Women hear hard truths on running for office

On a panel at the JWI Young Women’s Leadership Conference are, from left, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.); Susan Turnbull, the running mate of Democrat Ben Jealous, who is making a Maryland gubernatorial primary bid; and Alison Friedman, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Virginia’s 10th congressional district. (Photo by Hannah Monicken)

When Olivia Friedman wrote a letter to President Donald Trump for an elementary school assignment, she implored the president to “please remember everyone matters and please don’t build a wall in the world.”

Her proud mother, Alison Friedman, went to take a photo of the letter, but Olivia stopped her. “What if he finds out I wrote it and brings his guns to our house?” she said.

“And I felt like if she could write that letter, believing it endangered herself, I could do more,” Friedman, a Democratic primary challenger to U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R- Va.) told 50 women at Jewish Women International’s Young Women’s Leadership Conference on Sunday.

The Northern Virginia woman was one of three panelists for a workshop on women running for office. Tens of thousands of American women have expressed interest in running for office since the 2016 election, according to organizations that recruit and train women to be candidates. For Emily’s List, the 10 months leading up to the 2016 election saw about 1,000 women express interest in running. Since the election, that number is 22,000, according to the New York Times.


That interest is translating into campaigns. The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University tracks women running for elective office and has found that four times as many women — 354, nearly 300 of whom are Democrats — are challenging House of Representatives incumbents as the same period in 2015. In the Senate, there are almost double the number of female candidates than 2015.

Panelist U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) asked audience members to raise their hands if they were interested in running for office at some point. About half did. The key, Frankel said, is not to think there is only one good time to run or that everything has to be perfectly aligned beforehand.

“There’s not a perfect time to go into politics,” she said. “If you’re going to wait for everything to line up, that’s not going to happen.”

Panelist and first-time candidate Susan Turnbull, who is the running mate of Ben Jealous, a Democratic candidate for Maryland governor, said she had to figure out how to steel herself knowing there would be people who wouldn’t like her, and also learn how to pace herself so that she doesn’t burn out on the campaign trail.

Women, Friedman said, have to be asked to run — usually multiple times — before they consider it.

“Running for office is a daily dance with the imposter syndrome,” she said.

All three panelists recommended that the young women choose issues they are passionate about and get involved in their communities. Having built-in networks is crucial, they said, as is the on-the-ground experience.

Frankel was honest about what a large role money plays in campaigns. Having a network, especially a network of people with money, is necessary, she said. It’s hard, but women have to gird themselves and get used to making the money ask.

The panelists also discussed the #MeToo movement, which has caused three male members of Congress to resign over accusations of sexual harassment or misconduct. The movement has shown why women need to occupy positions of power, the panelists said.

“In the last few weeks, have you noticed any women resigning from office?” said Turnbull. “Women have to be stepping up and seeing it as our time, because if not now, when?”

The election of Trump and the Women’s March in January after his inauguration have shown that people are committed to taking a stand, she added, and the #MeToo movement has been a game-changer.

More than 200 women from around the country attended the conference. Two Washington residents at the workshop said they were there on the recommendation of friends. They felt they had already benefited from being connected to other young Jewish women.

“I think it’s really important for Jewish women to meet each other and empower each other, especially right now,” said Natasha Dabrowski, 24.

Emma Bunin, also 24, appreciated the workshop encouraging women not only to run, but be involved in issues at all levels of government.

“I think it’s a really important conversation and it was great to hear from women who were already elected, or campaigning,” she said.

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