I never thought of myself as a political writer. As a matter of fact, there was a time in my life when I didn’t think of myself as political at all. For decades I’ve been in advertising, which is by nature commercial, not political.
Yet here I am, lead writer on the Shahid Buttar for Congress campaign.
If you don’t know Shahid (pronounced “SHAH-hid”), he’s running for Congress to represent San Francisco, in Nancy Pelosi’s current seat. A progressive Democrat who’s also a privacy protection attorney, he’s a veteran of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a kind of cyberpunk Justice League which successfully blocked the needless surveillance of Americans’ personal information.
It’s an uphill battle, but that’s the kind of challenge I like. Avis: We’re #2, we try harder. (Look it up, kids.)
The job is 100 percent pro bono/volunteer, and it’s taking up more of my time and energy than I anticipated. Between Slack, Zoom, and the actual writing process, I’m more drained at the end of some days than I was working for an in-house agency.
So why am I loving it so much?
Part of it is the way this work fits into my new sensibility. I was always politically aware, but as an observer, like a space alien curious about earthlings’ ways. In recent years, though, I’ve become more involved, and COVID-19, which affects an extraordinary range of life’s facets from healthcare to employment to the way we socialize, has only sharpened that involvement. (Shahid’s platform includes healthcare as a human right.)
Another part of it is that I’m just made to write. To paraphrase Twilight Zone and Star Trek writer Harlan Ellison, it’s what I’m for. Not having any assignments for a month or so should have felt like a fun break, but instead it felt like a piece of me was missing.
Finally, as a little bit of a celebrity stalker, I’ve enjoyed being on Zoom calls with minor political figures. I can’t say who they are, but if you follow progressive politics, you’d recognize their names.
Don’t get me wrong. I like receiving fair compensation for the work I do, and look forward to the day when I can do so again.
And I certainly would never work free for a for-profit company. That’s called slavery.
But with paying work hard to come by this summer, I have to admit nonpaying work is satisfying. It uses all the skills I used in advertising: Research, presentation, strategy and conceptualization, and writing itself.
Best of all, I don’t have to sit on a long train ride and go to an office I might or might not want to be in for 40 hours every week. I can just write, do virtual meetings, and have fun.
Find a cause you like and try it sometime.