COMMENTARY: Finding inspiration in local politics

When I don’t live in my fictional America in which we follow the rule of “Let Bartlet be Bartlet”, I find my inspiration in the 34th Legislative District.

It’s really impossible for me to choose a favorite episode of “The West Wing.”

I love them all. I love the Washington, D.C. backdrop, the brilliant writing and acting. The chemistry between the actors is fantastic, as is the emotional pay-off in many an episode (darn that Aaron Sorkin!). The episodes move me, inspire me, remind me of my own time in politics and make me smile. But the best part of my favorite show? It makes politics look beautiful.

I am a lifelong political junkie. These years have not been easy for those of us who love politics. Our country has fallen into camps, our social media adroitly sections us into silos and our cynicism runs high. I worry about the future of our country.

We actually saw an insurrection last year at our capitol. I never thought that would happen in my life. But when things are heavy and fears run deep, I think of a West Wing world, in which presidents are brilliant, staff are loyal and good is done.

When I don’t live in my fictional America in which we follow the rule of “Let Bartlet be Bartlet”, I find my inspiration in the 34th Legislative District.

I worked on Capitol Hill in D.C., which I had dreamed of doing my whole life. My memories of that chapter made it even tougher to watch the January 6 videos. I believed in democracy back then. I still do. And while I have been involved in politics most of my life, getting involved in my local legislative district is new. I have only been participating for a couple of years now, and it’s a balm for my weary soul.

These dedicated people put so very much thought and care into making a difference in local politics. They host events, rally for Democrats and decide endorsements of candidates. The endorsements are particularly moving to me. It is a long, thorough process, in which all of the members of the 34th vote after hearing from the candidates.

“Participation in the process is so critical. So many take democracy for granted,” said Carla Rogers, who is chair of the 34th District Democrats.

“It’s so easy to post on Twitter or Facebook about your frustrations and your passion topics,” she added. “It takes strength and drive to actually do something about it. And you can — the heart and soul of policy is the voting process and that is what we are all about at the local party level. It is our mission to get out the vote — knocking on doors, calling, texting, and sending postcards. Life is hard. It takes passion to carve out time to get involved. I can’t think of anything more important, honestly, to my family, my community and the country.”

These local volunteers are heroes. They organize, they give their time, and they engage in the process. They build democracy from the ground up.

At our endorsement meeting last week, I was able to give the statement for one of the candidates. I admit to a certain West Wing-esque sense of pride as I participated in democracy, engaging locally and raising my voice.

On Saturday, June 25, I will participate in something I have never done before: I will be a delegate at the state Democratic convention. To say I am excited is an understatement.

I know that getting involved in grassroots politics may not be the thing for everyone. But I keep thinking of this weary world, this cynical, challenging time. And then I think of all of these hard-working volunteers, talking earnestly and debating into the night as they make their endorsements in local races.

It is a balm for the soul. As Margaret Mead (and later President Bartlet) said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world.”

And with that, I am off to the convention! President Bartlet would be proud.

Lauri Hennessey is a long-time contributor to The Beachcomber, a volunteer with the 34th District Democrats and the CEO of the League of Education Voters.