On September 18, PWR gathered eight women who are shaping the future in their own communities to share their stories. They reflected on the most pressing issues affecting women in politics today and how they have personally overcome obstacles along their path to political involvement.
Attendees left more informed, inspired and encouraged by the progress women have made in the push toward gender parity in our political system. Panelists shared several pieces of advice for becoming and staying engaged. Here are four key takeaways:
1. Stay informed about key issues and candidates.
There are many places to find bipartisan education. With so many sources of potentially skewed information – on social media, TV commercials and even biased news sources – it’s more important than ever to fact check and truly understand the scope of pressing issues in your community.
Panelists suggested consulting the following websites for credible, nonpartisan information:
Staying attuned to your community’s issues outside of the election cycle is also critical. “The idea that politicians only engage constituents during elections is mind-boggling,” said Barbara Kigozi, Committee Person for Ward 59, Division 19.
As a voter, follow local news and look for opportunities to engage your local politicians in conversations throughout the year, without the pressure of an upcoming election.
2. Establish your personal criteria for candidates.
The first step in selecting a candidate that represents your interests is identifying what matters to you. “Develop a checklist for yourself, find people who resonate with that, and then do a deep dive into those people,” said Nina Ahmad, Ph.D., Former Candidate for Lieutenant Governor. “Match your issues and values with their issues and values and see objectively who gets the most checkmarks.”
“When selecting a candidate, you don’t have to look into a mirror,” said Nina. “But you do need to identify someone who can improve your community.”
Eryn Santamoor, Democratic Candidate for Philadelphia City Council At-Large, encouraged attendees to meet their candidates in person. “Social media is a good way to find people who share your issue focus, but make sure you are talking to those people in real life,” she said.
Panelists weighed in on the most important characteristics to identify in candidates. Eryn urged attendees to truly understand the job and whether candidates meet the expectations of someone holding that position.
Tam Williams, Founder & President of She’s It LLC, encouraged attendees to examine a candidate’s values – not only what they are saying in public but also their opinions behind closed doors. Look for distortions to understand if they are truly aligned with your personal values.
Gina Barr, Director of Women and Urban Engagement at the Republican National Committee, noted that following the money behind a campaign is also critical, especially in small towns where funders may try to keep candidates who represent their interests in office. “If you voted for a new candidate in your town, but aren’t seeing any changes once they’re in office, funding might be why.” This is all public information available from the Federal Election Commission.
Once you identify your candidate, vote for them. “In our country, only 60 percent of eligible voters actually vote in presidential elections, and even less in primaries,” said moderator Elizabeth Roggio, Corporate and Political Associate at Kleinbard LLC.
“When it comes time to go to the polls and vote, there should never be an excuse,” said Tam. “That goes for yourself, but also for others. We have a responsibility to mobilize our communities around elections.”
3. Look past public perception when evaluating candidates.
Women face specific challenges when it comes to building a public image. Panelists discussed why in most campaigns, women dress up and men dress down. Oftentimes, women are instructed to dress conservatively to “respect the office” while it is assumed that men can handle the job.
Beyond appearance, messaging is an important part of telling a candidate’s story. “People have 45 seconds to form an opinion about you,” said Eryn. “But we are more complicated than what you get to see when we run for office.”
Today, voters consume information about candidates in small pieces – a TV commercial, a postcard mailer or a social media post – so candidates can only make a portion of their pitch. “Try to see more than what you get in a mailer,” said Eryn.
4. Support candidates and issues vocally – and financially.
You don’t have to run for office to make a lasting impact in your community. Supporting the candidates and issues that mean the most to you is incredibly important.
“Being political in place is about using the position where you are to have difficult, critical conversations,” said Amber Hikes, Executive Director of the Office of LGBT Affairs for the City of Philadelphia. She urged attendees to signal boost others who share like-minded ideas and opinions, especially in large forums. “Be courageous and intentional in those conversations because it will change the course of discourse in this city and this country.”
Panelists also emphasized the importance of funding in political campaigns.
“Men are fundraising better than us,” said Julia Fahl, candidate for Mayor in Lambertville, NJ. She emphasized that being political also means spending money politically. “Work your political budget into your regular budget,” she advises.
“And when you give money, always have an ask,” added Nina. She encouraged attendees to select an issue they care about, find a candidate or organization that supports it and make a specific ask with a donation to their cause.
“If you don’t have a organization that represents your goals, start it,” said Elizabeth. She explained that anyone can launch their own PAC and fund raise directly into it.
We can all play a role in local and national politics – large or small. Understanding the various ways to get involved and reach our political potential is the first step. This fall, PWR encourages members to take the next step and support the candidates and causes that matter to your community.
Learn more about our Political Me panelists here.