Aug 14, 2020
Political power starts with service to others. For instance, Russian immigrant and Boston resident Naakh Vysoky began his political career by helping his fellow Russian immigrants gain citizenship and keep their government benefits. He also advocated on their behalf in Washington. Members of his community recognized his leadership and initiative, and began to follow his lead politically. They voted according to his recommendations. By building a voting bloc, Naakh created lasting political power to make government more responsive to his community.
Politics is about working together to solve problems. Uniting like-minded citizens through political organizing builds political power, which can be used to ask the government to help resolve the particular issues facing communities. Naakh Vysoky created a voting bloc of more than 1,000, and his precinct voted at three times the state average. When he called the governor’s office, the governor called back. The politics of empowerment helps a community grow and thrive, addressing issues like government benefits, the relationship of the police with the community, and communications between parents and the school district.
Political hobbyism is distinct from power building: it is time spent thinking or worrying about politics without actually doing anything to change it. Political hobbyism includes news binges, political tweets, petition signing, and other forms of "shallow" activism. Further, this makes us look at politics from the "horserace" perspective, entrenching tribalism and making politicians misbehave. By engaging in political hobbyism, we learn the wrong lessons and acquire the wrong skillset, like paying attention to significant national issues. Instead, we should be engaged in local politics, where we can actually have an outsized influence.
Eitan D. Hersh is Associate Professor of Political Science at Tufts University, focusing on American politics. He studies US elections, civic participation, and voting rights. Much of his work utilizes large databases of personal records to study political behavior.
His second book, Politics is for Power, was published in January 2020. His first book, Hacking the Electorate, was published in 2015 (Cambridge UP). His peer-reviewed articles have been published in venues such as the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
His next major research project, now underway, is about the civic role of businesses and business leaders.
You can follow him on Twitter @eitanhersh.