By Ash Bruxvoort, Plate to Politics Coordinator
All across the country, women are leading in their communities. After the last presidential election, many women decided to take their leadership skills to a new place: Public office. I was lucky to spend the weekend of November 17-19 at VoteRunLead’s Run As You Are National Training in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with over 200 women from 33 states, for a weekend of skills-based leadership training, networking, and inspirational stories.
Rural Women Are Ready to Lead
Over the weekend, I heard countless stories of women who were filled with a desire to make their communities better. Most of them plan to run for office during the next five years. 86 percent of the women attending the Run As You Are conference were first-time candidates. I attended the conference as a trainer with WFAN’s Plate to Politics program, and my role was to bring together the approximately thirty percent of women from rural communities.
The first night I met many of these women as they filtered into the Target Commons. Our group was initially small. We had around five women join the rural women’s cohort. As the night went on that group grew to over 30 women. While several women were from Minnesota, just as many were not. I know we spoke to women from North Carolina, Alabama, South Dakota, New Mexico, and other states that first night. Rural women shared their passion for human and environmental health, infrastructure, and supporting local businesses with each other.
Oshkii Giizhik Singers led our group back to the Millenium Hotel, where an impressive panel shared their experiences serving in and running for public office. The panel included Catherine Emmanuelle, Eau Claire City Council; Kristen Browde, former candidate for Westchester County Supervisor; Tishaura Jones, St. Louis City Treasurer; Andrea Jenkins, Minneapolis City Council; and Rina Shah, Political Strategist. These women showed the audience that you can truly run as you are–and we need women to run as they are. The panel showed the power of storytelling as a tool for change. Catherine Emmanuelle shared her experience not being allowed to breastfeed during a council meeting and Andrea Jenkins sharing her experience running and winning as a black trans woman. The more women step up, share their stories, and support other women the more we’ll be able to break down the barriers that purposefully keep women out of office. It’s time to build a new house.
Women Can Run As They Are, And We Need Them To
Minnesota House Representative Ilhan Omar continued the inspiring message on Saturday morning when she shared her experience as the first Somali-American elected to the state legislature. One of my favorite quotes from the weekend was hers: “I don’t care if other people like Ilhan. I only need me to like Ilhan. Take it or leave it, I cannot defend who I am as a Muslim, or as a woman.”
We know that men are more likely to apply for a job when they have sixty percent of the qualifications whereas women wait until they have one hundred percent and they will still underestimate their skills. Women already have a wealth of expertise, knowledge, and passion that make them ideal for public office–and they don’t need a law degree or political science background to do it. Times are changing and we must start stepping up to run for office and support other women who are.
For two days, women attended intense workshops on writing and delivering stump speeches, putting together a voter contact plan, building a campaign team, and actions they could take to build their political capital. They also heard first-hand experiences of dozens of women who have run for office or are currently serving in public office.
By the end of the weekend over three-fourths of the women in our rural cohort meet-up had a position in mind that they were running for and a date they were running. Imagine how different food and ag policy would look if we started filling seats with women in food and ag.
This winter we’ll have a series a series of webinars about lesser known (and often nonpartisan) seats we’d love to see women in food and ag fill. To be notified of those upcoming webinars please sign-up for our email list here.
Can’t wait? We love this Protestor to Politician webinar from VoteRunLead.