is the fourth installment of a special four-part feature on turning feminist ideas into action. Read part one to clarify your feminist agenda, part two to learn how to start a feminist consciousness-raising group, and part three to get tips on speaking up when you spot injustice. Or, just jump in below:

Patsy Mink: Get Involved in Local Politics

Patsy Mink, a U.S. congresswoman from Hawaii, was the principal author of Title IX of the Higher Education Act Amendments of 1972. As you likely know, Title IX was a huge step forward for women's education. It's still cited all the time in education-related cases of discrimination: 

"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

In addition to her own brilliance and drive, of course, Patsy Mink relied on local, DIY political campaigning in 1964 to win her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Determined to run for office despite the disapproval of official Democratic Party leaders, she used her husband as her campaign manager and funded her campaign through modest individual contributions. And to Mink's grass-roots climb to Washington, we now have Title IX. 

When the structures don't support you, build your own structures

As the first woman of color elected to Congress, Patsy Mink had experienced exclusion and bigotry firsthand. She graduated from the University of Chicago Law School, but she was pregnant during her job search and no law firms in the windy city were willing to hire her. Even back in Honolulu, she had so much trouble finding work that she flat-out began her own practice. Eventually, her career picked up steam, and in 1959 she ran in Hawaii's first race for a House of Representatives seat. Mink lost, and then tried again in 1964 -- this time, using a grass-roots approach to local politics: 

"In 1964, after reapportionment created a second seat for Hawaii in the U.S. House, Mink again mounted a grass–roots campaign that relied on a staff of unpaid volunteers; her husband, John, served as her campaign manager, “principal sounding board,” and “in–house critic.” She ran without the blessing of the state Democratic Party leadership, raising campaign funds largely in small individual contributions. Throughout her career, Mink never had a warm relationship with the state leaders of her party; she attributed their lack of support to her unwillingness to allow the party to influence her political agenda." (History, Art & Archives: United States House of Representatives)

Of course, not all people would be willing and able to launch this kind of effort for an electoral race -- and that's okay. There are multiple ways to "get involved" in local politics. Here are a few:

VOte in local elections

Local politics can be a double-edged sword. Most citizens pay far less attention to local issues than to national issues, meaning that your city/town leaders are able to get a lot done with minimal opposition. As a result, it's extremely important to put people in these offices whose views you support. You might just be helping the next Patsy Mink start her political career.

  • Register to vote here.
  • Look up your local election dates here. 
  • Learn about your local candidates here

follow local leaders on social media 

Follow your state and local leaders on social media to stay up-to-date on their stances and pending legislation. Oftentimes, local leaders might "name drop" in their Twitter feeds, and by spend 15 minutes looking into the politicians they mention, you can get a sense of the influential figures in your city/town.

Contribute to local candidates you support

Mink might not have made it to the House of Reps at all if she hadn't been able to fund her campaign. Some of the most promising, capable, rising political stars are also saddled with student loan debt. What would they be able to accomplish if they had the funds to lead a campaign? When you come across a candidate you like, inquire as to how you might support that person's goals financially.

 

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