Career move into politics or progressive change?
February 11, 2021 8:19 PM   Subscribe

I am thinking about working toward a job in the area of politics, advocacy or social change. Do you have any advice, information or resources for me? Any thoughts on what might be the best path to pursue? Good or bad factors about different options?

I spend a good amount of my free time as an activist and otherwise focused on politics. So I am thinking about trying to get a job related to politics. There are probably people in my network I could ask some questions of, but I would like to start with the hive mind in a low-stakes way.

I now work with data for a safety organization. So it does have that societal benefit. But the parameters of the job allow for little creativity or substantive research or analysis. The job pays $40k. It has retirement and really good medical insurance.

I have a B.S. in geography. I am not up for going back to school. But I could volunteer or do short-term training.

I expect to work for 10-15 more years. I prefer to work for government or a nonprofit organization, to get the U.S. public service loan forgiveness.

Here’s some more about my background.


I look at communications holistically and broadly (such as written, oral, visual, digital, etc.). I was a newspaper journalist for about 15 years, mostly in copy editing. But I also did some reporting and page design. I have done a little other design work, such as posters. But I am not experienced with current tools, and am a better editor of design than an actual designer. I am the current communications chair for my activist group. I enjoy writing (and ghostwriting) letters to the editor, of which I have had several published. I have little experience with social media.


I have never taken Statistics 101, but I learned some basics in related courses, such as Quantitative Methods in Geography. I went to school for GIS, but don’t get to use it much, so I’m rusty in that, too. I use SAS at work, but I’m only a so-so programmer. I have used SPSS, but that was more than 10 years ago. I took a course in Python. I have built a few small websites, both with WordPress and HTML from scratch. I am vaguely familiar with CSS.


In 2019, I ran for City Council. I would have represented about 60,000 people. My race might have been the first time a Democrat has run in my district. I got about 43 percent of the vote. I graduated from a program that trains Dem women to run for office. Last year, I was chair of my statewide activist group. For four years, I have been precinct chair (the Dem who gets out the vote in my neighborhood). I have canvassed and phone banked for several campaigns. About six months ago, I was appointed to the board of my city’s public housing agency.

Here are some issues I am interested in, in rough order of interest:
* Climate change
* Electoral reform and voting access (I recently had a paper published relating to redistricting.)
* Police reform
* Housing affordability
* Poverty

And I hate starting so many sentences with the word “I”!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (2 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
43% of the vote is amazing! Give yourself a huge pat on the back and start looking around. Who wants to step down and needs a worthy successor? Who needs a competitor? Who needs a competent alternative?

What could you be doing in the meantime? Educating people about what you know making a difference in an easy, lucrative and fun way would be a great start.
posted by parmanparman at 12:15 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]

I work in politics/nonprofits, first in comms and now in policy/lobbying, and have for my whole career.

If you didn't hate the election process, I'd actually suggest you focus on finding tolerable non-political career growth while ALSO pursuing elected office, for a few reasons:

1. We need more progressive women in the pipeline, and once you get over the initial hurdle of winning a local race, there's no telling where your electoral path will take you. There are precious few people of conviction willing to take that path and you can have so much impact that way.

2. Nonprofit/professional advocacy work can really hollow you out in a very specific way. Some of this is probably COVID talking, but the sector is known for INTENSE competition, horrible boundaries and work/life balance, and (usually, but not always) poor compensation. There's a huge expectation that you put up with enormous amounts of self-sacrifice and sometimes abusive circumstances out of devotion to the cause (or candidate). It's a very self-reinforcing culture, too, because if you REALLY wanted to achieve (whatever political end you're working on), wouldn't you WANT to work 13-hour days/live with five roommates in a hovel/put up with sexual harassment from that big donor? And because there's always a big crop of fresh-faced devotees ready to step into the line of fire, it's very hard to push for better working conditions. You might be better off with your data background though - there's a huge demand for data and analysis capabilities in a lot of orgs right now and there's always way more people looking for policy and comms jobs than there are positions.

Also, those conditions tend to set up working environments that can be incredibly racist and hostile to anyone outside the single/childless/white/cis/from comfortable SES default. A lot of people are acknowledging the problems and pushing for change, but it's still the norm.

That's not to say nonprofits or professional campaigns/political government jobs are inherently all bad! Obviously I believe in what I'm doing or I wouldn't still be doing it. But you have to go in with your eyes wide open and be very choosy about who you work for. There's a lot of orgs that pitch themselves as "family," when you might be in a mentally healthier environment working for a for-profit firm that at least is clear about goals and compensation for labor and that you are there to help produce a profit. I recommend checking out Ask A Manager's site and books, and especially Nonprofit AF for a peek behind the curtain and some idea of warning signs to look for.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 5:28 AM on February 12 [9 favorites]

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