Empowered and trained to seek elected office

After the Jan. 21 march, hundreds of women learn how to run for office.

BY VERA BERGENGRUEN
TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – The day after the Women’s March brought half a million people to Washington, 500 women from across the country spent Sunday learning how to run for office.

Thousands gather for the Women’s March on Jan. 21 in Washington, D.C. Similar protests were held around the world..
(CAROLYN COLE/LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS)

The candidate training held by EMILY’s List, the largest Democratic women’s group in the country, focused on overcoming the “intimidation factor” when navigating political campaigning, especially for women of color. It was the group’s largest training event.

“We still have ceilings to break, even inside our Democratic Party,” said Muthoni Wambu Kraal, senior director of state engagement and development at EMILY’s List.

‘Barriers are high’
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., told the women about breaking through as the first Indian-American woman in the House of Representatives.

“As a woman of color in particular, barriers are high. They’re very high,” she said, encouraging women to pursue their point of view in elected office.

“It’s important, not only because of the color of our skin or anything like that, (but) because of the experience that we bring in from our different perspectives,” she said. “Don’t think that because you’re not connected to the wealthiest people in the world that you can’t run for office.”

Energized to run
The Women’s March drew millions of protesters in cities across the country and the world, rallying against President Donald Trump’s agenda and for a range of progressive causes.

After the training — during which they chanted “Fired up! Ready to run!” one of former President Barack Obama’s campaign slogans — many women said Trump’s election had energized them to pursue leadership positions.

“This election taught me that you really don’t have to have a long resume to run and to win,” said Whitney Logan of Kansas City. “It’d be nice to have voices in Congress and in state legislatures and on school boards and on city councils that represent their constituents, and aren’t insecure because their resume isn’t six law degrees from Georgetown.”

A dream deferred
With a 2-year-old at home and a part-time job as a psychotherapist, she says she realizes it will be difficult. But the networking from the march and Sunday’s training gave her the push to pursue what she dreamed of doing when she was younger.

Logan said after she recently ran into her third-grade teacher, who reminded her that as a 9-year-old, she wanted to run for president someday.

“I had completely forgotten about that,” she said, laughing. “We have lawmakers back home in Kansas and Kansas City who are vulnerable, and for good reason. Now I feel like I have the tools to do something.”

At any stage
Unlike many of the women at the training, Blanca Rosales admitted that she had not always wanted to seek office. The election changed that.

“I had thought, ‘I’m only 22. I’m not qualified for anything.’ But today reminded me that that’s what women often do,” said Rosales, who lives in Arlington, Va., but wants to go back home to San Antonio and become involved in local government. “We always wait to feel more ready, more qualified. But men, they don’t think twice.”

Michelle McLeod, 50, of Germantown, Md., said she spent much of her life working as an organizer, but now wants more.

“I mean Nancy Pelosi was 47 when she first ran for Congress, you can decide at any stage to run,” she said.

Pushing forward
McLeod said she became an activist after she was discharged from the Navy because of her sexual orientation before the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. She wants to return to San Diego, where she served, and run for office.

EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock said the next four years, under a Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress, must balance “holding the line” on women’s issues like abortion and continuing to push for equal pay and paid family leave.

“We recognize that we have an administration and a Congress that absolutely intends to roll back everything that we have succeeded in getting in the last decades,” she said. “We want to push forward on these progressive policies in states where we can, in cities where we can.”

Not alone
The Women’s March was effective in bringing together women who otherwise might not ever engage with political organizing, Schriock said.

“The most important thing we saw yesterday, the big takeaway, was the numbers of women in rural America, in the middle of America, who came together and realized, ‘I’m not alone,’ ’’ she said. “That’s so empowering, and those are going to be our future candidates.”

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