Participation in government is a duty that all citizens should share in a democracy. Most people do not have the time or experience to run for state or federal offices, which usually require a full-time commitment and a large amount in campaign funding. But almost anyone can participate in the operations of local government.
How to Break In
Attend meetings of decision-making bodies. Notices of meetings must be posted publicly -- usually at city hall or in a local newspaper. When you attend these meetings, you will find areas that interest you and where you know enough to participate. You may have ideas for library activities, neighborhood development, historic preservation, school operations, curriculum or financial instruments. Most people have some area in which they can contribute.
Attend and participate in meetings of community interest. Your participation enriches your community. It's also an easy way to meet your neighbors.
Participate in community activities. Most communities have local festivals and service groups such as the Salvation Army, Rotary or Kiwanis. Fraternal and religious groups sponsor activities. Participation in is enjoyable and productive for you and your family. It's also an easy way to meet your neighbors.
Volunteer for appointed boards and city commissions. Vacancies on such boards are publicized. Talk to your representative or write a short introductory letter to the mayor listing your related experience. Follow up with a phone call.
How to Run for Office
Build a committee of friends and neighbors to help talk to people. Give them your ideas in a pamphlet or information sheet that can be left with contacts. Make sure that your election committee reflects your integrity.
Find out the process of running for city council or school board. Circulate petitions and file the information on time. Some petitions for candidacy require a percentage of voters in the last election and many require a specific number, such as 20 or 100. The person who circulates the petition should personally be able to vouch for the validity of every signature on it.
Meet the public. The most effective campaign is one in which you meet people in your district face to face. Keep attending meetings, knock on doors and stay informed. Be yourself and don't try to say what people want to hear. In a community, people discuss and repeat what you say, so keep it simple and consistent.
Be present on election day. Vote early. Help drive people to the polls, call voters, go about your business. Be pleasant and avoid electioneering (talking to people) near polling places.
Once you have an idea of what you'd like to do, talk to people who have served on public bodies and see if they have any ideas or can help you with contacts.
Requirements for filing vary. The city or county clerk usually handles filing and is required to give candidates information on requirements and deadlines. Look in your city's code of ordinances.
Keep track of positive contacts you've made during the campaign and call to remind them to vote on election day.
Many counties offer lists of registered voters or voters in the last election (usually at some cost) that can be used to mail materials.
Be honest. Your constituency craves integrity and candor.
Spend modestly on yard signs, pamphlets and media.
Executive offices like mayor are time-consuming and require some degree of experience and some serious people skills for success. Serve a few terms on the city council, where the real work gets done, and learn how your city works before going for the big corner office.
If you don't win, don't pout. It's only an election. You're not a professional politician. You've gathered some goodwill that will benefit your next campaign. Stay involved, keep going to meetings. Chances are that before the next election, people will come to you and ask you to run.