Why I’m Going To Run for Office

The first time I ever voted, I arrived at my polling place in a wheelchair. I was recovering from spinal surgery and not quite back to walking full-time, but refused to delay my participation in democracy. Not when I’d been waiting on this day for the better part of a year. Plus, accessible voting booths seemed like a reasonable expectation, especially in an affluent Los Angeles suburb. That, I reasoned, is what the Americans With Disabilities Act is for.

You can see where this is going. Instead, I got two rows of standard booths and a poll worker who looked like she’d just been sprung with a pop quiz. We exchanged a weighted silence — each of us praying the other would break our impasse — before she offered the one “solution” I didn’t expect:

“Do you want me to fill it out for you?”

That’s right: her definition of “access” was “hand over your ballot and take my word for it.” Which, honestly, is a spot-on summary of the political process if you’re disabled and queer in America.

I’m not one of those people who recoils at the word “politician.” I love politics — the wonky ins and outs, the human drama, the potential to push us forward — and know what it feels like when they change your life, for good and for ill. The ADA passed when I was about two years old and made sure my local public schools’ doors were literally and figuratively open to me. I sailed through my education blissfully unaware that I might not be there if a Republican President and Democratic Congress hadn’t found a way to work together. Then there was Prop 8, a sucker punch from my home state that validated the politics of fear, followed by the incomplete but incredible victory of Obergefell years later. In the interim, the Affordable Care Act gifted me the sense of security my able-bodied peers take for granted. And then, of course, there was election night. I don’t have to tell you which one.

When your rights ebb and flow with the political landscape, it really matters who’s in office. I owe a lot to politicians and they know it. I’ve felt downright pandered to during the last few Democratic National Conventions. Disabled gay woman under 35? Check, check, check, and check. Promising to “fight for LGBT people and people with disabilities” is standard procedure now. And you know what? Great! Because I’m old enough to remember when at least half of that promise never made the convention stage — at least not if you wanted to win. So I get that cynicism is in, but that’s not what I’m about. I believe in the people I vote for. But don’t think I haven’t noticed that almost none of them know what it’s like to live in this body.

I’m probably not the only one here wrestling with the idea of an office run. Maybe your friends sent you this article too, or this podcast, or these texts:

A series of three iMessages, all from the same sender. Text reads: "You have to run for office. That article was so inspiring. And I want to do it too. But it seems like it's right up your alley. You're everything politics needs."

Casual

But maybe you, like me, know that at least five of those friends are more qualified to run tomorrow than you are. Maybe you, like me, called them after the election to offer your future speechwriting services, phone banking hours, activist connections, and/or queer cred. Maybe you, like me, haven’t studied international relations, run a field office, or clerked at a law firm. Maybe you, like me, shudder at the harassment opinionated women face online.

But maybe you, like me, still can’t completely talk yourself out of the possibility.

It’s true that we all need our qualified friends to run right now. But it’s equally true that the fight won’t end in 2018 or 2020 — so neither can our list of potential candidates. And I think it’s past time those candidates have some firsthand knowledge of, say, how much it costs to spend a week in the hospital, or how an Individualized Education Plan works, or what it’s like when your polling place wasn’t built for you.

I want to run because someone like me has to. I realize that more with each leak that drips from this toxic disaster of an administration — and, to be honest, each Democratic Senate healthcare panel that has no disabled people on it. I’m done putting my faith in well-meaning surrogates. That’s not enough now, and it never really was. I’ve got the bones of a good candidate: people like to talk to me, I listen well, I actually enjoy public speaking, and I know a lot about issues that matter to me. I’m intentional with my words and confident in my perspective, but careful to acknowledge when it’s not the most important one in the room or could use an overhaul. And frankly, I want to learn and I want to help people, and our government could use more of both at every level. Yes, there’s a lot I don’t know yet — but self-righteous blowhards have run (and won) on less for centuries. Or, y’know, last November.

I want to run so that the opportunities I’ve had — education that made me a critical thinker, healthcare that saved me when it counted, and a home state that values my civil rights, to name a few — become standards rather than exceptions. That’s not going to happen until and unless people like me get over our doubts and get into the room. I can read up on policy and go to City Council meetings. I can learn to write a fundraising email and prep for a debate. None of that is beyond me. And if nothing else, all the groundwork for running will make me a more engaged, informed, and impassioned citizen.

I didn’t let the poll worker vote in my place that day, and I can’t cede my political future to other people now. There’s too much on the line for me and the ones I care about. I owe it to myself to find out how much I can accomplish when I don’t shy away from the most obvious path just because it’s also the most daunting. Learning how to run will be an uphill battle — but I’ve won a few of those before. I come from two of the most adaptable and resilient communities in America.  That has to count for something.

I’ll be recapping my experiences with the She Should Run Incubator right here on Autostraddle very soon. In the meantime, if you’re also thinking of running, please make yourself known so I feel less alone in this gargantuan pursuit; if you know someone who has, or is, tell me about it; and please send me your best advice, expertise, and campaign slogans. I can’t be the only one among us who’s having this conversation with herself right now.

So here: I’ll go first, and let’s see what happens.


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Carrie's body is weird and she's making that work for her. She lives in Los Angeles, where she does a lot of crossword puzzles and longs for a squished-faced dog. Help her get better at Twitter.

Carrie has written 70 articles for us.

32 Comments

  1. You got my vote(if you are running in my district of LA) and will do what I can to get at least one of my parents and my sibling to vote for you. I am excited for you and excited on the prospect of being able to vote for a straddler!

  2. As someone who’s disability is too severe and too unpredictable to ever run for office, I am so so glad to hear that you are willing to do it for me, and others like me.

    I have watched and read everything you have posted on Autostraddle for some time now, and there is no writer on here that feels more prepared, more RIGHT for this than you.

    I also must admit to a morbid curiosity about this process, and a desire to live vicariously through you during this whole process. Maybe it’s just my voyeuristic tendencies rearing their head, but man I am excited to see what happens next.

  3. Carrie, this is absolutely wonderful! I’m really excited for you and the people you’ll one day represent. Great things are bound to come ☺️

    I’m also quite curious about what you’re going to learn in this process, and I think an article series is a great idea. I can’t wait to read more!

  4. Good luck! I am excited to read about your experiences and hope nothing but the best for whatever position you decide to run for. It’s inspiring to see you step up and take on the challenge yourself.

    My mom ran for city council back in my hometown this past year. She didn’t win, but she learned so much in the process and made some crucial contacts to get things accomplished in the city. If you’re looking for any advice on running for office I’d be happy to ask her and relay that information!

  5. As a recovering operative, this post absolutely makes my day. Congratulations on taking this step, @wadeacar, and I can’t wait to see how your journey plays out.

    I’m thrilled at the prospect that we might get someone as thoughtful as Carrie in public service, but also that Autostraddle’s audience will get an glimpse inside programs like She Should Run. Demystifying those programs and organizations is so, so important and, invariably, it’ll help other women realize this same path is open to them.

    I can’t wait to read more.

  6. Hey!! I am disabled and queer and ran in the local elections in the UK in May. And I got elected! I am a Town Councillor for Trowbridge, which is kind of the lowest level of government(and completely voluntary so no funds) but I feel like it is making a step in the right direction even if it is reminding the other councillors that some people are disabled/queer/tenants not owners. I also have grand dropped kerb plans and maybe some sort of pride event. I also represent deaf and disabled members of my union(equity) to try and improve equality that way. My main advice would be to know that it can be very frustrating and that change comes very slowly, so celebrate the small victories! Find me on Twitter if you want to chat more, it should be in my profile! Good luck!!

  7. Hi! This is amazing! If my personality were at all suited for it, I’d join you in this. Instead, let me offer up my friend, Darrin Camilleri. He is the second youngest Michigan state representative to be sworn in, and the youngest Latinx state representative. He and I go (way) back and he’s one of the most genuine and transparent humans to ever be elected to anything, imho. He’s very open to talking with other people about running – and his campaign was absolutely the only thing that got me through the election from hell. Watching him run honorably on a platform of complete progress and win by a large number gave me a lot of hope. Let me know how I can connect you with him, if that’s something you’d be interested in! Good luck!

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