My Reality: I Was a Teen Politician, Part II

by | February 17, 2013
filed under My Reality

Another newspaper article, this time from the Vancouver Courier.

Another newspaper article, this time from the Vancouver Courier.

by Jarrah Hodge

Thanks to everyone who stuck with me from Part I. Here’s the second and final part of my teen political saga.

So after I lost the Quadra nomination I got a phone call. Glen Sanford was in Vancouver setting up Libby Davies’ campaign and he wanted me to come run the phone side of what’s called “voter contact” (mostly knocking on doors and cold-calling to talk to voters and find out who they’re planning to support).

You couldn’t ask for a better first campaign. Glen was a patient campaign manager and the rest of the campaign team was fun and hard-working. There was a steady stream of loyal, local volunteers, including an older couple of European women who drove in every day from their home in the Fraser Valley with home-cooked meals for us campaign staff, just because they supported Libby so much.

Our campaign office was right next door to an Italian bakery and down the street from Belgian Fries. I ate cake and poutine every day and still lost weight because I was so stressed and high from the campaign adrenalin. Not something you’d want to do long-term but it was awesome for a month.

And of course, working for Libby was fabulous. I admired how she trusted and valued the campaign team and volunteers, how she seemed to effortlessly remember so many names. Even though she would (expectedly) go on to win the seat by one of the highest margins in the country, she had time to really listen to community members on the doorstep and in the campaign office.

Lest I have to write a third part to this article, I’ll skip ahead to Spring 2005, when I was asked to run for another nomination, this time in Vancouver-Quilchena. Quilchena is an area made up of some pretty ritzy neighbourhoods, including Shaughnessy, Kerrisdale, Southwest Marine Drive, and the slightly more middle-class Dunbar area. It was ranked the second-worst riding for the NDP.

The woman who asked me to run was the constituency president, Susan Pond. She’d been at the nomination meeting in Vancouver-Quadra where I’d lost by 5 votes, and she’d rallied the rest of her executive to get me nominated provincially. She pitched it to me by saying that no one would expect me to win so we could work out a schedule and campaign plan that would be strategic and build my experience without running me into the ground or putting the association into debt.  In 2005 there was nowhere for the NDP to go, seat-wise, but up. I decided to give it a go and this time I was acclaimed.

Susan Pond and the rest of my regular campaign volunteers (Maureen, Don and Joel) are the kind of people that the party would die without. They’re stalwarts holding together local associations in what are thought to be unwinnable ridings, purely out of the commitment to the cause and the democratic ideal that everyone deserves to have good choices of who to vote for.

There were other volunteers in the association who reinforced why I was running. One man had been a cleaner at UBC Hospital for over 30 years before the government came in and privatized the cleaning services. He had to go back and beg for the same job but at only $13/hour. A doctor I met at another event talked about how the cleaning privatization was resulting in high turnover, which meant no time for adequate training of staff and therefore less safe hospitals.

I can’t even describe how surreal and awesome it feels to be a 19-year-old Women’s Studies major who lives in a $400/month leaky basement suite when you come into your own campaign office on Dunbar Street and see a shipment of 4’X4’ signs with your name on them. Then less than a week later, still with that sense of purpose, you see your name on those signs up in the front lawns of strangers’ houses.

Susan and I agreed early on that we would focus on mainstreeting, which is when the candidate and volunteers go out in busy shopping areas to meet passers-by. This was going to be more visible and effective than door-knocking or phoning given the lack of volunteers we had. We also decided we’d try to get me into as many all-candidates’ meetings and media opportunities as possible, to get me some on-the-ground experience.

I read up on our party’s policy and platform and answered all my own emails and phone inquiries from constituents. Most were legitimate questions about all kinds of issues, from regional cycling infrastructure to childcare, though I do remember one call from an anti-abortion activist who wanted me to stop the crisis of  “missing children” in our communities due to abortion. I had the enjoyable responsibility of telling him that all the candidates in Quilchena were pro-choice, so he might have a tough time figuring out who to vote for, but it certainly wasn’t me.

In some ways, my age and gender actually worked in my favour. That year the NDP did a dismal job nominating women candidates and out of the then-ten Vancouver ridings, only 2 others had women candidates. One of them, Jenny Kwan, was helping the campaign around the province. That meant I was needed at some regional all-candidates meetings and local media events with the leader so the team looked more diverse.

The youth angle was also considered a media “hook”, as you can see by the articles I shared with these posts.  In addition to the Province and Courier and Georgia Straight, I found myself doing a CBC panel on young candidates, and later I was interviewed on The Beat radio with leader Carole James.

But my age and gender weren’t always an asset. I know women politicians often struggle with sexist media coverage and comments. I didn’t have it that bad but since the goal of such criticism is to silence and disempower, I think it could’ve been worse had I been seen as an actual threat. I did have several people assume that I was into this because of my parents or my boyfriend (this happened just generally in the party with my volunteering as well). At the victory party as I was finishing a TV interview a man in his forties or fifties asked if he could take my picture for his nephew, who was interested in politics. I said yes and the man took the picture and then said in a creepy voice that I think he thought sounded seductive: “Mmm, yeah. This will look great on my screensaver.” He made a motion with his hand like he was jerking off. I never saw him again but I still feel gross and violated when I think about that.

But that was luckily just once. More regularly I had to deal with people in the party saying I was a “sacrificial lamb”. Maybe they thought they were being comforting but I just found it unhelpful. I knew I wasn’t going to win but we had goals for our votes and my performance. Later on in the campaign I started replying: “I’m not a sacrificial lamb; I’m a sacrificial tiger. I’m not going down without a fight.”

And I didn’t. At the end of the day my volunteers and I met all our goals: we came in second with 21.02% of the vote (in 2001 we had come in third with less than 10%). We won a single poll in the Dunbar area for the first time, and we didn’t get locked out of a single poll (no polls with zero votes). I was endorsed by the Georgia Straight and the fundraising we did meant we came out of the campaign with a slight surplus.

At the end of the day, I got to be a teen candidate in a legitimate, successful (by our set goals) campaign because there were a series of mostly women who believed in me and encouraged me. Karen Sanford, Libby Davies, Susan Pond, and Carole James (as well as other men and women I didn’t have time to write about here) made me feel like I had a place and valuable experience and opinions to bring to the table. And when people you respect have that kind of faith in you, all you can really do is rise to the responsibility that comes with that.

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