Knitting While Elected
As an elected representative on the Otsego County board of representatives in upstate New York, one of the few things I miss about our two years of pandemic-era virtual meetings is knitting during Zooms.
No one could tell what I was doing with my hands outside of the Zoom frame. Nor could anyone tell that I was rocking an outfit mullet: nice shirt on top, pajama pants on the bottom.
It’s great to be meeting in person again—for us, sharing a room smooths over some of the partisan divides because it’s hard to see someone as less than human when you are sharing the same air. But I miss the feeling of fidgeting productively for hours on end. Knitting occupies my monkey mind and helps me focus on the talk around me. And there is so much talk. So. Much.
Somebody Has to Do It
A decade ago, I would have laughed at the idea of running for office. Even local politicians seemed smarmy. But then the 2016 election happened. I realized how much I took for granted when it came to policy and laws, especially for anyone who is not a white, college-educated, cis-gendered, middle-age woman of average means in rural New York.
Here, our local elections are held in the odd years (and I’ll invite you to write your own joke). I expected the Otsego County Democratic Committee to tell me to donate my time and money to the cause. Instead, I found myself running for a county board seat, which was still a donation but not the one I’d anticipated.
The odds of unseating the Republican incumbent were not in my favor. I knit about a billion easy scarves when not collecting signatures to get on the ballot, knocking on doors, and asking for contributions. By election day in 2017, I knew I’d done all I could. If I lost, I’d finally get to think about something else and maybe take a nap. If I won, I’d have a whole new set of problems to worry about.
I never did get to take that nap.
Governing Through a Pandemic
I’m running for my fourth term this year (and if you’re in the City of Oneonta’s Wards 3 and 4, I’d like to earn your vote in November). It’s been a wild ride. The challenges we had before 2020—affordable housing, poverty, and substance abuse—were backburnered during our pandemic response. We scrambled to get the basics of governing done in a region where internet service robust enough for Zoom is spotty at best. All the issues we faced before simmered unnoticed while we focused on what was actively on fire.
Through two years of virtual meetings, I knit Martina Behm’s Hitchhiker scarves, my go-to mindless pattern and a great way to use up all of the souvenir skeins I’d acquired over the years. There was just enough room between my desktop and the tissue box I propped my laptop on to hide my hands. It’s great to be able to go out and collect more souvenir skeins now that we’re more free to move about the country, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the freedom to knit.
The Trouble Now
So why not just knit on with abandon in the board chambers now? It’s not that complicated. Most people don’t knit and, therefore, don’t realize how much needles and yarn aid listening rather than distract from it.
It’s one thing to knit in a work meeting, where most of your co-workers accept how we all work in different ways. It’s another thing when you have to reapply for your job every other year. I’m already an outlier on the 14-member board: I didn’t grow up in the area; I’m a Democrat; I’m female. I’m not sure I can add knitting during meetings to the list.
But being a knitter gives me the perfect frame for how to make lasting progress: Creating durable change is like knitting a sweater. Casting on is exciting. Each individual stitch isn’t worth much alone but is crucial to the project. Sometimes, all your hard work is ripped out, either by your own hand or by an outside force. Some parts—like sleeves—feel like they will never end.
Once the actual knitting is done, there’s still more work with seaming and blocking. Even then, you don’t know if your end product will fit the person it is intended for, much less if it will look halfway flattering.
Despite all that, a knitter will still knit, if only because the act of making something new is fulfilling. For me, at least, that’s the political process, too. Despite the frustrations, all the stitches will make something new and, I hope, better than what came before.