We’re back with a new full season – all about political power building! What better way to kick things off than with a conversation with the author of a book titled Politics is for Power? We’re so grateful to Professor Eitan Hersh for sitting down with us.
Listen to Mila’s talk with Eitan here!
Hersh’s book focuses on one of the biggest scourges of modern voting, and one of the main reasons local politics is withering away: political hobbyism. Political hobbyism refers to the time we all spend engrossed in politics without actually doing anything. Our amateur punditry, doom-scrolling, news binges, and yes, even political podcast listening, all fall under political hobbyism’s umbrella.
“Politics is the way we solve problems,” Hersh said. “The problem is that most people who kind of say they care about that and most people who are spending a ton of time thinking about that are just not doing anything.”
Political hobbyism gamifies our political process and makes us spectators, rather than the active participants our electoral system requires us to be. It contributes to the virality of politics, prioritizing Congressional clap-backs and snappy fundraising campaigns over serious governance and social improvement. It also diverts attention to national political developments instead local politics, which have the most impact on our daily lives.
We’re all guilty of some level of political hobbyism, but it’s easier than some might think to change the way we engage with politics. “You can do it on your own,” Hersh told Mila. “And a lot of people are doing that on their own. I think what they’re doing is they’re shifting in their minds from thinking about politics as something that’s important to pay attention to, to politics is something where I as a citizen can be important.”
Eitan gave us two concrete ways to stop being a hobbyist and start engaging in politics:
Change Your News Consumption
Political hobbyism thrives on national news. If you’re a newshound who spends hours listening or reading to the nation’s top stories, it’s time to change your focus. Almost all political change happens on a local level, so start paying attention to what’s happening in your community. The easiest way to do that is by subscribing to your local newspaper. In the last decade, the decimation of local news shifted the news landscape dramatically. Surviving local publications need all the help they can get, because local politics is critical to a democracy, and local news helps keep those political decisions open and honest. Check out our interview with Suzanne Nossel of PEN America for more information. According to her, supporting local news is one of the most impactful ways to be civically engaged.
If you’re already doing that, think of different news sources—you’ll learn much more about your community by attending a (virtual) town hall or candidate forum than you will watching CNN. Switching your news focus from national to local allows you to identify community problems you can help solve. The main aim here is to inspire local involvement. You’ll never discover the many ways to improve your community if you’re glued to C-Span or NBC all day.
Find Your Role
If you’re exclusively a keyboard warrior, taking your activism off the screen might seem daunting. In reality, it’s not hard. You just need to figure out where you’re going to help the most. “Identify the issues or politicians or political party you care about,” Hersh told Atmos. “Start thinking about, what could your role be? Maybe it’s your role to move people electorally. Maybe your role is to support an organization from really like a backseat position.”
We’re not saying you need to go out and start a volunteer group. Maybe you live in a small town, and you several people who don’t vote. Consider using Dave Fleischer’s ‘deep canvassing’ technique to inspire them. Merely showing up to municipal meetings is a way to undo political hobbyism. Once you’ve decided how you can help, make sure you follow through! And, after you’ve volunteered or gotten engaged with your local politics, you can head home, turn on the TV, and scroll through Twitter to your heart’s content.