Running for office remains the most fulfilling experience of my life. It gave me an opportunity to build deep connections across the community through canvassing. I built a pipeline of budding leaders and reshaped people’s perceptions of what a leader looks like in our community.
At 24, I became the youngest woman ever elected to the City Council in my hometown of Marlborough, Massachusetts. As exciting as this barrier-breaking moment was, I know how crucial it is for more young women to step up to the plate. Your voice is crucial to understanding the issues permeating our communities. We need you now more than ever.
But in 2022 there are still barriers preventing women, particularly young women, from stepping up to run. When we run, we win at the same rates as men. The gap is in the recruitment to running. With the influx of support from organizations like IGNITE and Emerge, which are training and inspiring a new generation of female leaders, we are still left with a challenge aligning with this pandemic. There’s a high cost of living and rising inflation impacting young women from the grocery store to the gas pump to making decisions about careers and family life. Food insecurity particularly is on the rise here in Massachusetts and all over the country. This falls on top of rising rent and housing prices forcing people to spend a disproportionate amount of their income on housing. Financial decisions are inevitable factors in our calculation of life decisions. When I first ran, I had just started at a new nonprofit job and was commuting into the city, sometimes racking up three hours a day on commuting alone. Regardless of the endless hours of podcasts and musical ballads in my car, this did not change the fact that to afford to pay bills, I had to work full-time. Now in my second term of office and as a first-year law student, I see those same cost-of-living challenges without a consistent weekly paycheck as a buffer. Whether it is large increases at the gas pump despite driving a Prius or being meticulous about food purchases to be mindful of my monthly grocery bill, young women are not immune to the economic challenges of 40-year high inflation.
These challenges shouldn’t dissuade more young women from running. In fact, they are exactly why more young women need to run for office. Because we experience the challenges, we are more capable of involving ourselves in solutions. We can uplift and amplify not only our own stories, but those of people around us. Here’s a secret: The best way to legislate and lead as an elected official or candidate is from storytelling, drawing on your personal experiences, and listening to first-hand accounts from faces in the community. These are the people impacted by the policy decisions before us as legislators, whether they are equitable COVID-19 vaccination and testing, student loan forgiveness, climate justice legislation, or issues like childcare, living wages and broadband access. Every issue is a young woman’s issue.
I do not need to tell gen Z'ers and millennials about policy advocacy. We are already leading the way on every issue area from ballot access to stopping global warming. It can be frustrating to advocate to our fellow policymakers locally, and at the state and federal level, hoping for them to understand the urgency of these issues. But they may never understand. So, I am glad that we’ll also carry the torch of leadership.
If we want to get to gender parity in elected office any time in the next thousand years, we need to talk about money. And we need to do it more often and in a more open way than ever before. It costs a good chunk of change to run for office, particularly if you cannot afford to self-fund your own campaign. I relied on the small-dollar contributions of friends, family, mentors, neighbors, and community members who saw the necessity for change, raising over $17,000 in my first race. Every dollar raised represented an investment in our shared community vision for a Marlborough where residents were connected to their local government, and that included all of us in the fabric of our community. When I first ran, everyone told me I was too young, I did not have the name recognition to run for office and I should wait my turn. When I first started canvassing, I received questions about my maiden name and how many children I had – automatic assumptions that showed interest in whether I was married or had a family rather than the ideas I had for the community. Fortunately, the more people I talked to, the more excitement I saw from residents to see someone like me running. I am so glad that I refused to listen to the negativity because young women are our political present and future.
And we shouldn’t have to wait. This type of rhetoric that sets up expectations about who can or should run for office is particularly aimed at young women. They don’t set limitations like this for young men.
So, let’s talk openly about the financial barriers to running and encourage one another to take that leap of faith. Together, we can cause a culture shift as more of us run and win. So – who’s with me?