Throughout her childhood, Glynda Carr, co-founder of Higher Heights for America, received a gift for every major milestone in her life. But the one she'll never forget is her mother driving her to City Hall on her 18th birthday and registering her to vote. Now, she and fellow co-founder Kimberly Peeler-Allen are committed to building an organization of over 75,000 women across the country who support and invest in black women running for office—so they can finally see themselves represented in the elected officials they're voting for.
"After the 2010 election cycle, Kimberly and I started to sketch out what a political organization would look like that was designed and led by black women," recalls Carr. "The conversation pivoted to how we see ourselves as black women in democracy." Carr and Peeler-Allen then spent two years researching and talking to leaders in the space. "We’ve made gains over the last couple of election cycles, but we’re still underrepresented and underserved," Carr says. "Black women know how to do more with less, but we shouldn’t have to."
By now, you’ve heard it 10 times over: a record number of women are running for office—most are winning, some are losing. It's the organizations led by women like Carr and Peeler-Allen that have become the backbone of the historic amount of women politically advancing at the local, state, and federal levels, working day in and day out to make sure they have the resources and tools they need to succeed. For some women, like EMILY's List President Stephanie Schriock, it's their day job. For others, like Lily Herman of Get Her Elected, it's a nightly routine of rounding up volunteers after a 14-hour workday.
With less than two weeks until the American people decide which direction our country will move in, hundreds of volunteers under the helm of these organizations' leaders are dedicating every spare moment not only to make sure these women have a seat at the table, but that they get to sit in it starting November 6.
Here are six candidate organizations, both partisan and nonpartisan, and the powerhouse leaders behind them helping women take back America.
What They Do: EMILY's List elects pro-choice Democratic women to office. Stephanie Schriock is the second-ever president, following Ellen Malcolm who started the nationally-recognized organization in 1985 and served as president for 25 years.
How They Do It: Through tools and resources like online and in-person trainings and webinars, EMILY's List guides candidates through their campaign from start to finish. It typically endorses candidates running for secretary of state, attorney general, and federal offices, including the U.S. House, U.S. Senate, governor, and mayor.
How I Can Join: You can sign up to help a candidate win or register yourself in the system if you're interested in running.
"Adopt a candidate. Find a local woman who’s running for office, walk to to her campaign headquarters, and volunteer. I promise you’ll have a great experience. You’ll meet so many amazing people, and you’re going to get to know a future member of the city council or state legislature. If you want to run in the future, that’s a good connection to make. If you don’t, it’s good as a citizen to know who your elected officials are."
"Getting to know these women who are engaging both as candidates and as staff and volunteers. I get to walk into EMILY’s List every morning—a team of nearly 120-plus young women and a few good young men—who are giving their heart and soul everyday to ensure these brave women willing to put their name on the ballot have backup. I have the best job in American politics right now."
"You have to have a news diet. It’s like pizza. I love pizza, but you just cannot digest it all the time. Find a couple online news sites to get the basics in the morning then again at night. You’re going to make more change by putting the technology down, rolling up your sleeves, and going out to help a candidate. I’m also a growing lover of podcasts and I love to listen to RadioLab. That’s how I break away. If I’m really lucky, I’ll squeeze a hike in every once and a while."
What They Do: Higher Heights is a national membership-based organization dedicated to electing black women to office. Think of it like a politically-charged sorority where women support each other throughout their candidacies and invest in long-term leadership.
How They Do It: It curates a place for black women and their allies to be informed, engaged, and take action through its PAC, webinars, and salons hosted throughout the country. Higher Heights also conducts an annual research report to track black women’s political participation as elected officials and voters.
How I Can Join: Become a member and participate in events across the country here.
"What pulls you off the sidelines? It’s one of the most politically toxic, racially divisive, and sexist times in our nation. Not everybody protests, not everybody marches. It could be you coming into an institution and helping put together packets. Not everybody is interested or should run for office, but we each have a role to play from registering to vote to helping black women lead."
"We’re hoping to create a home where people see themselves. Women’s homes, particularly black women’s homes, are always welcoming. Growing up, I remember there was always an extra plate at the table. If I invited a friend over my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother never turned that person away. We believe that Higher Heights is a space people can learn, be engaged, be informed, and most importantly be empowered to organize their networks."
"This election cycle is going to show the black women that ran and won, and the black women that ran and lost. It will forever change how people see what a viable black woman candidate looks like. If a white man can represent me as a black woman, surely the qualified black women across the country have proven that we’re coalition builders who can represent and serve diverse constituencies very well."
What They Do: While most political candidate organizations focus on women who are currently running for office, IGNITE is one of the largest non-partisan organizations that connects and provides resources for the next generation of leaders in middle school, high school, and college to fuel their political ambition and prepare them to run in the future.
How They Do It: IGNITE hosts women-led campus chapters in colleges and grad schools across the country. The organization provides chapter tool kits and curriculums to engage fellow students year-round and connect them with elected leaders in their community. It also has a highly competitive fellow program in 15 cities across the U.S. that helps chapters with activities like voter registration, policy education, and organizing college councils.
How I Can Join: If your campus doesn't already have a chapter, you can start one here.
"When I watched the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings 27 years ago, I was about the age of the young women we’re reaching now at IGNITE. Back then, you felt like political ambition was something you had to hide and something you got to later—if you were going to get to it at all. That inspired me to connect these women who are feeling politically ambitious (quietly so alone in their dorm room) to see that they’re part of something much larger."
"Women seem to think that they need to be an expert on everything—no, you don’t. You need to be an expert on one thing. You need to show that you care and have done some work in your community that is personally relevant to you. You will learn and figure out the rest because you're smart, interested, and care."
"At a time when things can feel pretty angry and hopeless and out of control, women my age can get pretty depressed about what’s happening when you see the lack of change and progress over the last 27 years. These young women are super fired up and ready to go—they’re inspired and more eager to take charge than ever before. For me, that provides an enormous amount of hope and optimism and energy at a time when the climate isn’t providing that."
What They Do: In December 2016, Lily Herman founded Get Her Elected, an organization composed of over 3,400 volunteers who donate their skills—from marketing to editing to speechwriting—to progressive women candidates running for office.
How They Do It: The organization sends emails to volunteers listing various skill requests from candidates at the local, state, and federal levels. After someone volunteers, it sends their information to the candidates and they let them know who they want to work with. From there, the candidates and volunteers work directly together to complete the tasks. There's no limit on the number of requests candidates can make, or the number of times people have to volunteer to stay in the network.
How I Can Join: Sign up to become a volunteer or a candidate here.
"It was twofold in the sense that there were some observations I was making long before the 2016 election, then there were the obvious catalysts post-2016 election. You have a growing number of women who actually don’t have the support when they get into the race due to a lot of bandwidth issues and it feels like we’re setting them up to fail instead of setting them up for success."
"That’s historically been a huge part of our national civic engagement efforts—this idea that you need to have special experience or be a special person, or come from a campaign or political background to do this work. In reality, there are a lot of skills you already have like being a great writer or understanding social media that can be transferred. Americans have been duped to believe that they can’t help when in reality they can."
"Activism isn’t done in a single protest or a single candidate request email. You have to be prepared to hunker down for a while, so find things that are sustainable. People forget to do things like making sure your 10 closest friends are registered to vote—even if they don’t lean the same way politically as you do—and that they go to the polls. The important thing is to start small, then work your way up."
What They Do: The Victory Institute is the not-for-profit arm of the Victory Fund, which works together to provide unique training tools and resources to elect LGBTQ candidates to office. This year alone, there are more than 200 LGBT candidates running for office across the country.
How They Do It: If a candidate is already engaged in a campaign, the Victory Fund takes over the endorsing process and helps fund them. Once a candidate is elected, they can go back to the Institute side to participate in leadership development programs throughout the country and network with each other to continue to advance equality.
How I Can Join: Sign up on the email list and learn more about career opportunities here.
"If you run a good race and meet your expectations along with the expectations of the people who support you, then you’ve accomplished something. You’ve raised important issues. You may have even brought people out to vote who never voted before. What we absolutely believe at Victory is when our LGBTQ candidates run openly and honestly—win or lose—that’s a benefit to the entire community going forward."
"I was a candidate recruited to represent the LGBTQ community. Every time I saw my name in print it was Annise Parker, gay activist running for city council. When I ran four years later in 1995 it was a special election and the same thing happened. I actually had to work my way through local media and make appointments with the editorial staff. I had this conversation over and over again, then the coverage changed. I then had the opportunity to be Annise Parker, candidate. And I won."
"Everybody says ‘I want to run a grassroots campaign’ and money shouldn’t be important in politics, but even with grassroots campaigns you still have to have an office, be able to purchase voter lists, and so forth. All of that requires money. You have to figure out where you’re going to raise your money from and your baseline budget, then get it out. That’s what I had to do to become successful. I raised 4 and a half million dollars three times within six years."
What They Do: She Should Run is a nonpartisan organization that inspires women to run for office. Its current goal is to get 250,000 women to run for office by 2030.
How They Do It: The organization wants to build a benchmark of future elected office holders by providing a free starting place for women to explore running for office. Through its Ask a Woman to Run tool and She Should Run incubator, women from all backgrounds can enroll in courses on leadership, networking, and communication skills to build their individual paths to candidacy.
How I Can Join: If you or someone you know is interested in running for office, join the She Should Run community here.
"We all know somebody—maybe not today, but five, 10 years from now—who should absolutely be serving in an elected role. We each play such a substantial part in setting an encouraging tone and helping her lay the groundwork that she should do it and you believe in her. Take a couple of minutes to send a note to a friend, mentor, or colleague and say ‘hey I was just thinking about you and I really think you should run for office someday.’ That action alone can put an incredible voice into a position of power and have an impact for years to come."
"We were anticipating that Hillary Clinton would be elected president and, frankly, we were preparing for our work to get a lot harder. We thought people would assume 'mission accomplished' and momentum would actually stall. We put resources behind marketing the program, but little did we know the floodgates would open. Even after this election cycle, we know women are going to continue to run."
"Change in this country doesn’t start and stop on election day. We have to do everything we can to make a difference in politics and make sure that we’re as engaged as possible in our democracy. You need to take breaks, but you can’t stop the day after the election. It’s really difficult to challenge an incumbent, and many of these women are going to lose, but that shouldn’t stop any of them from moving forward in the difference that they make. Hopefully many of them run again and they’re stronger for it."
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