Showing up | #25

When I first began to get involved in politics, one of the things that struck me was how few people participated in it. A city of half a million people may only have 200,000 of them vote in a city-wide election.  A city council election may only have 1500 people vote in it, and the difference between winning or losing may come down to 10 people or less. Imagine that – less than 10 people deciding the fate of a whole section of a city.

I would go to city council meetings, and there would be literally no one from the public there. No one.

But it isn’t just in politics we see this – anyone who has ever served on a nonprofit or church board will tell you that it is the rare board meeting where every board member is in attendance. And of course, the people who do not show up are the ones who cry foul when things don’t go their way.

Do you know who gets to influence the people on the city council? Who has a say in church politics? Who gets invited to serve on committees, who gets asked to lead teams, whose opinion is sought? Those who show up. And your competition for those positions is virtually nobody because nobody shows up.

When I moved to Jackson 2 summers ago, I didn’t know anyone. I mean, literally no one. So for the first six months I was here, I made it my goal to go to any open meeting – of any sort – that I could.

I went to school board meetings. City council meetings. Zoning commission meetings. Prayer breakfasts. Neighborhood association meetings. Lunch and learns. Town halls. Ribbon cuttings. If it was even tangentially related to any interest I had, I showed up.

And I didn’t just show up, but I paid attention to who else was there. If I saw them at more than one kind of event (like, at the school board AND the neighborhood association), I made it a point to introduce myself. I made notes in my notebook when I got to the car. By the third or fourth time, I offered to buy them coffee (this is pre-COVID, obviously). I would conduct what I was taught to call a “relational meeting”, where I found out what made them tick, and what drove them.

Some of these people became friends. Some were destined to be working relationships. Some became just people I know.

But now I knew people, and what’s more, I knew people who were involved. People who made things happen. And I gained a reputation as someone who would show up.

It wasn’t long before I was asked to be on the neighborhood association board. Then to help out with a local fundraising effort, where I met even more people who show up. Then I was asked to do some contract communication work for a local interfaith organization. Then I was recruited to help (assemble a team of religious leaders to lobby the legislature to remove the racist state flag here in Mississippi.

I’m not saying any of that to brag, but to show that influence is disproportionately spread around. In the perfect world, in the world as it should be, the people with influence are the best people, the people with the best ideas, the people who have done the work.

But in the world as it is, the people with influence are the people who show up. And if we want to have an influence on the way things work out, that needs to be us.