By Lynn Yeakel
This year marks the 25th anniversary of “The Year of the Woman,” when a record number of women, including me, ran for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Most of us stepped forward because of the way Anita Hill was treated during her testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Four women won their Senate races and 24 won in the House, doubling the number of women in Congress virtually overnight.
Now, a quarter of a century later, women’s interest in public office is increasing once again. Just last week, the Associated Press reported that state elections are seeing an infusion of first-time women candidates. Political training organizations that typically receive a few hundred calls per year are now fielding thousands each month.
This is good news for Vision 2020, which has set a goal of 50-50 shared leadership among women and men in the U.S. Congress and state legislatures.
My personal experience as a U.S. Senate candidate in “The Year of the Woman” 25 years ago changed my life in many ways. Although I narrowly lost the general election and was not one of those 28 new women in Congress in 1992, everything I’ve done since has benefitted from that unforgettable adventure.
Here are five reasons I encourage women to run for office:
1. You will get to know people you otherwise might never meet. Much of your time as a candidate is spent talking with voters, and in my case in Pennsylvania, that included steelworkers, teachers, college students, farmers and more. These interactions enrich your understanding of other peoples’ lives and concerns.
2. You will make connections that outlast the campaign. Running for office connects you to donors and other political leaders. If you win, their support will help you carry out your agenda while in office. If you don’t win, you are still left with personal ties to powerful individuals who can collaborate with you on future endeavors.
3. You will learn valuable life lessons. There is nothing quite like a political campaign. Once the campaign trail dust settles, you will come away from the experience with some of the most valuable lessons of your life, including:
- The realization that you are more resilient than you thought. Having run for office, you feel as though you can tackle anything. You will be less afraid to take new risks, which can help you realize your full potential and make a positive impact on the world around you.
- The power to inspire others with positive messages. Most people are looking for hope and the courage to make needed change.
- The value of loyal friends and allies. I will always remember the women and men who joined me in my against-all-olds Senate campaign and who stood with me throughout the inevitable ups and downs of that experience.
4. There are many people and organizations ready to help you succeed. When I ran for office for the first time in 1992, I had the good fortune of fundraising support from EMILY’s List, the Women’s Campaign Fund and other relatively new groups at the time, but in terms of putting a campaign structure in place, I had to start from scratch. Today, new women candidates have so many more resources to turn to for education, training and support. Some Vision 2020 allies are:
- The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University, which runs non-partisan training programs such as Ready to Run and NEW Leadership™;
- VoteRunLead, which offers in-person and virtual training sessions through its Run As You Are campaign;
- Women’s Campaign Fund, which publishes tip sheets related to the talent, tools and resources needed to run a successful campaign;
- The Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, which holds workshops titled Pipeline to Public Office and Pipeline to Local Office;
- Women’s Funding Network, which will host Women Funded 2017: Tools for Turbulent Times in September – a two-day conference mobilizing support and funding for women’s and girls’ initiatives;
- Women’s Media Center, which runs the Progressive Women’s Voices media training program to prepare and position women for news interviews
5. You may win! And when you do, you will not only change your own life but the lives of many others.
We often hear “somebody ought to do something.” Perhaps that “somebody” is you!