We’re just past one month since the 2016 ACT election. An election in which I was, well, elected. While there’s been a month to process it, it’s been a whirlwind: from the closing of the polls, to the wait, to the official declaration of the results, to my first official event, to being sworn in, to moving into an office in the Legislative Assembly – my office. I’ll talk about that month in more detail in the next post (Part 2) but wanted to take some time to reflect on how we got here.
What did it take to be elected? What was the journey?
What did I learn?
Saturday, 14 November 2015
For a lot of people there’s a bit about being a candidate that’s unseen, and that’s the preselection process. In ACT Labor this is a ‘rank and file’ process – basically, every member gets an equal say in who the election candidates are going to be. Potential candidates work on building their profiles both within the party and outside it – sometimes beginning a few weeks beforehand, and others years beforehand.
In October 2015, a handful of us in Ginninderra put our hands up to run: six of us for five spots. The party has a rule that at least 2 preselected candidates need to be from each gender. In Ginninderra, two men have nominated which means they will be preselected. That means the contest is on between four strong, very different women for three candidate spots.
On 14 November, eligible ACT Labor members get together to vote for candidates. There are two more opportunities, but this is the biggest voting day. Almost every candidate lines up for 6 hours seeking votes from party members.
Make no mistake: preselection is hard, like a mini campaign. I’ve been asking people to vote for me over other equally well-known and respected candidates. Leading up to this day, I’ve been calling people I’ve known for years and people who have never heard of me. I write letters with handwritten, personalised messages and hand-deliver these – including knocking on the door and handing them over in person. It’s a great test for the broader campaign at a time that is personally very tough – my dear dad has died just two months before.
On 21 November the votes are counted and I am preselected: I am an ACT Labor candidate for Ginninderra.
By Multicultural Festival I haven’t yet done any traditional campaigning. Sure, I’ve done plenty of social media, but nothing hardhitting like street stalls, doorknocking and phone calls. While for some it can be hard to believe, but I can be very shy and I’m quite simply nervous about starting my campaign. Multicultural Festival helps change that.
It’s one of my favourite festivals of the year and I have two major tasks I’ve signed up for: help hand out balloons for ACT Labor and raise money for Menslink. I begin tentatively handing out balloons but seeing what a kick everyone’s getting out of it means I soon lose my inhibitions and look like something from Up. Later I’m joined by my friend and fellow candidate for Murrumbidgee, Jennifer Newman, and her natural and confident manner as we lap the festival over and over seeking donations helps me grow my own confidence.
It seems really silly to write this now – hundreds of street stalls and around 10,000 doors later – but this is the moment that I feel “I can really do this”.
If my campaign can be summarised into one word, it’d be Jamison. From early April until the final hours of 15 October, Jamison becomes my second home. I hold my first ever shopping centre stall there: pulling out a huge table, two A-frames, a red table cloth and plenty of material. And to my surprise, numerous people approach me and I make the decision then and there to make it my base and grow from there.
A few weeks later, with my table and material blown over numerous times due to the wind, I make a decision to streamline my stalls. A table travels with me everywhere in the car but I never take it out again.
While I spend a lot of time over the next seven months at Belconnen’s other major centres and the interchange, Jamison is my base. On the day that it snows, I’m at Jamison. On the day that Belconnen has that epic storm and trees come down everywhere, I’m at Jamison.
Jamison teaches me that regularity and consistency is key. In the final few months, I have countless conversations where someone says, “I’ve seen you here a few times now and today I thought I’d come and say hello/ask you about where you stand on XYZ.” And it’s at Jamison where, in the third last day of the campaign, a woman approaches me to tell me I am the first candidate she has seen in the flesh and we have a 20 minute chat.
Door to door to door to door to door
For all the campaigns I’ve assisted with in my time in the party, I’ve never knocked on a door. The first door I knock, in May, I actually hope it doesn’t open (you should want every door to open). Of course it does. I’m so nervous I’m breathless and the door opener is kind if not bemused. I leave feeling both exhilarated and embarrassed.
Two more doors down, a couple open the door and they recognise me. I’m taken aback but chuffed and they are so warm and encouraging. On this, my first day of doorknocking, it takes me 2.5 hours to do about 20 houses (half the street). I finish the other half of the street in the final days of the campaign: a beginning and an end (and a beginning).
Most doorbells do not work and most people can’t hear you if you knock on the screen door, but sometimes there’s no choice!
Soon after I start campaigning full time, we print a large map that covers most of a wall in my house. As we finish doorknocking a street, the street gets highlighted. It’s like crossing off items on a to do list (those of you who get immense satisfaction out of that will understand). I only do about a third of the electorate but, at the same time, it’s a third of the electorate.
I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it again.
In mid-December we take a photo at ANU that becomes “the” campaign photo: I’m wearing a blue dress and a white jacket. Over the next year I’m told that I look like my photo, that the photo was clearly taken “a while ago” (well, it was before I began full time campaigning!), that it’s been photoshopped to make me look older, that I don’t look like my photo. (This post from a federal candidate rings so true.)
Mostly due to it being too cold or too hot, I don’t wear the outfit in that photo again until election day.
Throughout winter I cycle through a black coat, a blue coat and a red coat. I’m asked once a week if I’ve dyed my hair “just for the campaign” (to my and my hairdresser’s horror). Every day I wear red boots. I have two identical pairs. One which I’ve been wearing for a year already gets recycled in July and the second pair gets re-heeled in August and then September. They fade in the sun and the rain and the spilt coffees and for the first time in my life I get a tan – a boot tan.
Nothing that a bit of polish wouldn’t fix
I still have it. It looks even stranger in person.
I don’t know if the boots and the coats and the hair make any difference but there is one thing: having a ‘uniform’ of sorts means I spend less time fussing at home getting ready in the morning and more time just getting out there, and that’s what matters.
One of the things I most enjoy about going door to door is getting to know Belconnen’s suburbs and neighbourhoods better. I come across the most remarkable gardens; skinny blocks which stretch waaaay back; breathtaking views (often literally thanks to the 80 steps to the front door – Fraser and Cook I am looking at you); beautifully designed homes; homes which were among the first built in the suburb; cute knick knacks and succulents on doorsteps; and impressive landscaping. Over the months there’s the daphne, the daffodils and jonquils, the iris and the wisteria, and the blankets of sparaxis. I love learning about the pride people have in their homes. On the days when no one’s home and I feel like I’m not getting anywhere, it’s these things that give me a real lift.
Towards the end of the campaign everything gets amplified – the highs feel very high and the lows feel very low; each day feels like a rollercoaster. Having a good soundtrack can be like hitting the ‘reset’ button – listening to a great song as I drive from doorknocking a street to a street can be a great way to give me a big boost of energy (for the record the most common songs for me in the final few days are This Is The Moment (Jekyll & Hyde musical) and Defying Gravity (Wicked musical) as well as plenty of Icehouse; the Lord of the Dance soundtrack accompanies me on late night letterboxing).
Must love dogs
If you are a candidate you must like dogs: more dogs are home than people and if there are people and dogs home, the dog will usually greet you in person first.
What’s love social media got to do with it?
This will sound funny for someone who is writing this summary on her website and has a social media brand on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (as well as another blog): social media does not win elections.
I need to make an important distinction: while it doesn’t win elections, social media is a great way to reach people who I might not otherwise meet and to share different sides of things (like this!); to supplement or complement the broader campaign. But look at it this way: while I’ve been very lucky to have enjoyed a loyal In The Taratory following, a few thousand followers in Canberra is nothing compared to the 54,000 in Ginninderra who are assessing me in the longest job interview of my life.
So what does win elections?
A lot is made of strong field campaigns (including after the election) and you can see this is true for me. The beauty of all this is in the conversations. Yes, it’s all a lot of work and a lot of hours, but what it maximises is the opportunity to have a lot of conversations. It could well be my style (read: I’m not succinct) but I find establishing rapport and talking through policies and answering questions take time: conversations allow for that, and I realise I can’t have conversations if I’m not known and if I’m not available to have them.
And we have a positive campaign. There is a lot I can talk about that I’m proud of – and so much that I’m genuinely excited to see happen. From things I’ve fought for like green bins and bulky waste pick up, to things I’ve grown more and more passionate about, like light rail – we have a story to tell.
I can’t have the conversations without an extraordinary team – people who’ve known me all my life (literally – my mother – who seems to meet everyone in Belconnen in the space of three weeks at prepoll) to people who join the campaign in the final week and give me their evenings and entire days. I know how lucky I am to have people who consistently ask, ‘What else can I help with? What can I do next?’ – you know who you are.
And there are the friends and family with whom I can share my cringe-worthy moments, the amazing conversations, the tough moments, and my numerous complaints about how bad the windy weather is. They are my strength.
How did we get here? There are many ways and many reasons. The above is just some of them – there are so many I haven’t mentioned, and some of the ways I got here might ring more true than others. But ultimately it all comes down to one reason. One way that we got here.
And it’s you.
We got here because of you.
The man who speaks to me through their car window in March when I’m letterboxing and who is one of the last people to speak to me before the polls close on 15 October.
The woman who asks me every question about light rail until she’s satisfied.
My ‘running mate’ who never gets tired of posing for a photo with me.
Cesar, who gets us to attach a ‘Tara’ sign to his mobility scooter so he can promote me wherever he goes.
The girl who stays behind after her mother and sister have finished quizzing me to tell me, “I’d vote for you in a heartbeat.”
Everyone who tells me they’re voting for me. And everyone who doesn’t.
This is what gets me to 15 October.
You are what got me to 15 October.
Because the deal is:
If you voted for me, I want to work harder for you.
And if you didn’t vote for me, I want to work harder for you.
That’s what it comes down to.