Do I Want to be a Politician?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

“That’s the future mayor of Hartford right there.”

That’s how my friend introduces me whenever we meet someone new together. I know that part of it is an acknowledgement of how much he appreciates what I think about politics and government, and I’m humbled by his compliment. But I also know that there’s not-very-subtle subtext there: “You need to run for office Jamil.”

I’ve rejected the idea of running for political office my entire life. In fact, aside from my spotty voting record, I’ve never actively participated in formal politics. I was asked to run for the Hartford Board of Education in 2013, but I declined. I was focused on finding a job right after finishing college. But more importantly, I didn’t want to fundraise. “Dump your cell phone contacts, and ask everyone on that list for $50. That’s fundraising.” That’s how the process was explained to me. I didn’t want to ask my friends for money because I knew they’d give it to me whether they had it or not, and we were all fucked up enough then that $50 was alot.

“You’d make a really good politician.”

My mother said that to me a few weeks ago. I’d called her to tell her about the latest time I’d been fired from my job. She’d always encouraged me to enter politics, although being the mayor of Hartford was her goal for herself. But how could I be good at politics? I can’t even keep a job, how can I be responsible for other people’s welfare?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why they’re encouraging me to get involved. I’m always talking and writing about politics, so isn’t the next step to get involved and do something about it? That was the argument of my political science professor. He compared political power to the ark of the covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark. He said the key was to open the ark just enough to use the power for good, but that it would still hurt the wielder and those they care about.

He presented the idea to me as a responsibility- someone has to do it, so maybe it should be the most reluctant people who do it. That reasoning resonated with me, and I even reached out to learn about a potential city council run a few years ago. Something that’s always bothered me about being a writer is that my approach has been more destructive than constructive. Getting involved in politics seems like the perfect way to fix that. Instead of simply complaining about policy, I could make it!

But that’s the thing. Believe it or not, all of my writing is very personal. I couch my opinions in generalizations and broad terms, but I’m basically complaining about things that bother me. If I were to run for political office, it would be to, again, correct the things that personally bother me.

And frankly? I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else’s problems because I can barely solve my own. I don’t enjoy being in charge of other people or telling them what to do. I don’t have any answers for anyone. How could I as the mayor of Hartford make decisions for over 120,000 people? I didn’t even like telling my student workers in the registrar’s office what to do.

So while there’s certainly a simple answer to the question, I do think it deserves a two part explanation. No, I don’t want to be a politician because I don’t want to be in charge of other people. But I also don’t recognize the authority that allows a small group of people to lead a larger one. Which means that my role of always complaining about the people who do use that authority actually does matter. I think these authorities do need to be deconstructed and constantly scrutinized, because we’re giving a small group the literal power of life and death over others. I’ll always have something to say about that.

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