On Friday, November 3rd, Bard Center for Civic Engagement and Election@Bard worked together to present the Elect Her workshop. The workshop was facilitated by the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, Running Start, which seeks to educate young women about the importance of politics. The purpose of the workshop was to help college students understand why more women are needed in student government and provide them with the necessary skills to run for office. During the workshop, participants honed in on the issue they were most passionate about, to create a strong campaign message. They also learned the importance of building one’s network and how to effectively reach out to voters.
There is currently a huge political ambition gap between men and women. Women receive less encouragement to run for office than their male counterparts. There’s also already a lack of women in politics, resulting in fewer role models for female students to look up to. In addition, there are more women than men going to, and graduating from college, but there is still a low percentage of women in student governments. Only about one-third of student body presidents are female. However, research has shown that women who run for student body elections in college are more likely to run for office as adults.
Running Start president, Susannah Wellford, led the Elect Her workshop. She started out with an introduction and some statistics about women in politics. For example, she said that women tap out in leadership at about 20% across fields in the United States. She also talked about the importance of having underrepresented groups in politics. Anyone can be a politician, whether they are young, a person of color, or LGBTQ. Politics are about serving people and solving problems.
Wellford then had participants do an exercise titled, “What’s Your Issue?”. Working on one issue allows students to brand themselves and make a name for themselves. She recommends having a 60 second elevator speech prepared in which students should state their full names and what they’re running for, their issue, a personal story about the issue, why their audience should care about the issue, and a solution they have. Then, at the end, they need to make sure to say, “Vote for me!”. Good leaders and politicians know how to connect with other people and speak from the heart.
Next, Wellford interviewed a student government official at Bard, Sophie Logan. This is the third year Logan will serve on Bard Student Government, and she is the current Chair of the Student Life Committee and Chair of the Socially Responsible Investment Committee (SRIC). Logan explained that at Bard, there are elections in the spring and fall. People can run for positions such as Committee Chair or committee member through submitting a candidacy blurb. When running for an election, Logan suggests finding out where one’s strengths lie. For example, if someone is less extroverted, they can focus more on reaching out to individual people.
After this, participants were asked to do a “Building Your Support Network” exercise. This was done through identifying groups that could serve as potential allies during one’s campaign. Wellford recommended having a network that consists of an inner circle, outer circle, and high-level people, such as administrators. It’s essential to have a support group that can get one’s message out to a wide audience and that has the special skills to help with certain campaign tasks. Volunteers are the most faithful supporters and are at the heart of any campaign.
Wellford then held a panel featuring female local elected officials. Panelists included Sarah Imboden, member of the Red Hook Town Board, Deirdre d’Albertis, member of the Rhinebeck School Board and Bard Literature Professor, and Deirdre Burns, also a member of the Rhinebeck School Board. D’Albertis actually ran because Burns encouraged her to do so and said that people learn about public service and government through people they admire. In addition, when asked about ways to get involved, Imboden suggested volunteering for a campaign because it gives people an idea of what others in politics are doing. There are so many different ways to be involved politically, like writing about politics. Burns also encourages more young women to become involved. She said that there aren’t many young women in politics, and she thinks it’s largely a confidence issue. All three panelists agreed that men will run again and again, whereas women often won’t run again.
The last exercise was a campaign simulation. Participants got in small groups and practiced their elevator speeches with each other. They then voted on who had the best one. Afterwards the winner presented their speech in front of the entire group, and participants voted on one winner. All agreed that the winner did a really good job of making it personal and relevant. Although the phrase, “political campaign,” can be intimidating, it is really about simple advertising and persuasion. During this exercise, the winner essentially persuaded the voters that she was the best choice.
Overall, the Elect Her workshop provided a great way for young women to connect with each other and learn more about running for office. For young women looking to get more involved in politics, reaching out to elected officials on campus and running for student government are great ways to start. Additionally, Running Start’s Star Fellowship provides a chance for women to intern for a female member of Congress. Star Fellows live together in a house on Capitol Hill, free of charge, and are provided with a $2,000 living stipend for the semester in addition to helping young women find internships and fellowships through their website.