Thoughts on an Election Past
Written by Brittany Norris
I’m 29 years old, a woman of color, and at the end of this past summer, I won a local election. The reality of this has been slow to set in. It doesn’t help, either, that I’ve been caught in a strange in-between phase. I won on August 29 but I won’t be sworn in until November 13. Until then, I’m a commissioner-elect, subject to the Florida Sunshine Law but without any real policy-making power.
If anything, this timeframe allows me the benefit of retrospection. I’m not speaking of reviewing campaign strategies and marketing methods, but rather reflecting on personal revelations.
For example, I was surprised to find qualifying to run for local office is far more accessible than I imagined. The initial process demanded a bit of paperwork, but in the end, the hardest part was opening a campaign bank account. A local credit union wasn’t even sure they offered that service. I also needed to collect a petition of at least 25 signatures from Atlantic Beach voters supporting my candidacy. I turned in double that number. Getting into the race isn’t hard.
Neither is learning from other people’s experiences. I met with so many people over the course of the summer that I’m surprised my local coffee shop hasn’t named a table after me. I reached out to current commissioners and neighboring towns. I spoke with heads of city departments, local activists, former mayors, Congressmen, councilmen and more. No one refused me a meeting. Partly, I wanted to get the lay of the land. But, primarily, I wanted to learn from their techniques and stories. Ideas ranged from bringing dog treats while canvassing to always wearing a name tag. The most repeated advice? Visit all the doors. So, that became my goal.
Going door-to-door isn’t scary. Yes, some folks ignore the doorbell. And, unfortunately, a few slammed the door in my face. But in general, the conversations I had with people were really great. Many people were kind, offering water or a moment in their air conditioning. Some were curious and had questions. Others just wanted to share their stories and be heard.
Sometimes I had help while canvassing, and it was wonderful. Several friends gave up many weekends to brave the Florida heat with me, but the support didn’t end there. People came together to write letters and call voters. For a volunteer event, a friend of mine brought an authentic brick pizza oven to my driveway and cooked pizzas all night long. My boss gathered friends and hosted a smoothie bowl listening party. Help came from many places, not all of them expected.
But, often times, help didn’t come. This was eye-opening for me, especially following last year’s national election and the response by many groups to our new leadership. A rather prominent women’s group in town turned a blind eye to my race, offering little by way of support or volunteers. A local mayor proclaimed the benefits of women in office and spoke at an event, which I attended, to encourage women to run. But when faced with the opportunity of my city’s race where three female candidates were running against male incumbents, the mayor chose to endorse the men. I had friends tell me to my face that they would walk with me and help campaign. But when I followed up requesting their follow through, they remained silent.
It was a good time to reflect on a common saying of my mother, “Take it with a grain of salt.” This wasn’t an encouragement to be cynical, but rather to hold a bit of skepticism when interacting with people. This was on repeat in my mind during many conversations with people who offered help—and also with those who offered advice. I came across far too many people who “held the secret to winning an election” even though they had little-to-no experience with campaigning.
But the lessons continue, and for the sake of not being tedious, I’ll be brief: Know the issues, but also know that half the time, the issues don’t matter. One solution to a problem is good. Three is better. Wearing black hides sweat stains. A personal handwritten note goes a long way. People will always find a way to write you off; that doesn’t define you. Asking for monetary support doesn’t have to be hard; provide specifics about how you will spend it. Run for office because you love your community, not to add to your resume. Maintain a good sense of humor; life is too short for political happenings to not be humorous.
Lastly, being able to walk away unashamed and not embarrassed is an amazing feeling. From the beginning, I was respectful of my opponent. I reached out to him, asking to meet over coffee, and had the opportunity to tell him in person that I was running for a seat. Not against him. And this remained my position over the whole summer. I received flack from some for not being more aggressive, but I wanted to be known for having ideas to share, not mud to sling. I spoke respectfully and worked to be kind. Whether I won or lost, no one could say I hadn’t been honorable. In the long run, that means more to me then any victory.
But in the end, I was victorious. Now, I’m a commissioner-elect. I won for many reasons, some completely outside of my control (such as the current political climate and previous actions by the city commission). I wish I could tell you these lessons assure victory, but I can’t—I’m not sure they do. But I know they made me better, a bit wiser, more flexible.
And for that, I’m grateful.
[Editor’s note: Although research shows women have the same chance of getting elected as men do, far fewer women run for public office. Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, reports from campaign support groups indicate the number of women seeking public office has soared by more than 1,100 percent, and organizations like She Should Run are working to raise the number more every day. If you’ve ever looked around at your elected officials and thought, “I could do this—and I could do it better,” there has never been a better moment to say “yes.” We need you.]
Brittany works as the Digital Director for Adjective & Co, a branding and marketing agency in Jacksonville Beach. She’s the co-founder of Dig Local Network (DLN), a nonprofit with a mission to create a sustainable future, and founder of Coalition to Participate, a community group to facilitate legitimate and physical actions by citizens in local government. Her community work and citizen involvement is what prompted her to run for Atlantic beach City Commission, Seat 5. She won the seat in August of this year and will be sworn in later this month to begin her term.