These thoughts often come to mind as we interact with someone we don’t know well, perhaps trying to process how their actions or words fit into a grander scheme. We are, after all, naturally skeptical mammals.
I am typically on the receiving end of people guessing, incorrectly, about the motives behind my activities, particularly as they relate to advocating for political reform or public policy.
Running as an independent candidate for New York’s 22nd Congressional District in 2016 certainly seemed out of character from my background as a high growth Silicon Valley entrepreneur and active startup investor. Campaigning on a jobs and education platform, this was less a surprise to those closer to me who were aware of my efforts in catalyzing a regional ecosystem through non profit Upstate Venture Connect.
That independent candidacy, however improbable, was indeed the perspective-shaping experience I knew it would be. Like most of my ventures, I learned and I grew. The experience sharpened my focus on how I could help my community. Even though I had previously dabbled in public policy advocacy, putting myself into the ring against both major parties in a hotly contested Federal election gave me insights I could never have gleaned from the outside looking in.
My big take-aways were not only how rigged the political system is in favor of candidates inside the 2 party duopoly, but also understanding conflict our elected officials face in seeking to make bold decisions that interfere with party interests. Actions like these can often come with the potential risk of being “primaried” out of office by an extreme candidate (left or right) who caters to the rabid few voters turning out to vote in low turnout party primaries.
Playing the Long Game
Prior to my 2016 campaign, I had no awareness of New York’s unique fusion voting rules that permit a single candidate to gather votes on more than one line of the ballot. By being attractive to all candidates to list on as many lines as possible, this system actually gives minor parties more influence here than in many other states. That understanding was a key reason for my running as an independent, and in launching the Upstate Jobs Party with a long term goal of becoming ballot eligible state wide.
The initiative to grow UJP has steadily chugged along these last five years, cultivating one relationship at a time to join our insurgent movement that now focuses on bipartisanship policy making, election reform and yes – job creation policies that make sense in the real world.
While slow and steady across a mix of multiple initiatives has been my approach for the last decade, the January 6 insurrection was the game changer prompting me to now engage with a much larger chunk of my personal time and resources on this political reform path.
The fact that the insurrection occurred in the first place is a testament to just how broken the political system has become – and it shined a light on the reality that the entrenched powers have no incentive or means to bring about the needed changes or seek compromise between the two major parties.
While many say “There’s nothing we can do about it” – I’ve always been one of the crazy few that believe the most important change will come from the people, not from entrenched politicians.
This is hard stuff and requires steady, long term leadership commitment. That translates to building community, bringing people together behind shared goals of strengthening our economy and democracy. We invest our energy not because of an economic interest, but because we’re passionate about making a difference in something bigger than ourselves.
Those are the kind of challenges that I am personally drawn to – I want to make a difference and leave this world a better place than I found it. It’s all the more motivating because I know so many others feel the same way about wanting to fix a broken system, but haven’t yet found that right path to be spurred into action and engaged.
As an entrepreneur, my talents are best put to that community organizing side seeking to play some small part in helping catalyze a movement still in nascent stages.
So there is no mystery to my motive. You can be assured I won’t be running for public office – but instead will continue my journey on this road less travelled, no matter how many say we can’t make a difference.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead