In the lead-up to the 2018 mid-term elections, there is one particular group of people on every politically-active person’s mind – women. Ever since the 2016 Presidential election which saw Donald Trump win the White House and begin his administration attacking women’s rights and many others from day one, women have risen up in great number to protest, march, organize, strategize and make themselves heard.
Perhaps the singular greatest thing about his election that we can point to is the huge wave of women running for office and winning, all across the country, from local all the way to federal elections. Emily’s List cited the #resistance as the reason behind the 1000% increase in the number of women expressing interest in running for office since 2016.
Analysis from the Associated Press has found that over 300 women have filed papers declaring their candidacy for the mid-terms in November. After the stunning and narrow victory of Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama’s special election, where he beat Republican Roy Moore (who was mired by multiple child molestation accusations), the deeply Republican state is seeing a record wave of black women running for office. This is particular notably because it was Democratic black women who overwhelmingly handed the victory to Doug Jones, and they are clearly ready to take positions of leadership themselves.
Simply put, there has never been a better time for women to run for office across America, and while the majority of the victories and candidates we are seeing happen to be progressive, there are conservative women also running. One organization, VoteRunLead, are helping women from across the political spectrum foster their desire to run. They are the nation’s largest and most diverse non-partisan non-profit that trains women to run for office and win, and they have just partnered with WeWork, a platform for creators, to empower women by holding campaign training seminars at WeWork locations throughout the United States.
They kicked off with a launch event in Washington D.C on May 22, and throughout their multi-city training sessions special guests such as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Elise Jordan, TIME columnist, MSNBC and NBC News contributor; Alicia Menendez, Amanpour and Company, PBS, contributing editor at Bustle; Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar, the nation’s first Somali-American elected to the U.S. legislature; and more.
We had the opportunity to speak with VoteRunLead CEO and Founder Erin Vilardi as the initiative began to get a sense of why this moment in politics is an important one to take note of, why we need women in office, and how women reading this can throw their hat in the ring.
Tell us how the partnership with WeWork came about?
VoteRunLead is a WeWork member. From already being in the WeWork environment and knowing the company and its members, we knew that a WeWork partnership would be a great fit for scaling our training program and providing resources for female members of the co-working giant. It’s a place that engages and cares about its members and fosters that community to make a real difference for our future.
This is why it is the perfect place to start a partnership. Good ol’ fashion networking revealed a connection between our board chair and their public affairs lead. Magic happened when our teams met, as both entities are aligned on women’s leadership, both as future candidates and entrepreneurs.
We’ve seen women’s movements make history in the past, but something feels different about this. Where do you think this movement will lead? Why was it important to have female legislators front and center for this initiative?
What I believe we are feeling differently about the new women’s movement is that it is truly about power. It’s not just getting out to the polls but actually being the one that others are voting for. It’s not just making our voices heard, but setting the agenda and creating the kind of communities and country we want to live in. What is also different about this movement is an understanding about the political system as a vehicle by which women have been unable to access power and set the rules. We recognize that if we want change, we have to write the rules.
And we are seeing it across movements: even Sexual harassment is not about sex, it’s about exerting power over someone else. The #MeToo movement is reclaiming that power. The Women’s March is a manifestation of that power.
Thirty years of research has shown that female legislators do the business of government differently. In fact, we do it better. We pass more bills, bring more money home to our constituents, we open and broaden the agenda, and we do it beyond traditional women’s issues. Female legislators are more likely to work across the aisle to create solutions and to engage their constituents and problem-solving. We’re less ego-driven in how we deal with government and we are more likely to put voters first. Sounds good to me!
For our WeWork collaboration, we are excited to have Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar on hand with us in Washington, D.C., this week to help us launch the VoteRunLead WeWork Women’s Leadership Works #RunAsYouAre candidate trainings. Representative Omar is a VoteRunLead alumna and has forged a new path for immigrant women being the first Somali-American refugee ever elected to the U.S. legislature.
Senator Gillibrand is a champion for the economic empowerment of women and she’s even written books about women leaders getting up off the sidelines and changing the world and has a new book commemorating the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting and protecting women’s right to vote that celebrates ten suffragists who fought for women’s right to vote.
We’re seeing a record number of women running for office across America, which is exciting. What do you think are the biggest contributing factor to this wave?
The biggest contributing factor to a record number of women running for office is that they are saying “yes” to their political ambitions. We’ve long been equally qualified and, research shows, have been winning at equal rates. But for several reasons – the political landscape was not receptive to women – sexism, and the multiple barriers that women of color, women from low-income households or young women face seemed even more overwhelming.
But when women woke up on November 9, 2016, and saw a man with no political or military experience elected to the highest office in the land, the ideas about being under-qualified washed away. It also seems that many issues — across the political spectrum — were at stake, including women’s issues that felt like battles we’d won long ago. Those dual motivations, coupled with the increased racism and sexism in our culture, has galvanized more women to run and seek power to transform the entire system.
We’re seeing the impact of the Women’s Marches, March for our Lives, and the #MeToo movement changing the level of civic engagement especially among young people. How can we ensure these events lead to tangible action?
In order to ensure that these movements have long-term impact we have to transition from protester to politician. Some of us need to play a leadership role inside and outside of formal systems of power. We need more female movement leaders and we need more female legislators so that the conversation between the citizenry in the government is not one of convincing or adversarial or a lack of understanding between two parties, but is instead the powerful combining of activism and agenda-setting power that is needed for long-term, permanent movement impact.
What would you say are some of the biggest topics of concern for women who are running for office, and why?
We did an interesting poll with the Bustle Digital Group recently and a previous poll with Marie Claire Magazine that showed that women are leading busy lives, but they want to figure out how to fit public service into them. At VoteRunLead, we show women how running for office and politics can fit into their lives that already include so many responsibilities.
This is true for millennial women as well as moms with kids and women of any age. We also know that economic factors weigh heavily on the decision to run. Making a living wage or having a successful career matters and we need to demystify how a career in government and politics can be fruitful.
Finally, women don’t want to give up the passions and energy that has brought them to thinking about politics in the first place. That is why at VoteRunLead we teach women to #RunAsYouAre. This means that you have don’t have to give up parts of yourself in order to be a public official. We’re changing the narrative about what kind of person runs for office and its changing the hearts and minds of women who are now seeing politics as a place to get things done.
It was also exciting to see a high number of Black and Latina women indicating their interest in running for office. Why is it important to see a diverse cross-section of women in office?
Our recent March poll with Bustle Digital Group show that some of the highest excitement around running for office was with Latina and African-American women. This is exciting because we’re seeing a transition from voting power to electoral power. Particularly with an African American communities who have had high voter turnout and high community engagement, African American women are now on deciding that they are the ones to lead their communities.
Latinas are some of the most underrepresented populations in Government. Research from Latinas Represent demonstrates how few Latinas are holding public office, with only one percent of Latina’s in office. There are bright spots around the country including VoteRunLead alumna Crisanta Duran, who serves as the Majority Leader and Speaker of the House in the Colorado State Assembly.
It’s important to see both black and brown women leaders represented to increase the “role model effect” and accelerate the number of black and brown women in public office. But it’s even more important because research shows us that diverse women bring diverse perspectives, have new ways to provide solutions, attain leadership positions by carving new pathways, can speak directly to the issues facing their communities, and, specifically African American women, have been shown to advance more legislation on women and African American issues in state legislatures.
How does VoteRunLead typically identify potential candidates and support them?
We’ve been training women to run for office since 2004. Therefore, we are lucky to have a beautiful, diverse, alumni network across the country that endorses and shares our high-impact resources with others. We are most interested in identifying future candidates, women who are going to run between now and the next two election cycles, because we provide the right tools to make sure that they are creating and running successful campaigns.
We’ve got fantastic on-linen and in-person training resources for women who are running right now and finding us with an easy Google search. We are also distributing our trainings and tool-kits on social media. We’re hosting events across the country and, of course, our in-person trainings sell out. It’s what makes the partnership with WeWork so exciting. Now, we’ll be able to move faster to meet the needs of the tens of thousands of women who are raising their hands to run.
If someone reading this wanted to get engaged and get in touch about running for office, what should they do?
Head over to VoteRunLead.org and check out the “how to run” section for resources on running for office. We are training in different cities across the country between now and September including New York, Miami, Austin and Chicago with our new WeWork “Women’s Leadership Works” partnership, and in Philadelphia and Albuquerque with United State of Women, we will be at the Black Millennial Convention in Washington DC, and Netroots Nation happening in New Orleans in August.
All of our online classes are free, so you can get started right away. I’d suggest the #RunAsYouAre 90-Day Challenge to kick off your political career. You can also find a fantastic community of women in our Facebook Group and you’re invited to join us there and share your leadership.