I have always been a natural leader and was attracted politics at a young age, but coming from a family that has no interest in a small Midwestern town with single-track beliefs, I thought my public service dreams would be a hobby at best. My interest in reforming policy grew in college when I learned about oppressive legislation that affects at-risk populations, women, and people of color every day. My social work undergraduate degree only allowed me to take a few policy classes, so I decided to attend graduate school to learn more about social policies and the ways in which we can reform them. I knew I needed to go to DC if I really wanted to be a part of the policy world. I talked with my school administrator and decided to intern in DC during my last semester of grad school at a policy advocacy organization. I instantly fell in love with the city, people, and political overtone and knew this was the place where I was going to make my mark on the world.
I learned about Running Start through a news interview and I was immediately interested in the organization. Attending the 2013 Young Women’s Political Summit had a profound impact on my life. It showed me that political leadership was not only a dream, but something that I could legitimately pursue. Not only did I realize I wanted to have a political career, I felt like it was my duty to help change the political landscape of our country and pave the way for future women to run for office. After hearing Muriel Bowser speak about her career and start as an ANC (Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner), I knew it was something I wanted to pursue.
I moved from Maryland to DC, managed a Virginia House of Delegates campaign, volunteered on Muriel’s race for Mayor, attended every political event I could, conducted research, and sought out women mentors. I decided 2014 was the year I was going to run for ANC. July through November was a long 4 months of planning, attending community events, developing marketing materials, putting up street signs, distributing fliers, and knocking on every one of the 2,000 doors in my district. My proudest moment was winning against a three-term male incumbent who was born and raised in my neighborhood. I am confident that my grassroots efforts earned me every single vote I received. The race was more work than I had anticipated, but it was worth it to see the support of my neighbors. Though I didn’t officially take office until January 2, 2015, I had already started engaging my community. I started working and continue to work with a few tenant associations, creating a community newsletter that will be distributed monthly, and starting a Neighborhood Watch and Safe Streets program. I truly want to engage and be accessible to my constituents and I have created a way to do that via social media, print media, and in-person connections.
Running Start’s Impact
Running Start’s biggest impact on my life has been teaching me how to reframe my way of thinking. By learning the lies that women tell themselves, I can now recognize the difference between truth and simply feeling inadequate because of the systems our society has set up to oppress women. I often feel too young, too inexperienced, not knowledgeable enough, or not strong enough to lead. Then I remember what I learned from Running Start—those lies are just in my head! I am good enough, strong enough, brave enough, and most of all no different from any man that will attempt to run against me. I often think of an analogy I heard at my first Running Start event. A woman wakes up in the morning and thinks about running for office. But then she tells herself, “I’m not smart enough, I don’t have enough experience, I don’t have the time.” A man wakes up, looks in the mirror and says, “Hey, I should run for office today!” I tell that story to other women all the time. I think it perfectly captures women’s thought processes and the barriers society has taught us to function within.
I have learned so many useful tools over the past two years from attending Running Start events. I now know more about fundraising, media, speech writing, networking, and work-life balance. But my biggest takeaway has been changing my view on life and how I am going to live it. I will not get discouraged or beaten down by what others think of me and I will stay strong when facing adversity. I have met so many wonderful female leaders through the Running Start program, and someday I will be one of them and ready to help the young women who come after me.
Connect with Jessica!
Twitter: @JessicaLSmith07 I LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jessicalaurasmith