All around me I see women running, but this is not a marathon. Not in the physical sense at least, I am talking about women running for political office. According to a recent NPR article, groups who work with women in politics report an uptick in interest of women seeking to run for political office since November. Women comprise half of the population, but are highly under-represented at all levels of government. Recently, a New York Times article revealed that “when women run for political office, they are just as likely as men to be elected. The main reason they are so underrepresented is that they don’t run in the first place.” But fortunately the tide is changing.
Why does it matter that women run for political office?
“When women run for office we tend to bring our whole community with us” says Jessica Byrd, founder of Three Point Strategies, a D.C. based political consulting firm that works at the intersection of electoral politics and social justice. “We don’t show up to the ballot box or the meetings alone, we bring the experiences of our families, our schools and our neighbors. A reflective democracy is one where the lived experiences of our leaders matter just as much if not more than if you have a Rolodex full of rich people.”
This got me thinking, if women bring the whole community with them when they participate in the political process, then what is the motivation to inspire more women to run in the future? For that answer I turned to a couple local political candidates to see what inspired them to run.
In 2015 La’Tasha D. Mayes ran for Pittsburgh City Council – District 7 in the Pennsylvania Primary Election. She earned 35 percent of the vote against an incumbent in her first major campaign for elected public office, where she was both the first person of color and openly gay candidate to run for that seat. “I ran for Pittsburgh City Council because I believe in the power of Black women’s leadership to change our communities, nation and the world,” she told HipLatina. “Defying stereotypes and conventional wisdom about who is worthy to serve and lead motivated me to run and demonstrate that a young, Black, lesbian woman can inspire people from all walks of life to organize so change in our political system.”
Marita Garrett, current councilwoman and mayoral candidate in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania cited that her motivation to run was deeply personal. “I run and am civically engaged because of my grandmother and mother,” she explained. “My grandmother instilled the importance of voting in me, as she was born in the South in the 1920s, where she wasn’t allowed to vote. The vote is powerful and we need to match that with more women running for office. We need a government that is truly represented by the people and for the people…and those people include women”
Ready to Run?
JUST DO IT! Don’t doubt yourself or think you need to wait for more experience or that there is someone out there more qualified than you. Your lived experiences as a woman, a daughter, a sister, a mother, a neighbor, a volunteer, a professional, or a student, are enough qualifications for you to run for office.
The best place to begin is right in your own backyard. Follow these tips on staying involved during a tense political time. Start local and small, build your base with those who you know and trust, focus on the issues that affect those around you directly. Make sure you build up a solid political support team with people around you who are familiar with the political process and can help to guide you through what is always an eventful campaign season. But most of all, DO NOT BE AFRAID. Change is scary, but change is necessary. Now is your chance to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Pa’lante mujeres! I’ll see you on the campaign trail!