April 5th, 2017

by Howard Katz

As an engaged citizen and member of the freethought community you know the importance of being active in the electoral process. You’re an informed voter and may even contribute to and volunteer for the candidates you support. However, the results of the 2016 election demonstrate the need to be more involved in the electoral process, but what can you do?

Run for office! Me? You ask. Yes — you.

The religious right has been active for decades in the electoral process and we have seen the results – at all levels of government their candidates have been elected into office and, in comparison to their size, they disproportionately influence the formation of public policy. A prime example of the religious rights’ success is our current Vice President Mike Pence. Pence started as a precinct committeeman in his local county Republican Party and then twice ran unsuccessfully for Congress. He was successful on his third attempt and served six terms in Congress before successfully running for governor of Indiana. He is now the vice president of the United States and is one heartbeat — or an impeachment — away from being the most powerful elected official in the nation and arguably the world.

I’m no Mike Pence, but like Pence I started by being active in my local political party (Democratic not Republican), and I ran unsuccessfully for several political offices. Now I’m proud to announce that I’ve just been elected to serve as the Batavia Township Clerk in Illinois. It’s not vice president, but I’m making a difference in my community, and you can – and should – too.

Like the religious right, we need to look at all elected and appointed offices – not just federal and state legislatures, but also city and village councils, school and library boards, and appointed governmental oversight boards. Unless members of our community run and get elected, we have no one to blame but ourselves for the right-wing slant in our political system. You don’t have to be a member of Congress or governor (although members of our community need to hold those seats too) – local elected and appointed officials are the backbone of our democratic system. Find a level of government that interests you, shadow that governmental unit to learn what it does and how you can make it better, and find out what’s necessary to run for office.

Contact your county or state Board of Elections to learn about the election calendar and what the requirements are for getting on the ballot. For local offices, the number of petition signatures to get on the ballot can be as little as 10. You probably can get many of the signatures from neighbors and friends, and then get them involved in your campaign. Once the necessary paperwork is filed, make yourself accessible to your community and the media to let them know that you’re running and why.

Running for office isn’t difficult, but it takes time and determination. Compassionate and reasoned secular citizens can no longer wait for someone else to step up, and the religious right is determined to hold onto their power.

Get involved. Run for office. Get elected.

HOWARD KATZ is a board member of the American Humanist Association and is a Humanist Celebrant. Howard has been active with the Americans Civil Liberties Union and was awarded the ACLU of Illinois’ Volunteer of the Year award. He’s a former officer of Illinois National Organization for Women (NOW), board member of the local Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and board member of the Humanists of West Suburban Chicagoland. Howard has held multiple appointed public offices, but this is his first elected office.

A list of Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, and “Nones” who hold elected office can be found here.