Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2009 | People

I Heart Politics

By Tina Owen
PHOTO: HEATHER TRIMM UI alumna Kelly Drake, 04BA, explains why she's a political junkie. (And why that's a positive thing.)

The waters of Puget Sound froth around the ferry boat heading toward the pier with a full complement of mass-transit passengers. Seagulls dance above the sparkling waves. In the distance, the snow-capped Olympic Mountains gleam against the clear blue sky.

Talk about putting things in perspective. Every day, when I look out my Seattle office window and see these spectacular views, I'm powerfully reminded of why I get up every morning eager to go to work. I'm helping harness the power of politics to save the planet—in particular, this green and lovely part of the world called Washington State.

I work for a political nonprofit group called the Washington Conservation Voters, which helps advocate for environmental issues, provide strategy for grassroots activists, and support elected officials while holding them accountable. With our assistance, environmentally conscious voters can make their voices heard on issues that are important to them. Over the last 20 years, we've helped those voters elect officials who are sympathetic to "green" issues, protect farmland from irresponsible development, and preserve the natural beauty of our state.

That's what I love about the American political system: it gives everyone a say in what goes on. If the system isn't working, we have the power—and responsibility—to put it right.

Even though I've only been in this job for a few months, my passion for politics goes way back. My mom still jokes about the time when I was just seven years old and I lectured a niece for wasting food at a family picnic. "There are starving people in Africa!" I protested.

I joke that by the time I was a freshman at the UI, politics was my drug of choice. Most of my good college memories revolve around politics—campaigning or attending a fund-raising dinner. It's a thrill to be involved in effecting a positive change.

Naturally, I was a political science major, and after graduation I gravitated toward jobs with political organizations. For a while, I worked at a nonprofit organization that helped people with developmental disabilities. It was a worthy cause, but it didn't tap into my passion. I discovered that I love working at the grassroots level of politics: helping people learn about important causes that affect their lives and then encouraging them to flex their political muscles.

Just this week, our organization will take some 500 activists to meet with their legislators at the state capitol, to explain why environmental causes such as clean air and water, reduced carbon emissions, mass-transit-oriented communities, and energy-efficient homes are so important. Those people represent politics in action.

It's easy to feel disheartened about politics. If the media aren't blaring about corrupt politicians, they're giving blow-by-blow accounts of the latest partisan battles. Plus, many people feel they don't have a voice, that politicians don't care what they think. They're wrong; we can make a difference.

We just need to work together to make politics work.