My experience as volunteer and member in a political party

We’d all like to vote for the best man, but he’s never a candidate-Frank McKinney.

I joined the party (a local branch of a Romanian party) in the spring of 2008, but it was not this moment which was my first contact with party life. I was a student in Political Science, which motivated my decision to join in. I always thought parties should put into practice what the books said. Secondly, I chose an opposition party, because I thought being in the opposition would make it put all force and energy to identify the most efficient resources to reach its goal. But eventually it turned out the nature of politics is different from theory.

Back to joining the party. I was starting from the bottom, with no kind of support. I participated in campaigning activities, worked almost 2 years as a volunteer for the party. The atmosphere seemed friendly and favorable. I didn’t meet party leaders at these events, since as a beginner you don’thave any voice. After 2 years I got a job in one of the youth party organizations. It became a faster pace. During these last years I noticed that elections are mostly pre-settled. Long before them, you used to know who will fill in those positions; this stands for all types of elections, no matter what level.

There would be, however, 3 more possibilities to gain access as a candidate: 1)  2, maximum 3 places are kept for those members unsatisfied, but without the majority support; the majority is priorly taught into how to vote; 2) financial means, that is, if you can afford to support all sorts of party actions; 3) lastly,but secondary, is if you’re the kind of person repeating everything you hear, loudly echoing what others are saying even when not understanding – the ”speaking trumpet” man; otherwise, you just leave yourself to the system and accept to be pushed away.

Volunteering as a first level in the party hierarchy can sometimes turn into a job, but even at this level chances to chance or influence how things are going are minimum. There is a second level – people who own financial resources and can influence things. But they are interested to promote and help grow their own businesses. Although they’re participating formally in decision making, in fact they’re only interested in some things, and that’s when they have a voice of their own.

The third level would be the board of directors. Important stuff is discussed here, positions are negotiated; also, quiet people are appreciated, those that don’t go against the system. The party doesn’t care much for its own critics. For 2 years and a half I could notice this from close. Some people here do have a possibility to change things, but these are risky. However, some proposals are appreciated, others are ignored. This level of decision-making either pulls away the whole party towards a good change or when bad decisions are made, they can ruin it for everybody.

To conclude, I haven’t really met people in the party who put energy into winning votes. The functioning generally closely follows the national policy and directives. The principles are sometimes good but don’t work how they should. One’s opinions are not important no matter how well founded, the system doesn’t let you make a difference.

In order for the young people’s voice to be heard and respected in a party, a change is needed; just like Weber described it, a change towards a vocational aspect of politics and parties, but not as long as parties are setting to distribute positions and money benefits, in the absence of ethics. I have came to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians- Charles de Gaulle

After more than 4 years volunteering for the party, I’ve reached a general conclusion: parties want “their people” – when you want change you’re not “their people”, you’re not well intended, even when some appreciate your opinion. My advice for youth is to choose volunteering in non-governmental organizations, much more efficient and could change things towards the good of society. The chance to change something in a party as a young person is low, although sometime it’s there. Although I’ve worked for a political party, and now I’m doing research in the political field, the party is no place where skilled youth should put their energy. I suggest following the American model and joining NGOs, use our energy to have a loud voice, to be a force when politics fail. This would be better for us, for society, for our towns and countries, for all.

It definitely rings true!

Hello Ionela, welcome to Edgeryders!

Wow, your experience is really something. Quite grim, I must say! It is hard to be optimistic at the end of the read:

parties want “their people” – when you want change you’re not “their people”

I have no experience of Romanian politics, but your conclusion seem all too plausible also for other countries. The space you describe is loyalty-based , money-based and completely top-down (the only space that matters is the board of directors). It seems to me this kind of arrangement leads to near-blocked generational change, with the party’s grand old men (and women) holding on to power into their old age. Romania has not had a multiparty political system for very long, so maybe this is not yet an issue there, but in Italy it has been a concern for some time now.

Have you read Marco’s mission report for “Reactivating democratic institutions”? He is in Scotland, and he seems to have had a much more positive experience. Maybe you could pay him a visit and leave him a comment, it makes for an interesting comparison.

Party system - generational replacement?

Romania has not had a multiparty political system for very long, so maybe this is not yet an issue there, but in Italy it has been a concern for some time now.

Does it matter? are multiparty systems more sensitive to deadlock in generational replacement?

Big issue!

Of course it matters. A single party does not need to compete for votes, so nobody expects it to be open to change. But a party competing within a pluralistic system needs to pitch itself towards the electorate. Some have internal unwritten rules that state leaders who lose an important election should resign, for example: this is clearly intended to make the party more attractive to voters that are not firmly invested in it.

The lack of change (“always the same old faces” is a common complaint) is a very serious threat to the vitality of a political party that needs to compete. Of course, if the competitive system is new, parties start off new by definition, and people at the beginning can’t tell whether generational replacement is blocked, because the leaders themselves have only been around for comparatively little. The point is that the situation described by Ionela is quite dangerous for the party itself, even if this is not yet perceived given the novelty of the system.

le choix des ONG

Je suis d’accord avec vous que les jeunes ne trouve pas une place dans les partis politiques est leurs voi, reste toujours sous-entendu, les partis politiques sont pour les têtes grises ( les vieux ), c’est pour ca je faisais un Master en ingenierie de projets en economie sociale et solidaire qui vise apréparer des cadres pour les associations et les ONG…