Does it Pay to Hobnob with Politicians?

When most people think of hobnobbing with politicians, they’re think high priced, formal fundraisers. More often than not, however, hobnobbing with politicians consists of working on campaigns, attending house parties and/or lobbying for an important issue.

Hobnobbing is for everyone—or should be. People from all walks of life, all ethnic groups and people with all forms of disabilities and abilities stand to gain by getting involved in the political process and getting to know their governmental representatives at all levels. And getting to know them not just inside but also outside of the political arena.

As a person who uses a walker and has a speech impediment, I have found that most politicians will take the time to listen to what I have to say. Why is that important? Because in order for things to be changed in the disability community, we need to speak out. Yes, we do have a ways to go, but things are beginning to change. And they’re changing because we are speaking out—and being heard—more and more.

Many average Joes or JoAnnes with disabilities are getting involved with volunteering for a candidate’s campaign. As they do, they have the opportunity to get to really know the candidate at a personal level. For example, when working on a campaign, you will probably meet the candidate’s family and get to know the “real person” behind the political face.

It’s easy to talk to politicians. During the past year, as I have worked on both a governor candidate’s campaign and a US Congress candidate’s campaign, I have met with senators from other states who were in Minnesota working to promote a candidate with whom I have been working. At one neighbor’s house party, five candidates showed up, including Mike Honda, a senator from California and the Co-Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Mike and I had never met before, but we talked at length about some concerns that I had regarding an e-mail I had received earlier in the day. The e-mail addressed the issue of the DNC excluding people with disabilities from having an input in the caucus process. Mike told me that this issue was important and not to worry because the DNC would do the right thing. He was correct, the DNC later voted down the proposal to exclude people with disabilities. This conversation was very important to me, but what was more important to me was that Mike and I could talk about issues other than politics and disabilities. Mike asked me what kind of work I do other than work on campaigns. I told him that I was a consultant for disability issues, and I found out that he was a teacher before he got into politics.

By getting to know politicians as real people, who have families, jobs, pets and who go on vacations, you learn their position on many issues that might not otherwise come to light. By discussing these various issues you can help guide the decision-making process for your community, state and possibly the country.

Politicians are real people; they need input from everyone to make the best decisions and to guide the political process in the right direction. So it really does pay to hobnob.

Michael Cohn is the chair of the MN DFL State Disability Caucus.