I’m thinking about running for the AAPA Board of Directors, and I better make my mind up fast, because the deadline to apply is November 1. I’ve always been fascinated by the sometimes byzantine process of running for elected office in organizations, and have often thought that it would be fun to read a real-time blog, in which someone running blogged about the process. Not in a way that just promoted their candidacy and views, but instead focusing on the ups and downs of such an effort.
Organization politics are an unusual can of worms. I guess I’m a “joiner,” although that handle has always rubbed me the wrong way. As far back as I can remember, I was always raising my hand and volunteering for student council, saying “Yes” when asked to join school committees and generally showing interest in the political process.
This hasn’t always been a good thing, or at least a fun thing. In high school our class dean asked me if I would like to serve on a city-wide advisory group in Honolulu, where I would meet student leaders from all over Oahu. “Sure,” I said. “You bet!”
The first meeting was my last, and I was completely dismayed to find out that the advisory group was for putting together an event celebrating Hawaii’s Flora and Fauna. I wasn’t sure even what those things were, and I found a way to beg off the group quickly.
But I’ve never been comfortable doing some of the things you have to do to usually win in organizational politics. Things like asking people to vote for me. In such situations, I’ve instead found myself describing my position, and asking whomever I am talking with to please consider my stance and my candidacy. That sounds downright weak when I read these words, but it’s how I prefer to be approached by politicians.
I don’t like it when a politician asks for my vote. I’d rather they state what they believe, and leave the voting decision up to me. I get that they are running for something, and I get that they wouldn’t be talking to me if they didn’t want my support. But when they cross that line, I feel like I’m being sold a product.
I know not everyone feels this way. Just as patients who want to stop smoking often need a PA to say, “I want you to stop smoking,” voters sometimes need that same strong push. Not to compare nicotine dependence with voting, but you get my drift.
I decided to run for the AAPA Board last year as a write-in. I’d thought about running, but decided against it, instead wanting to continue with my committee work as chair of the AAPA Health Disparities Work Group. But when the AAPA Board decided to eliminate committees, it really jarred me. Not so much because of the vanity of losing my committee, but more because I was really taken aback by what I saw as a lack of outreach and the absence of including key stakeholders (AAPA House of Delegates, organizational elders, current and past leaders, state constituent groups, etc.), and the emergence of a disconnectedness on the part of the Board.
The dissolution of the committees represented an extreme action to me, out of line with the academy’s traditions and values. So I decided to run after the deadline, and the only way to do that was as a write-in.
Overall, it was an enjoyable experience and allowed me to connect with thousands of PAs, as I patched together a campaign. It ended up taking about 1,300 votes to win one of three seats, and I got about 500, but I was very pleased with the result. I was able to connect with other PAs who felt like I did, and in the end I felt like my candidacy made at least a dent in the issue.
One of the most touching aspects of the whole experience was on Facebook, where I did some outreach for my campaign. More than one old friend, none of whom were PAs, Facebook messaged me and said “Can I vote for you? I would like to.” A past athletic trainer colleague of mine wrote on my Facebook page, “Vote for Jim. He’s a good man.” Those gestures really meant a lot to me.
Of course I received a few “Stop emailing me” messages, as I reached out to AAPA members. I never felt good about annoying people with my effort. I’ve been on the wrong end of annoying political messaging plenty of times, and I always tried to respond empathetically and apologetically when receiving such messages. But mostly the response was “Go get ‘em!” and “Thanks for your willingness to serve!”
Those messages made it worth it.
Something else I’ve always liked about small-time political efforts is when they are issue-driven and homegrown. I ran for president of my junior high school in 1968 (I lost), and had a pizza party at my house, where friends came over, ate pizza, drank rootbeer and made funny signs to put up around the school. I loved how it was so unpretentious and driven the best of intentions.
In a way, that’s what running as a write-in last year was like, only without the pizza. It was just me, some PA friends and colleagues, a supportive and patient spouse, and a few ideas about how we could do things better and how we could build an even better professional association.
Mostly my life as a “joiner” has been enjoyable, and allowed me to engage in efforts that have a positive impact on my personal and professional settings, meet really interesting people and get some things done that I am proud of.
Something I’ve always liked about political activities, whether in the AAPA or in on my neighborhood organization, is being with other people who are engaged in influencing forces that shape our world. That can be a pretty heady feeling, being in a room full of people who are they because they want to be, and who are there because they want to make our professional and governmental institutions better.
For the most part, people I have met engaging in these small-time enterprises (community groups, issue-specific activism, professional committee work, workplace PA advocacy) are not doing this stuff for money or glory, because there’s little of either in small-time activism.
If I run I look forward to collecting some notable stories along the way, the small-town spirit, ups and downs, twists and turns, uplifting moments and the special connections that might make running for the AAPA Board of Directors a journey worth making.
Jim Anderson, MPAS, PA-C, ATC, is chair of the American Academy of Physician Assistants Health Disparities Work Group, founder of Physician Assistants for Health Equity and faculty of the Department of Anesthesia and Pain Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.