If you are like me, you have found your anxiety and fear growing in the weeks following the election. The first few weeks of the Trump administration certainly have not helped as we have watched with a sense of dread as each new executive order seems to chip away at the core values we associate with being an American in general, and especially a WOMAN in America. Its easy to become overwhelmed by the bad news that is coming through our television sets and newsfeeds on a daily basis.
But if you are looking for the silver lining to what some are calling a national nightmare, rest assured – there is one. And it’s pretty inspiring.
Since the presidential election of 2016, groups that recruit and train women to run for office have noted an extraordinary surge of interest from women seeking information about their programs. In theory, a Clinton victory would have ignited a crew of inspired women to follow in her footsteps, but it turns out the election of an openly misogynistic man declaring war on several fundamental women’s issues has created the largest uptick in women interested in running for office these groups have ever seen.
While there are more women in elected positions within Congress today, women still only make up less than one-fifth of both houses. Things are a bit mixed at the state level, but some states report that women make up a SMALLER portion of the State Legislature than they did a decade ago, and a 2015 analysis of nationwide mayoral elections reported that only 19.3 percent of candidates were women. Here in North Carolina, women make up more than 54% of registered voters, but hold less than 25% of elected and appointed offices.
Feel depressed by those numbers? Don’t be.
With increasing frequency over the last few election cycles, when women in North Carolina run, they WIN. In 2014, for example, 25 percent of the candidates across North Carolina were women, but 63 percent of those candidates won. We are literally standing on the cusp of a historic moment for women in our state and we just need women to step up and grab it.
With that information in hand, let’s back up a minute. There are organizations that recruit and train women to run for office? Yes there are. And this is why they are important: Research has shown that, in comparable races, women are elected and re-elected at the same rates as men. This is great news, but the number of interested women intending to run slacks off greatly in the off season.
Groups that work to meet the needs of women considering candidacy have accumulated decades of data, and have noted specific gender based obstacles women interested in running for public office face. Chief among them is the age old problem of family life balance and the lack of disposable time and income. Other factors include lack of role models, fear of the “likability factor” that has plagued Hillary Clinton’s career, and an incorrect but pervasive notion that one needs experience in the public sector and a strong background in political science to run for office.
Even more frustrating? One of the biggest obstacles to women entering political races is simply that they don’t get asked. And if you are wondering like I was, “Do men get ASKED to run for office?”? The answer is a resounding YES. According to the bipartisan Center for American Women in Politics (CWAP), men are recruited for political office at higher rates than women at EVERY. LEVEL. OF. GOVERNMENT.
Wanna change that? Well, let me introduce you to a few groups that can help. The last two decades have seen a rise in the number of organizations devoting themselves to training and recruiting women to run for elected office. Groups like EMILY’S List began training and recruiting women into the political pipeline across the country in 2001 and were quickly followed by groups like Elect Her that target college age women, and She Should Run, a nonpartisan group that targets women who are curious about running for elected office but not ready to build a campaign. Here in North Carolina specifically, we have Lillian’s List, a group devoted to recruiting women to run for public office in North Carolina and helping them win. All of these groups are great resources for women interested in dipping their toes in the political arena and many offer workshops and informational forums in and near North Carolina.
All of these recruiting groups have one factor on which they all agree: A political star is not born, she is made. A woman who wants to change something in her community makes the best candidate, but she needs a support system to build her political base and train her in the ways of the political wilds, and we are lucky to live in a time where there are plenty of organizations willing to do that with us.
The bottom line is that we cannot allow the momentum of this moment to wane. What is certain without any room for argument, is that having so few women in elected positions has not gotten us where we want to be. Women’s issues are not being addressed and protected because we are not in there getting it done. How do we fix this? We run. We run now. We just need YOU to make it happen.