January 23, 2017
Cosmopolitan: How 500 Women Took Action the Day After the Women’s March
by Rebecca Nelson
In a ballroom at a downtown hotel in Washington, D.C., Destiny’s Child’s anthemic throwback “Independent Woman” rang over the speakers. It was early Sunday morning, a little too early, and the 500 women at the Grand Hyatt were sore. The day before, they’d marched — somewhat intermittently due to unexpectedly colossal turnout — down the National Mall to show the self-proclaimed sexual assaulter waking up to his first morning in the White House that they did not approve of his treatment of women, his Cabinet picks, his proposed agenda, his views on established science, his blatant lies. Or, in more succinct terms, “Literally everything about this is so awful that I have no idea where to even start.”
But the next day, Sunday, they were here to learn how to channel their outrage, anger, and despair into real action. Hosted by EMILY’s List, a Democratic group aimed at electing women, the training explained the basics of how to run for office for the first time, from how to pick the right race to the necessity of cleaning up social media profiles. For many, it was a complement to the Women’s March they’d traveled across the country to attend, a day of action that they could take back with them to Mississippi, Colorado, New York. And it was the perfect antidote to Donald Trump’s inauguration.
“Ladies, if you think there are too many barriers for women running, who the heck is going to get rid of them for us?” Muthoni Wambu Kraal, the senior director of state and local campaigns for EMILY’s List, told the crowd, to cheers and applause.
The training mainly focused on how to overcome that insidious feeling of being intimidated — by the commitment, the complexity, the vulnerability — of running for office. Kraal also set out to clear up misconceptions, such as that women who aren’t married, or who have kids, can’t run for office. Rather than obtaining a law degree or even a college degree, Kraal said, women simply must have passion, energy, a willingness to learn, and “skin that can thicken.” And she answered questions women had earlier submitted about running. “I'm interested in running for school board, but I don't have any background in education policy” read one. That shouldn’t hold you back, Kraal advised. (“Just look at Betsy DeVos!” she did not add.) After all, men who run for those offices don’t all have doctorates or master's degrees in education. “This is not rocket science,” Stephanie Schriock, the organization’s president, told the crowd, her voice booming like a motivational speaker's. “I mean, for goodness gracious, the guy who just took over as president has ZERO EXPERIENCE!!!"
Running for office, says Stella Raffle-Wax, a 20-year-old who traveled from Brooklyn, New York, to attend the weekend’s inauguration counterprogramming, “was always in the back of my mind.” But she thought she was too young to seriously consider it for at least a decade. “I was always thinking, like, 'Oh, I need to do XYZ, and then I can run, when I'm 10 years older, when I'm 15 years older. I need to get a law degree, I need to go to grad school, I need to work in X many campaigns, and then I can run my own.” After the election and the training, though, she’s certain she’ll run — and soon. “Those barriers need to be broken. And if I'm the youngest person on New York City council, or if I'm the youngest person in the United States Senate, I deserve to be there.”
In the weeks after the election, as millions of women coped with Hillary Clinton’s loss to the aforementioned pussy grabber, EMILY’s List was flooded: hundreds of calls and emails poured in from women across the country eager to know how they could pick up where Clinton left off.
“We've been doing this for 32 years. Never has anything like that happened before,” Schriock says. “We have women coming to us, saying, 'This is the time. I need my voice heard. My community needs their voice heard.’”
Lacy Wright, a 20-year-old college student from Orange County, California, who attended the training, told me that before the election, she never would have considered running for office. She wanted to be a teacher, to help alleviate the overcrowding she saw at her high school. That changed on election night. ”It's not just Trump. It's all of the local officials, the senators, people who are mostly white males,” she says. “They won't care about my interests. And my voice isn't really represented anywhere.”
The training offered real, tangible advice on how to lay the groundwork for a run, even if it might not happen for five or 10 years. Kraal advised the women to reserve a domain name as soon as possible (“PeopleFor[your last name].com” was one deliberately general suggestion), get involved in their local Democratic club to start building a network, talk to their families about whether and how they could be supportive.
Vanessa Quintana always knew she wanted to one day run for office but Trump’s election made her dream more pressing. The 25-year-old from Denver, Colorado, wants to represent women like herself: women of color, Latinas, young people who grew up in poverty. She currently works at Project VOYCE, a nonprofit focused on youth empowerment. But she hopes to work on education policy, making it easier for black and brown kids to get better educations. “Women tend to lack confidence, need extra motivation, extra initiative to even consider running,” Quintana says. “As opposed to men, like Donald Trump, who needs nothing to just go, right?”
The training struck an optimistic, Rosie the Riveter tone, urging women that they all could pull off a campaign. But running for office is undeniably exhausting, a slog that leaves everyone who undertakes it drained, tests their limits. Pramila Jayapal, a freshman congresswoman from Washington state, finished her first major campaign in November. “It gets hard to remember what your own voice is, because everybody around you is telling you something else,” she says. “For me, it has never been more important to be in office than to be who I am. And that's clear. If I can't be who I am — and win that way — then somebody else should have the seat.”
Jayapal encouraged the women to believe in their own abilities, have a supportive network of friends and family, and to always remember what drives them. After the event, I ask her what small, more concrete tip she would give women before mounting their first campaign. Always bring an extra pair of heels? Hand sanitizer? A purse full of Luna bars?
“A lint roller is actually really important,” she tells me, laughing. “It's amazing how many people come in and sit on couches, and they've got dogs that shed, and then you sit on that couch, and you end up with white hair all over your black skirt.”