League of Extraordinary People

Written by Robert Shields

Last night I attended the Running for Public Office training put on by the League of Women Voters, held at Fairbanks City Hall.  It was a great opportunity to hear from the clerks (the elves that quietly work behind the scenes making everything run smoothly) as to the forms and procedures of running for public office. They also presented other opportunities for civic engagement through the various committees and commissions.  It was later echoed by past civil servants that this was a great place to start for anyone new to the process of civic engagement aka politics.

A wealth of knowledge poured from the collective experiences of the presenters and everyone walked away with a better understanding of the pros and cons, challenges and opportunities.  To the delight of organizers, the event was well attended including many considering a run for borough and city seats and one guy running for borough mayor. Even battling personal health issues, Frank Turney was there to keep everyone straight. Not all heroes wear capes.

It was also clear, to me, that anyone running for public office, at any level, was working hard for many months for the chance to serve the community in all the glory of latrine duty.  This statement shouldn’t be taken to in any way disparage public service but to clarify for the busy public that once you get elected, the job is not defined by ribbon cuttings, parades and all the other flash and circumstance that TV makes it out to be.

The reality is, like latrine duty, the construct of communication and collaboration to effectively manage resources that is the governance process, requires many long hours, a lot of heavy lifting (reading) and personal sacrifice being away from friends and families.  Then, of course, there is the late night angry phone calls, emails, the questions regarding every decision ever made that often dig into personal lives and families. Just like latrine duty, you deal with people’s crap every day and hear it most often when the toilet paper runs out.

If the analogy of comparing public service to latrine duty upsets you, then may I suggest there are lots of worthy organizations in town always looking for volunteers.  Serving in public office requires patience, thick-skin, and vocabulary to say the same thing in 1000 different ways so the 100,000 people you now represent feel understood and their will is taken it into consideration when the clerk calls and you must answer immediately, “yes” or “no”.

Before the event, I had the chance to spend some time across the street at the veteran’s memorial. In high school I applied to join the marines, however, a twisted ankle kept me from running, which is something they like to do. As a result, I found other ways to serve, first in the environmental club and student government. Then onto recycling coordinator for my college, service on the citizen advisory committee in Oregon, and finally branching out to organize locals to paint hopscotch patterns at area schools.  All leading to the creation of local nonprofit with a mission to provide educational opportunities that empower individuals and enrich communities.

The point is, some are called to military service, some to social work and still others to civil service. All choose to answer the call to serve a higher purpose for the betterment of humanity in actions great and small. One of the plaques spoke to the effect that military service was to preserve the peace. My thought was that if more people lived for what they believed in and stepped up, grabbed the shovel, and dug into the democratic process, maybe fewer would have to die for what they believe in.

Service is a calling everyone hears, but not everyone answers.  It is the most beautiful expression of love and compassion that makes it possible for our culture, our civilization to grow and thrive.  When I think of the sacrifices made by those soldiers, it makes the sacrifice of long boring meetings, giving up a Saturday afternoon of hiking to review budgets, or peacefully waiting while a constituent gets a little irate at a vote, easier of a burden to bear.

Whether you choose to serve on a committee, in a seat, at the soup kitchen, or as a crossing guard, just know you’re joining of a league of extraordinary people and your service is greatly appreciated. A league already filled with clerks, teachers, first responders and moms everywhere.

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Robert Shields

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