Growing up, I thought everyone’s parents were invested in politics. My dad certainly was – knocking on doors on the weekends and hosting gatherings to send candidate mailers out during the fall. My siblings and I went to countless watch parties over the years and got dragged along campaigning. For as long as I can remember, he has been involved at the local level volunteering his time.
We live in a rural area, which is not what one would expect thinking about New Jersey. My town specifically is a farm one. On one side of my street, there’s a forest; on the other, corn fields. There are probably more deer per capita than people; it’s the epitome of everyone knowing everyone. It was in this environment that my dad – voted most friendly in high school – thrived, relishing spending his afternoons going door-to-door talking to potential voters.
In my freshman year of college, in a culmination of all this work, my dad ran for local office and won. He’s been serving as a township committee member since 2015, which is the local municipal board. Now, when I’m home, I see him spend most of his free time attending meetings, talking to people who live in town and figuring out how to handle local problems.
What strikes me most about all of this is the human connection aspect. It feels like my dad is constantly on the phone with constituents, fielding questions and discussing issues. It’s really interesting to see how the environment affects these interactions and has made me think much more analytically about politics and how people approach issues. Some of the partisan divides go away at the local level, so issues specifically related to our town tend to be more complicated to understand than simply Democrats versus Republicans.
Seeing my dad volunteer his time for candidate after candidate for all these years really informed my political perspective. Most importantly, it instilled in me a respect and understanding of the importance of public service. After years of seeing the time and effort he put in, I was able to really appreciate the focus and attention it takes to be involved and to serve. Even on the local level, which has the perception of being simple, my dad is constantly on call. To me, politics have always seemed local, because for most of my life, they have been.
My dad’s involvement has also warped my perception of politics and current events relative to everyone else. It still shocks me every time I hear someone say they’re not planning to vote, because at this point my brain is so hardwired to think this way that I can’t imagine not voting. I haven’t missed an election since I turned 18, for many reasons, the least of which being the constant reminders from my dad. On my 18th birthday, I blew out the candles and was handed a printed-out voter registration application.
Four years after that application was tossed my way, my dad is entering his re-election bid.
Informed by his new perspective after having served a term in office, he is writing letters and knocking on doors yet again. Watching him work from a distance is much different, especially in a particularly active election year. I have much more of a backseat, but regardless, I’m thankful to have grown up in a family that taught me so thoroughly the important of civic engagement, public service and voting.