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How should I go about starting and growing a career in politics?

I am a high-school senior who is looking to get my start in the business of politics. I am planning to go to college for political science and would like to become a political speech writer. Possibly even becoming a politician myself some day. How should I start paving my path?

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Lorraine’s Answer

Hi Sophia,

It's great to hear that you are interested in running for office in the future. We certainly need more women in city councils, state legislatures, and Congress! I would start by doing a research and visiting with your local elected officials for informational interviews and seeking internships once you graduate high school. As in most fields, it is crucial to build and foster relationships and build a professional network. I too majored in political science and have a master's degree in public administration and policy. It all started with interning with my local state representative and eventually landing a job there. It was great to see the day to day work of an elected official and the work they get to do in the community. I encourage you to start looking at organizations like The Washington Center, as they provide internships in the nation's capital and look for scholarships and paid opportunities. Working in the federal government is very different from the state and local side so I encourage you to seek those opportunities so that you can eventually get on staff. One more thing, working on the policy/legislative side is very different from working on the political side even though they work in parallels. As others have said, volunteer in a campaign, it may give you the opportunity to go canvassing and talking directly with the people to have a better perspective of the issues they are interested in. Look into government affairs/government relations once you graduate as it is is another path to be in the business of influencing policy and doing advocacy work. Public Service can be tough, but highly rewarding as at the end of the day your goal should be looking out for your community and constituents. Hope this is helpful!

Lorraine recommends the following next steps:

Get to know your local and state elected officials
Research internship opportunities
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Archived’s Answer

One approach is to join one or more of the committees in your town. At least for smaller municipalities, there are usually openings. Most towns will have several committees that you can join, e.g., environmental commission, recreation committee, green team, community garden, shade tree. There are also planning boards and zoning boards, but spots on these committees are usually by appointment. As a member of a committee, you typically have an opportunity to interact with various government officials, e.g., council members, and government employees such recreation director or planning director. This will give you a good idea about how a local government works.
I just checked the home page for your city of Dalton, Massachusetts and they do have a page for volunteers, see https://dalton-ma.gov/interested-in-joining-a-committee/
If you should run for office at some point, it is good (almost essential) that you have a record of community service.
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Nathaniel’s Answer

My journey through politics began in academic anthropology, studying possession and exorcism in India for my PhD, then studying psychiatrists in a southern California VA hospital as a post-doctoral fellow. In the course of the latter, I ended my own cigarette smoking addiction and began working for the American Lung Association.

In result of my research as well as personal experiences, I was moved to acquire training in a broad range of psychotherapy practices, and to return to graduate school for a psychotherapy degree. Working as a therapist and eventually, an environmental activist in rural Oregon, I served on the county public health board and became president of the local Audubon Society chapter. This led to my election as a city counselor and continued with a just-short-of-successful run for county commissioner.

Work was scarce where I was living; I sought work with a county health department in a more central location, advising both rural and urban governments on implementing public health legislation regarding tobacco use prevention. In the course of that work, I learned to use a massive electronic data base on the tobacco industry, then being refined and applied to research at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). I returned to academia to work in that program, which eventually resulted in my appointment as a research professor at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where I studied how the tobacco industry fought against the World Health Organization’s (WHO) creation and enactment of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The academic work at UCSF and Edinburgh led to Norway’s Sovereign Investment Fund ridding itself of tobacco industry stocks, and eventually, banning investments in the companies of Mexican entrepreneur Carlos Slim on the grounds they were all substantially tobacco industry-financed. At the time, Slim was one of the three richest individuals in the world; his companies comprised a third of Mexico’s stock market.

I relate this in some detail to show there are other ways into politics than just the boilerplate: intern, become a party activist, work for a candidate/political office holder, get nominated for low level office …. That’s fine, if it engages you.

My alternative was to become an expert on subjects of political consequence and personal interest—government provision of mental health services, rural land use policy and practice, tobacco control legislation—to apply my expertise via public boards and agencies as well as political office, to use my knowledge of public agency and political office to help politicians put policies into practice, and finally, to research how the global tobacco industry fought against activist and government attempts to create and enact health policy and legislation from local government to the WHO. To me, at least, this provided the more interesting life and allowed movement back and forth through political practice and academic research at numerous levels. Is it needless to say, this journey lasted forty years?
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Kim’s Answer

Sophia,

I would say, seek first to learn! Writing speeches requires knowledge of the subject matter and knowledge of the audience. Listen to other speeches. From throughout history. What makes a good orator? Knowledge of history is crucial, but don't overlook popular culture. It's great to be able to throw in a reference to something that builds connection to your audience. Simple example: let's say someone is running for county sheriff, and someone asks them their opinion of their opponent? Something like "well, he's definitely no Jethro Gibbs," (from NCIS) sort of says it all when talking about law, duty, honor, country and all of that - all wrapped up in one!

Of course, get involved in campaigns. But, you are seeking something higher. In college, take speech and debate classes. Join the debate team. It's not always easy to advance beyond being a grassroots campaigner. Join/or become president, of student chapters of a political party. Host candidate forums on campus.

On a very local level (police association), I was the behind-the-scenes person. Whenever the president managed to schedule a meeting with a councilmember or city official, he'd come to me and ask, "what do I need to say?" and I'd prepare him for the meeting. It was a great team, and we accomplished a lot. BUT, if you are in the wings, you don't often get the recognition you deserve. You need to be willing to accept that.

If you are thinking of one day running for office, start building your network. Save phone numbers /email addresses of everyone you meet! Start a database. Campaigning is hard work (I spearheaded a political referendum, it was crazy long hours!) Make notes to remind yourself of who they are/how you know them.

Welcome to the world of politics - I hope you are able to make a difference in the world!
Thank you comment icon Hi Kim! Thank you so much for your response. The reason that I want to become a speech writer to begin my career is because I feel that I do have a really strong relationship with my community and people. Also because I am still quite young and hopefully I can help older people running a campaign, better reach the audience of younger people. I have been a member of student council and the debate team throughout my school career and I have also been a leader of many projects to make students feel more comfortable and welcome at school. I do someday hope to become a politician myself. I feel it would be so empowering to listen to what the citizens want and hopefully inspire some change. Sophia
Thank you comment icon Wow! Sounds like you are off to a great start - thanks for caring! Kim Igleheart
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Austin’s Answer

The best advice I can give on this is volunteering or interning on a campaign. That campaign could be for a local city/municipal race, state legislative race, or federal race. They are always looking for volunteers and interns. If you are looking to get into governing first prior to campaigns many Congressional and Senate offices have internships in district. You can also apply to be an organizer for local organizations or campaigns as well. Once in you can decide if what direction you want to head down from there and it is typically pretty easy to move around from department to department within campaigns throughout a cycle or from cycle to cycle.
Thank you comment icon Great! That does seem like a good place to start as I do find that I like to do a little bit of everything when working. This is very helpful and I will definitely start asking around to see where I can get an internship. Thank you for your help Austin. Sophia
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Krista’s Answer

Volunteer in the office of a local, state or federal elected official. Specialize in public policy, and learn the issues inside and out so you become a subject matter expert. Evaluate the pros and cons of public service due to the high visibility and stress associated with elected office. Good luck!
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