Run! Run, women, run!

In the last post I brought up the fact that women make up 51 percent of the US population, but make up only 19 percent of Congress and 24 percent of statewide and legislative offices.  The reason for the imparity is not because women aren’t winning their elections, it’s because they aren’t running!

So you might be asking haven’t more women aren’t stepping up to put their name on the ballot. After all, it was nearly 25 years ago that Claire Sargent, a senatorial candidate said, “I think it’s about time we voted for senators with breasts.  After all, we have been voting for boobs long enough.”

Based on my professional experience, here are some of the most common reasons women choose not to run for office:

  • No one has asked them—women think they need to be asked to run for office, and not just once by one person, but multiple times by number of people.  I think this is because some want to know that she will be welcomed by the establishment before throwing her hat in the ring. I think others may have never considered it before so it take some convincing.
  • They don’t think it’s their turn—even after they are asked, a women will stay out of the race if they think there another person who has been considering running for office longer than them.
  • Politics is brutal—many women don’t like the nature of politics so even if they think they would be the best candidate they do not want get involved. But, if more women don’t get involved the tone and tenor of campaigns will never change.
  • They don’t think they are wealthy enough—what you give to your campaign is your time and energy—NOT your money. We don’t want government run only by the wealthy because they don’t often don’t accurately represent the working folks.  It’s true that a political campaign, even at the local level, can be very expensive, but you should not spend your money.  That’s why there are fundraisers.
  • They are the primary care taker of their kids—women don’t think they can balance their responsibilities as a mother and an elected official. This is difficult, but the women I know who have children and are elected feel like being a leader is the best lesson they can teach their children.
  • They don’t think they are qualified—even the most successful women tend to be less confident, judge themselves more critically, and carry their failures with them longer than then men.

During the election many of us read this quote by artist and college professor Michelle Vitali:

“Imagine a women who showed up [to a presidential debate] unprepared, sniffling like a coke addict and interrupting the opponent 70 times.  Let’s further imagine that she had 5 kids by 3 men, was a repeated adulterer, had multiple bankruptcies, paid zero federal taxes and rooted for the housing crisis in which many thousands of families lost their homes.  Wait…there’s more: she’s never held any elected office in her life.”

On January 22, the day after the “Women’s March” 500 woman got together to learn how to run for office.  The training was held by EMILY’s List and provided concrete steps women can take to prepare to run for office, even if that might be a number of years down the road.  There are a number of groups that provide training to women to give them all the tools they need to run at every level.  In addition to EMILY’s list, I encourage you to check out Emerge and Run for Something.  All of these training programs will give you the tools you need to mount a successful campaign and overcome many of the fears women that keep women from running for office.

If this past election has taught us anything, it is that there are no formal qualifications needed to hold office. Politics is different than other professions.  There is no training like doctors or lawyers or teachers.  Life is all the training you need and government works best when a variety of backgrounds and experiences are represented.  So women, you are out of excuses.  If more women don’t run for office then there will never be more women in office, and things will never change.  It’s that simple.

I predict (as do many others) that women will be running for office in record numbers in the future.  Participating in a training program will significantly increase your chance of success.  Not only do will they give you the skill you need to be a candidate, they also give you an automatic network of support.  If you don’t think the programs I mentioned are for you then leave a comment and I will try to point you in the right direction!  There are quite a few training programs out there.  I mentioned the few with which I am most familiar.

I am hoping that there are a few people out there reading this who are in office, are running for office or have been through a training.  Please leave a comment and tell us about your experiences.  Let us learn from you and applaud you for being in the room where it happens.

Women! We’ll get the job done!

Miriam-Webster defines feminism as:

  1. the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
  2. organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

Seeing millions of feminist around the world march to celebrate diversity and share a common vision was nothing short of amazing.  They are saying it is was the biggest gathering to ever come together and I was proud to be part of such a historic day.

Since the election I have heard a lot of comments about the need for women to take over the world.  Many people, myself included, are confident that women are the ones who can bring about the change of inclusivity and respect.  I love this attitude!  But, I don’t think everyone advocating the women’s movement appreciates the weight of their words.   Politics is full of an unintended consequences and I believe that an unintended consequence of the 2016 Election is that “woman” is becoming synonymous with “liberal.”  This line of thinking is not only damaging to the women’s movement, but also runs counter to feminism and what the marches on Saturday were all about.  The feminist movement re-ignited last weekend cannot be about conservative versus liberal.  It needs to be about women supporting women regardless of our differences.

Women make up 51 percent of the US population, but make up only 19 percent of Congress and 24 percent of statewide and legislative offices.  These numbers plummet when talking about women of color and other minority groups.  If we are going to get serious about solving the serious problems that face our communities then we have to get more women into leadership roles.  To change our current situation we must have a process that allows us to hear from those whose opinions differ from ours.  We don’t have to agree with each other, but we should at least understand and respect each other.

News Flash:  women’s issues are human issues!  Women care about the economy, healthcare, civil rights, safety and education.  And when it comes to finding solutions, there is no one-size-fits-all.  Each of us want different things for our families and communities.  If the feminist movement is going to be revitalized we must include all viewpoints.

There is a lot of research out there confirming the inclusivity women, regardless of their political persuasion, demonstrate as problems solvers.  For women, the process of solving the problem is just as important as the solution to the problem itself.  Alternately, men tend to put more emphasis on the efficiency and speed of solving the problem.  In an article in the Huffington Post Ellen Malcom, founder of EMILYS List said “the ability to negotiate across party lines is one of the wonderful things about having female lawmakers…women cooperate and work together to create compromises that keep the government going in a positive direction.”

The march last Saturday was not just about women’s equality.  The marchers also spoke out for racial and LBGTQ equality.  They encouraged acceptance and tolerance for all religions.  They urged us to protect the environment and make sure future generation have access to open lands.  They pushed for fair working conditions for all.  Quite simply, they discouraged violence and brutality and inspired love and acceptance.  Comedian Ellen DeGeneres said “when you connect with that love and that compassion, that’s when everything unfolds,” and that’s how we must approach today’s feminism if we are going to close the gender gap and find lasting political, economic and social equality.

So, you might be asking “what can I do to lead this new revolution?”  I know from experience that it can seem overwhelming and hard to know where to start.  The organizers or the Women’s March are launching a 10 Actions/100 Day Campaign.  The first action is writing a letter to your US Representative or Senator.  They give you step-by-step detailed instructions that are practical and unintimidating.  If at any point along the way you have questions or are not sure what to do next then just leave a comment and ask!  I am sure you will not be the only person thinking it and we all need stick together.

No matter where you come from you have something valuable to add to this conversation.  Now, go say it!

Stand Together and Celebrate Diversity

How often to do we really get to celebrate diversity?

Well, this Saturday, January 21 over a million people across the globe will be doing just that!  They will be participating in the Women’s March to “stand together in solidarity with our partners and our children for the protection of our right, our safety, our health and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength our country.”*

The movement is women led and will bring together people of all genders, ages, races, cultures, political affiliations and backgrounds to highlight the inequalities we all face every day.  When the organizers got started just after the election they envisioned thousands of women coming together in Washington, DC to stand up for equality for all.  In the two months since, the event has grown to 616 sister marches all over the world and participation is expected to be close the 1.5 million people.  How cool is that?

I plan on attending my local march with a group of friends and I hope you will to!  It is an easy way to step up and take the lead.  All you have to do is find a march near you, call a few friends, and get marching!

Audre Lorde, an African American writer, feminist,and civil rights activist, said “It is not our differences that divide us.  It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”  This Saturday we march together and celebrate!

 

*Women’s March vision statement

Looking Back. Moving Forward.

First, a HUGE thank you to my brother, Eric Whitacre, for his support and for promoting my first post!  I don’t know that I would have ever had the moxie to start this without his encouragement.  And really, nothing like being thrown down the slide head first.  Really, aren’t that what older brothers are for?

So, welcome, everyone!  I truly appreciate the kind, encouraging and positive response. It’s exciting to have so many dynamic people want to be involved in the conversation.  I also want to thank your for your suggestions to improve the blog and for your patience as I work out the kinks and get up to full speed.  Now, let’s do this thing.

I want to take us back to November 8, 2016—Election Night.  For many of us, that evening and the following days were devastating.  But why?  As an experienced political operative I have lost many elections.  You do not take this personally.  It is business.  You win some and you lose some, and you take time to reflect only as a learning tool so you can do it better next time.

I am not emotional person—at least when it comes to politics—so it was odd for me to feel so let down by the outcome of an election.  For my own sanity I had to figure out why.  Was I getting soft?  Did I not have the temperament for this work anymore?

After some contemplation I thought the sense of loss I was feeling after this elections was because I just don’t agree with Donald Trump’s vision, but that answer was too convenient and didn’t make sense.  There have been many times in my career where the people who got elected were not the people I supported, but it never got to me the way this year’s outcome did.  So why did this election feel personal?  I didn’t even work on the Clinton Campaign.  I had to go back to the drawing board, and it took me a few weeks to figure it out.

In the end, my feelings of loss stemmed from the very real gender gap still alive and well in the United States, but that I didn’t want to admit was there. We’ve all heard the statistic that women in the United States earn 78.3 cents for every dollar a man earns.  And women are continually reminded that it is harder for women to get ahead in the work place.  But, I think that most women believe that if they keep their head down and show their value that they can buck this trend.

For me, this election was different because it was an extraordinarily public, real life example that the most qualified person doesn’t get the job, even though they go the most votes.  White men that make up the states that gave Trump the majority in the Electoral College decided the fate of women for the next four years. The citizens did not chose Trump. The Electoral College process, a corner stone of our democracy let us down. It made me, as a women, feel helpless.

Now, I say this not to start a debate about whether or not the most qualified candidate won. I say this because for me it was important to find the root cause of what I was feeling if I was going to continue to believe in the goodness of our democracy.  If I wasn’t able to process why this election was different then I would have gotten stuck in the emotion of it and not moved forward.  It’s my hope that my self-reflection will hit home with others.  It’s this common understanding of what many of us are feeling and why that will allow us to make positive change together.

Hillary Clinton said “take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”  I am heeding those words of advice. The truth in the outcome of this election is that a gender gap exists in the United States, and it should be taken seriously.  I learned that I can no longer keep my head in the sand about it and I can’t let it roll on by without doing something about it.

Wanna be in the room?

Welcome to In the Room Where It Happens, a place to explore the topic of women in leadership roles in post 2016 Election world.  Our democracy should be representative of the people it serves and we need more women in the room where it happens—where the decisions are being made!  This doesn’t mean that we just need more women in elected office, we also need them working on campaigns, leading industries, and getting involved in their community.

As I start this experiment I want to set a foundation that is truthful, and to make this a place where ALL points of view are welcomed and respected.

First, I will disclose I am a Democrat.  I believe in Democratic values and I am not ashamed to admit it.  I am also not ashamed to admit that I love when people question my values and engage me in a good dialogue.  The only way we are going to become more thoughtful and tolerant of each other, and move forward in a positive and productive way, is understand each other’s point of view.  This is my way of saying that I hope Republicans and non-partisans will feel welcome in this discussion.

Second, I have spent my entire professional life in politics.  My time has been spent on campaign strategy and lobbying.  This blog will be based on my experiences and the things that are on my mind after 18 years of doing this work.

Next, as someone who has been doing this for almost two decades I sometimes say things as if they are self-explanatory when they are not.  If you are new to political discussions please ask questions.  I want this to be approachable and understandable to everyone.  If there is a term, acronym or idea that is not clear, please don’t hesitate to say so.

And lastly, I am an extremely private person and the thought of starting a public blog is absolutely terrifying.  This is the first time I have ever dared to share my personal views in a public forum.  I am bound to mess this up.  I welcome suggestions to make this a safe environment that fosters a respectful dialogue about women in leadership roles.  In the end, I will have been successful at this endeavor if women embrace their value and find inspiration to use it.

The very insightful Tina Fey said “You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the water-slide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” So, here goes…