I’m running for the Illinois Sixth Congressional District to defeat Republican Peter Roskam, a representative who doesn’t listen, doesn’t engage with his constituents, refuses to hold town halls, takes large amounts of lobbyist and special interest money, votes the Trump line, and shows little empathy for those he serves.
Why am I, a bookseller, running for Congress? It would be easy to say that last November’s election was the last straw, or that I made up my mind after marching in Chicago’s Women’s March and Science March that I really needed to do more to engage with national politics. Yes, these were definitely factors, but my political journey began earlier.
Two and a half years ago, I was elected a city councilwoman in Naperville, Ill. In that role, I fight for fair housing initiatives, transparency and openness, balanced budgets, city efficiencies, sales tax fairness, and a welcoming city proclamation. All the skills, community involvement, activism, and friendships I have gained from my life as a bookseller, an ABA board member, and ABA president encouraged me to run.
Working in our five-generation family businesses from the age of 11, I often heard my grandma’s mantra: support your local merchants, support your community, because when you invest in your community they’ll invest in you. Independent booksellers know this all too well; it’s second nature to us. Our communities would not be as vibrant without us, and our stores would not exist without our communities. As with bookselling, I am running for Congress to invest in my community.
Another reason for me to run for Congress is family history. My great-grandfather ran for Congress in 1946, a strong Democrat in a Republican district. He was a huge supporter of F.D.R. and the New Deal, and public service was very important to him. He lost business as a result of talking politics, and he lost that election, but he had garnered more votes than any Democrat before him. I want to try for that seat again.
Our bookselling toolboxes include skills that are missing in Congress:
› Serving our customers and community
› Listening to our customers’ needs, complaints, and opinions
› Engaging our customers with new ideas and thoughtful conversation
› Creating safe spaces where opinions, opposing views, and beliefs are respected
› Treating employees, the community, and each other with generosity of spirit
› Standing up and speaking out for what matters to us
› Working diligently on efficiencies, budgets, and bottom lines
› Building bridges through outreach to a huge variety of groups in our cities, towns, and villages
› Compromising and collaborating in-store and beyond
› Encouraging and instilling empathy
What it comes down to is this: if booksellers treated their customers like many of our current U.S. Congress members treat their constituents, we would have been out of business long ago. We love the face-to-face interaction of talking to readers and customers about what they’re looking for. The art of handselling is so much more than making a sale—it’s cultivating relationships and trust. We listen, we share, we engage, we serve—much of what it takes to run for office and so much of what is missing in politics today.
Bookselling has taught all of us well. I am encouraging and nudging my friends in indie bookselling to consider jumping in to run for office. We’ve got the tools! Let’s fix this mess.
Becky Anderson is co-owner with her two brothers of Anderson’s Bookshops, with three locations in the Chicago suburbs: Naperville, Downer’s Grove, and La Grange.