As a student of American and Women’s History, I have always been passionate about women’s participation in the political realm. When I found out that I received the summer fellowship at the Women’s Campaign Fund in Washington, D.C., I was overjoyed because I knew it would be a learning experience that would determine my future and, perhaps, help me figure out what would I like to do with my life.
The Women’s Campaign Fund (WCF) is an umbrella nonpartisan organization dedicated to dramatically increasing the number of women in elected office who support reproductive choices for all. Under the WCF is their PAC- Political Action Committee- that is a 501(c)4, political organization. This part of the Fund provides money from members or donors to endorsed candidates. Although it is non-partisan, the candidates must be pro-choice. This PAC is different from their non-profit (c)3 side of the Fund. The non-profit side of the Women’s Campaign Fund, a foundation called She Should Run, is their product–the “meat” of the organization. I wanted to work specifically for She Should Run because it deals with how women actually get to the point of running for office at both local and national levels.
There are two programs and one research study under the She Should Run (SSR) side of the Fund. The first is She Should Run In Action. This program presents the problem that women make up only 17 percent of the seats in congress, 23 percent of state legislatures, and only 6 out of 50 gubernatorial seats. How can we as women, over 50 percent of the nation, be adequately represented with such small numbers in our government? SSRIA’s main goal is increase the number of women in government across the country by seriously asking them to run for office.
Statistically speaking, women are less likely to run for office, even at the highest levels of professional life; usually, this is because they do not think they are qualified. However, it is shown that when women do run, they win at equal rates to men. SSRIA is nonpartisan and accepts ALL women running for office. Although the WCF ultimately works toward electing women who believe in reproductive choices, SO few women actually run for office that we need to work on getting more women in races and on the ballots- even if they do not support reproductive choices. Although I personally support only candidates that believe in choice, I see the necessity to be inclusive of all women, no matter their reproductive stances. The foundation’s first step is to have everyone ask a woman to run for office- on a local or national level. Next, after a woman decides to run, She Should Run provides her with local and national resources, monthly e-newletters, tip sheets on basic campaigning, and guidance on how to run a political campaign. We want women to know that they are capable of running for office and that they are not alone in the process.
The second program we run, along with the Women’s Media Center, is Name It. Change It. NICI, as we called it for short, is a vital program that works to end widespread media sexism that women candidates face. The ever-changing media landscape creates an unmonitored atmosphere that often allows damaging comments to exist without accountability. In the past, when women were faced with these disparaging comments, they were told to just ignore them, but this is obviously wrong. In order to erase the pervasive sexism against all women candidates–irrespective of political party or level of office–we must call out the sexism. At Name It. Change It., we teach candidates to hold a press conference or release a statement as soon as the comment in the media is made that the verbalized slander was sexist and unacceptable. If anyone sees or hears sexist remarks against a candidate, she or he can report it to NICI and Women’s Media Center’s blog, which acts a third party to call out the statements as wrong.
The third part of SSR is called Vote With Your Purse. It is a research study that examines trends in women’s political giving and financial power as well as their political fundraising results in election years. Additionally, it provides concrete ideas on how to tap the “power of the purse” for the 2012 elections and beyond. Their data explains that women invest in political campaigns at lower rates because they do not think their money matters in showing support for a candidate and championing her or his issues. The study also shows that when women contribute more to political campaigns, especially to those of women, those candidates attain more power in the political landscape. It is important to give money– even $5– to women candidates that are running, because sadly, money is power.
These are the three programs that the Programs Director and Programs Fellow promote. Although it is hard to believe with so few women who run for office, there are hundreds of different organizations all over the country, partisan and not, that work toward motivating women to run for office. My job at as the Programs Fellow was to maintain our connections and promote our materials to the 94 organizations in the 45 states we represent. Since it is important to maintain these mutual relationships, the Programs Fellow touches base with these entities bi-annually to update them on what is happening with the program and to get feedback on their own organizations. I spoke with the Executive Directors and Programs Directors, updating them on our programs and the roundtable discussions we hosted at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. I fashioned new promotional material for all three SSR programs to offer to our current partners and future partners.
When I arrived we had partners in 45 of the states, but this was something I wanted to change. I was able to research and find various organizations in fifteen states. By the end of the summer, I made partnerships with four new organizations that represented three of the five missing states. She Should Run In Action now has 98 partnerships in 48 states– I am very proud of this accomplishment.
I also helped to build our Leadership Circle Briefings (LCBs) in various states. Our President/ CEO, Sam Bennett, traveled around the country this summer to San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York City (at Annette Taylor and Mayor Bloomberg’s home), Chicago, and Columbus to discuss the political economy and the importance of women running for office. LCBs used to be small salon-like gatherings for donors and members, but this summer they grew to include our partnering organizations, featuring panel discussions by candidates running in these areas. My job was to reach out to our partners, invite them to our events, and discuss whether their Executive Directors would be willing to speak for five minutes about their organizations. All of these LCBs were wildly successful.
Since I am also interested in non-profit development, I asked to be included in some of the developmental tasks of the office. I helped schedule Sam’s time in each city with organizational heads and staffed her at the WCF’s Union-endorsed luncheon. I also attended many political fundraisers for Congresswomen, such as Yvette Clarke of New York’s 11th district, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin’s 2nd district. One of the most invigorating, self-determined, and amazingly vibrant women I have ever met, Sam Bennett is an outstanding CEO/President, and I learned so much from her. She is a true idol when it comes to being a self-starting, motivated woman who is passionate about electing women into office.
My time at the Women’s Campaign Fund not only taught me how a nonprofit geared towards women’s activism is run or how important it is for women to enter politics, but also that I can do whatever it is that I want– and that is to ultimately run for a political office. My first year as a Women’s History student taught me the deeper limitations of women’s freedom in the past and their inability to fight and change the status quo, and my fellowship reaffirmed that we are still fighting the same battles. If we feel the urge, which we should, to change our current positions and the futures of our children, we must take action, change laws and create new legislation. The first step toward change is equal and fair representation in the United States government.
Do you know a woman who has innovative and serious ideas for community, state or national growth? YOU should ask her to run for a local, state or national seat. Are you interested in a summer, fall or spring Fellowship? Please visit SheShouldRun and WCF to learn more. Subscribe to MsRepresentation to receive your weekly dose of irreverent political analysis, bringing election realness to your inbox every Wednesday.
Brittany Chevalier attended undergrad at Wellesley College and is currently a Women’s History grad student at Sarah Lawrence College. Aside from her interest in politics and encouraging women to run for office, she is intensely passionate about New York City history. She self-admittedly watches too much television, loves anything Hello Kitty and is probably going to get a dog soon.