Where are all the women?

April 16, 2013

jannelle watsonI know what it’s like to live in the margins; I know what it is to feel that your government doesn’t reflect you, represent you, or advocate for you. If anyone can relate or understand the statement above, it’s myself, my friends, colleagues, family members, and all minority women who stand in solidarity waiting for their chance to enter into the political realm. However, that’s the problem, we’re “waiting”, “comfortable”, and “complacent”. Since moving to Washington, DC I’ve been fortunate enough to partake in opportunities that have changed my outlook on women in Congress and further encouraged me to run for office. Through conversation with other women I’ve learned that many of us don’t feel the same entitlement as men do when it comes to running for office regardless of our qualifications. Yet, our political barriers don’t stop there. Not only has child care posed challenges for the most politically driven woman, but campaign finance laws have raised the cost of running for office. As a result, fundraising is often tougher for women representing communities of color since their constituents are less accustomed to handing money to candidates.

To be honest, barriers like this have made me think twice about running for office. At times I’ve found myself thinking I’ll never have enough hours in the day to have a successful career, to start a family, or be able to find the time to step away from my job to run for office. However, being a Running Start Star Fellow has taught me that my fearlessness and persistence are key traits that will help me run a strong campaign. I want a seat at the legislative table so I can champion and advocate of behalf of my community and people of color. Currently there are only 98 women in the 113th Congress and 20 of them are senators. Yet, are we really achieving parity in politics? Unfortunately, not a single senator is a woman of color, and the body at large is not nearly representative of women, who make up 57% of the American electorate. This is frustrating, because I’ve personally witnessed that when women command the floor, they have the potential to shift the national dialogue around issues important to them. While I am in no means discrediting the political opinions of men, I simply feel that who better to advocate for women’s rights than women themselves?

Thus, as I prepare for a career in politics the most importance advice I will take away from this experience is to “Show Up in Your Own Armor”.  When it comes to women in politics, I believe that we don’t have to show up acting like everyone else. As women, I find that we are more effective when we come to the table as who we really are. While we may have to change our hair style or attire in order to take the conversation away from our outer appearance, we don’t have to give up our beliefs, opinions, or ideas while running for office. Thanks to Running Start, when I return to California, I will know how to organize fundraising efforts, the value of a political message, the importance of networking, and how to navigate a political campaign. I refuse to sit on the sidelines when I have the passion to empower the powerless. And if I could offer any advice to young girls and women out there interested in running for office, the next time you doubt your ability, remind yourself: “You can either write the laws or react to them. The choice is yours!”

Jannelle Watson, Star Fellow Spring 2013

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