Rise to Run is a national organization working at the grass roots level to install confidence and skill in young women with political aspirations. The organization’s local branch has been holding a series of information sessions. Last week’s session drew a crowd of 45 women in a range of ages. WFHB Assistant News Director Sarah Vaughan attended last week’s session, and talked with a few of the attendees afterward about their aspirations.
Emma Cannon has long dreamed of working in politics but until recently she hasn’t thought of herself as confident enough to pursue it.
“When you’re a kid there are always like little boys saying I’m gonna be president when I grow up,” Cannon said. “I would have been someone who would have said that but …I thought well I can’t do that, it wasn’t a conscious thought…or anything like that…when I say Hilary Clinton…that was so close I thought, omigosh, I can do that ..she did that.”
A recent high school grad, Cannon attended last week’s information session for Rise to Run, an organization working to get young progressive minded women to run for office.
Rise to Run’s approach is to build a community of young women at the grassroots level, and train them providing an advisory council experienced women to mentor them along the way. The numbers for women running for office is dismal nationally. Just 20 percent of congresspersons are women, and only 25 percent of women hold state elected positions. Indiana has sent less than 10 women to congress during its state history. Rise to Run estimates the average age of women entering politics is 47. They aim to change that by focusing on younger women: high school and college age, up to 30 years of age.
The organization named Bloomington as one of its pilot hubs last May. Rachel Guglielmo, co-coordinator of the local organization, says she thinks there are many young women like Cannon.
“We recognize that already in high school young women are receiving implicit and sometimes explicit message that they are less able or less capable to engage in politics,” Guglielmo said. “We think that it’s important to start that young building their confidence, and building their skills, and their sense that political engagement is a viable option for them.”
Guglielmo says the training will the organizations mentees, or risers, a primer in basic civics, as well as a primer in intersectional feminism.
“We recognize that for young women entering politics, there are barriers we have to confront and have to break down,” she said. “Some of those have to do with the history of women’s engagement in this country, with barriers that extend beyond just being a women, but a woman of color, or a woman with a disability. All of us have multiple aspects to our identities and feminism needs to be inclusive and be able recognize, and help us confront and deal all of those dimensions and aspects of life as a woman that could present barrier to running for office.”
Emma Cannon says she’s looking to Rise to Run to give her the confidence she needs to enter the political sphere:
“I want to be able to speak confidently in political engagements, I want to gain the skills, and a network of people that I can really communicate and learn from so that when I do eventually run for office I will have all these skills that I’ve gained. And I really want to be part of the national training thing, that would be a huge opportunity for me and other women of course.”
IU graduate Lily Ross has already had a bit of a primer on civics and building confidence by working on two campaigns. Ross’s parent were Bernie and Hillary supporters. She says advocacy was ever present in her mind but she never considered working in politics until she volunteered on Elizabeth’s Warren’s 2012 Senate campaign. She said the experience gave her focus and energy.
“I think I went through literally every major they offered… and then as soon as I stepped into a campaign office it all just clicked,” Ross said. “I was like, ‘Oh this is it.’ There’s a very electrifying feeling in campaign offices, organized chaos and it just made sense to me, I really fell in love with it.”
Both Lily Ross and Emma Cannon hope to make it to the national level of Rise to Run grooming, which begins in January. At the national level, they’ll get additional coaching on how to deal with nasty campaigns. Guglielmo says the training is designed for that age group.
“I can say with a fair amount of confidence that we’ll be taking them through practical exercises,” Guglielmo said. “We’ll be practicing taking an interview and confronting a hostile line of questioning; practicing debate…you’re in a debate and you are….confronted with, let’s just say, a lack of kindness or consideration in your debating partner, you have to know how to deal with that. There are techniques, and I think rather than see that as a reason to disengage, we want our young women feel confident that they know what to do when that happens.”
I asked Lily and Emma whether they would be put off by the prospect of being embroiled with opposition who play dirty.
Lily: “No. Not at all. It actually excites me more than anything, I think.”
Emma: “No. No, um, if anything it revs me up if anything. I would say that I’m very compete tive by nature. The idea that someone would try to smear my reputation would, if anything, make me want to fight harder.”
To support their mentees, Guglielmo says the organization is building a community of mentors as well:
“So we’re trying to build a community here, it’s about the young women we’re supporting but it’s also about connecting them with older women in their lives and in their communities who have been through some of these same things before, confronted some of these same issues, who have learned from their experience and are eager to share it.”
Monroe County Treasurer Jessica McClellan was one of several more experienced women who attended last week’s meeting with the goal of mentoring “risers.” McClellan was 37 when she launched her campaign for the treasurer’s seat, younger than the average age a woman enters politics and a little older than Rise to Run’s target audience. It was her first campaign for elected office. As self-described introvert, McClellan’s message for aspiring politicians is you don’t have to be an extrovert to run for office.
“Where I feel I can help young people is, while they’re growing, and they’re trying to learn about where they fit into the process of who they want to become,” McClellan said. “They don’t have to hold themselves back, they don’t have to say oh I’m not that kind of person who would run for office because I’m kinda quiet, I’m kinda shy, or I’m an introvert, you can still do it if you are that kind of person. We need all kinds of people to run for office, because once you win your election it’s a completely different job. And your personality may be better suited to doing the job you want to run for than, say, an extrovert who is really good at talking all day.”