Path to Politics: Understanding the Progressive Community

October 4, 2010

*Running Start is a nonpartisan organization. The 2010 Path to Politics Series theme is “Building Coalitions to Win” and the October session will partner with Septembers with the focus on the conservative community. “Out of Right Field: Understanding the Conservative Community” will be held at the end of the month.


On Wednesday, September 22, Running Start, with the help of Democratic GAIN, hosted an exciting panel of experts under the theme of “Out of Left Field: Understanding the Progressive Community,” a subheading of the 2010 series “Building Coalitions to Win.” A group of young professionals gathered during their lunch hour to gain insights and practical advice about the resources necessary to run successful campaigns in a political environment contingent upon adhering to party lines. The women who sat on the panel are all members of the progressive community; nevertheless, the information they shared is tremendously crucial to any woman who wishes to make a name for herself but may not know where or how to acquire the resources to succeed. I emerged from the session thrilled by the prospect of running for office in the future, knowing full well that there would be individuals and organizations supporting my pursuits through various forms of assistance.

The panel consisted of three fantastic women who are resources for those who wish to use advocacy groups, party committees, constituency groups, and political action committees as an asset to win an elected office seat. Cathy Duvall, Political Director at the Sierra Club, was the first to speak to the group. After sharing her inspirational story about what led her to become the head of the Sierra Club, Duvall articulated the importance of doing what you love and advocating in support of your beliefs. Her experiences affirm her advice; she has spent over twenty years organizing political and environmental campaigns.

However, running for office does create difficult situations for candidates. One significant issue that arises is how to stay true to what you believe while also appeasing the public who ultimately has the final say. Lisa Turner, President and Owner of the Turner Group, addressed this question during the Q&A portion of the luncheon. Turner has spent nearly twenty years working as a senior consultant for progressive organizations and a campaign consultant for an array of political figures, ranging from Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan to Delegate Adam Ebbin of Virginia. She knows the ins and outs of the progressive community, making her perspective particularly helpful to potential candidates. Turner emphasized the reality that the purpose of running for office is not for yourself; instead, the entirety of your focus should be placed upon the voters. As long as the public is aware of your intention to improve their situation, you can stay true to who you are without having to make huge sacrifices to your character.

Amy Taylor Marshall, Managing Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, was the final speaker at the luncheon. She too shared a compelling message about her career history, reminiscing about her work on the Hill and her shift to working for Planned Parenthood. Marshall also discussed the work PP does on a daily basis: 95% of the services offered fall under the realm of general health care (e.g. vaccinations, screenings, check-ups). How does this relate to potential candidates? Marshall stated that women running for elected positions can set the public straight about the function of PP, dispelling preconceived notions that negate the organization’s image, and in turn petition for an increase in funding to help provide health care to men and women equally. Those women who advocate for Planned Parenthood and are looking to run for an office can qualify for grants through the organization itself, which will alleviate some of the financial burdens of campaigning. Such a resource is immensely helpful to progressive women who want to secure a seat in office; I think such a program is a great opportunity to get one step closer to winning an election.

Beyond the impressiveness of their resumes and the helpfulness of their advice, what blew me away about the speakers was the fervor they emitted about their careers. They absolutely love what they do, and that passion carries over to help others (like us!), who in turn continue to give to their neighborhoods and communities. Amy Taylor Marshall said that one of the reasons why she chose to work for Planned Parenthood and quit her former job was because she knew she would wake up every morning content with the organization and the programs it supports. The same should apply to any career decision we make, especially in the realm of politics, and I took that message to heart. We can do what we love and make a difference in the lives of the people around us while also changing the entire system for the better.

— Amanda Kaster, Fall Intern 2010

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