Pilot program to help young women run for political office



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Regina Moore was calling roll at a city council meeting in 2004 when she suddenly looked up.

“I seriously thought in my head, ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’” she said. “It was all men on the city council in Bloomington. It was unbelievable. How did this happen?”

Moore was elected city clerk in 1999. After her realization, she recruited a group of women to go to Columbus, Ohio, for training on how to run for political office. Moore said about half of the women who came with her ended up running for something.

That was the start of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, which Moore helped found to support, recruit, inspire and train Democratic women to run and participate in the electoral process.

This year, Moore is teaming up with Rachel Guglielmo, a local activist for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, to bring a pilot program to Bloomington focused on training young women on what it takes to run for political office.

The program, Rise to Run, is a national organization and movement focused on developing high school and college-aged women into politically-engaged citizens.

The current average age of American women who run for office is 47, but Rise to Run is working to create a pipeline to ready women to enter politics at a younger age.

“We want to change that dynamic and we want to change it at a young age,” Guglielmo said. “We want women to see political engagement and opportunity to run for political office or help another woman run for political office as a viable possibility.”

Guglielmo heard about Rise to Run from Shannon Watts, who was one of the founders of the Moms Demand Action group. Watts is also a founder of the Rise to Run program.

“I looked into it and was excited about the overall idea and concept of it,” Guglielmo said. “It’s something I really believe in and am very inspired by.”

She said the first person she thought of to work with on Rise to Run was Moore, who already had experience training women to run for political office through her work with the Women's Caucus.

Guglielmo and Moore joined in on national calls with the Rise to Run organization and pitched Bloomington as a location for one of their pilots.

When the two spoke up during the national calls, the national organization thought Bloomington would be a good fit for the program.

Eileen Soffer, a Rise to Run national organizer, said Bloomington was a good selection for a pilot because of Guglielmo and Moore, who were excited and willing to start it in the local community.

In addition, a Bloomington pilot will have resources from both the community and the University. There is already a lot of progressive activism in the community, but its within a state that isn’t completely aligned, Soffer said.

The national organization was looking for that sort of diversity.

Other pilots are located in San Francisco, California; Durham, North Carolina; and Madison, Wisconsin.

This summer, Bloomington’s pilot program will be creating an advisory council. Guglielmo said they want the council to be a diverse group of women in terms of race, economic status, political experience and age.

After the council is created, they are planning a kick-off event in September and will let the group guide the pilot from there. Training programs will be available from the group’s leaders on everything from exposure to different political offices, training on how to run, what it takes, what it takes to help someone run, how to put a campaign team together and more.

In January, training from the national organization will be available for women serious about running for office. The national organization is made of national leaders, including congresswomen, activists and a former governor.

With national and local leaders at the group’s fingertips, Guglielmo and Moore said young women will be immediately connected with a large network of female mentors who can encourage and support them through the political process.

“We want young women to feel that they can, to recognize that they have the skills and the smarts to do it,” Guglielmo said. “And not to think or automatically assume, as young women often do, that surely there’s someone more qualified.”

A study from Brown University called “Why Don’t Women Run for Office?” shows that women are not only less likely than men to consider a candidacy, but they are also less likely to take any of the steps necessary to begin a political campaign.

The study found that one of the largest reasons women don’t run for office is because they are less likely to receive any suggestion or encouragement to seek a political position. 

These suggestions can come from political actors like party officials and elected politicians, or co-workers, friends, spouses or family. Women are less likely to receive encouragement from all of these categories.

The study also found that men are about two thirds more likely to consider themselves qualified to run for political office.

"There are a lot of people whose voices have been left out for a long time,” Soffer said. “It’s not hard to imagine we’d be better off if those doors were widened and more people were let in and shown we can do this.”

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