By Carrie Perrien Smith
It’s an election year. Most of us are armchair politicians if we bother to pay attention. Only about twenty percent of us even bother to vote if we are registered at all. As a society, we barely qualify as spectators in the political process.
But real people just like us run for elected offices. Some of these offices take a little time and others are full-time jobs. The primaries are behind us. However, you might be interested in one of the elected offices on the ballot on November 6 — like the city council position that I’m running for in Rogers.
What about You?
You have opinions and ideas. Have you ever wondered if you could make a difference as an elected official? Maybe it’s time you stick your toe into political waters. Really. Just hear me out.
Our kids are hopefully launching their own lives and raising their own children. You’ve run fund-raisers, organized projects, and managed a household and a budget most likely while juggling a career. I sometimes introduce myself as the chief administrative officer of the Smith house. It’s good for a chuckle but we take that valid experience for granted.
Lots of women like you and me don’t think we have what it takes to hold political office. Maybe it’s because we don’t think that what we did in the community counts as public service in comparison to military service, law degrees, or other appointed and elected offices. But it is time that we took those hard-earned skills and started using them to spark change in our country at the city, county, state, and national level.
The Numbers Tell It All
The Center for American Women and Politics (Eagleton Institute of Politics) at Rutgers University released a report in April detailing women in elective office. Click here to read the full report. According to the report, women make up:
- 16.8 percent of the 112th U. S. Congress
- 16.8 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives
- 23.3 percent of statewide elective executive offices (such as governors, lieutenant governors, secretaries of state, and commissioners)
- 17.6 percent of mayors in cities with over 100,000 people
- 23.7 percent of state legislatures (some states are higher than others)
And this is progress. The report says that the number of women serving in state legislatures has more than quintupled since 1971. Ladies, we are underrepresented in elected office. Now what are we going to do about that?
Let’s give a nod to one cause that still looms over progress despite the efforts of Baby Boomer and Traditionalist women who paved the way. Elected offices require a lot of work that a woman with a young family isn’t likely to consider a priority. That is fair. To be honest, there are few leadership responsibilities more impactful to the next generation than leading and managing a family. It is a high calling to prepare our children to be adults that contribute to our community and our economy. There is one common exception: women with young families will often consider running for school board because they feel it is time invested in their kids’ education.
You Bring More to the Table Than You Think
Women have some advantages over men that provide us the opportunity to not only get elected but to make a difference in that elected role. We have strong relationship, creative, communication, and organizational skills. There is research that proves we are more likely to use those skills to lead professional, youth, women’s, and civic organizations. That active involvement expands our networks and develops our leadership skills. With those in place, it’s just a matter of determining where we’ll serve and stepping out into the public eye.
So Now What?
You’re probably thinking, “Okay Carrie. I hear what you’re saying and I’m in. So how do I get started?” I’m glad you asked. I’ve been in training for my race for almost a year. Here is what I have learned in my own journey so far as a newbie candidate.
- Decide what you are passionate about. At our age, we are aware that life is too darn short to waste our time on something we lack passion for. I decided to run because I felt like small business owners were underrepresented on our city council. I also wanted the city to develop a revitalization effort for the older part of town.
- Attend the public meetings for the office you want to hold. I started attending city council meetings as soon as I thought I might want to run. It has helped me understand the process, the dynamics of the council, and the issues they deal with. I learned what they were and were not talking about. It also helped me understand the demands of the role.
- Join a local political organization for women. This is one of the first things I did. I have to admit I look forward to being in a room full of opinionated women with big personalities. Since I’m new to politics, it has given me a great opportunity to learn from them.
- Work on a campaign for another candidate. You’ll learn the process and get a chance to experience being on a team, interacting with the public, and planning the process.
- Attend every political forum you can. Sitting in the audience can give you a chance to listen to candidate messages and watch how they present themselves. You can learn a lot by watching how audience members react to each one.
- Get mentors and ask a million questions with an open mind. I’m new to politics so I didn’t really know what I didn’t know, you know? I was surprised how many people I already knew through my community service that had answers to my questions. If they didn’t know, they knew who to direct me to.
- Identify potential leaders who would make great politicians and encourage them. As I started talking about my own desire to run for city council, I found several other friends who were considering running in their cities. They each would be great in that same role. We’re learning from each other.
- Develop your message and your public speaking skills. Decide what your platform is going to be and start writing about it. Speak about it to everyone you can so you can gather feedback. Each time is like a little audition for the important opportunities to speak that lie ahead. Join a Toastmasters Club so you can develop your speaking skills and confidence, as well as your message.
- Tell your friends when there is a candidate you believe deserves their vote. I know that simply telling my Facebook and Twitter peeps the great things about my favorite candidates influenced their vote in the primaries. Heck, it even influenced them to take the time to vote, especially in an obscure runoff election.
Your Involvement is Important
Your voice counts whether you are helping a candidate, running for an office, or just voting for your favorite candidates. There may be no time more perfect for women to run for elected offices and bring their skill, talent, and fresh perspective to the table. But please, seriously question if you have a passion or a mission that deserves for you to take the risk of stepping into the public eye. If you don’t, who will?
Carrie Perrien Smith is mama to Darcie and a pack of black dogs (Snappy, Jazmin, and Midgieboy — in pack order), grandma to Robert, wife to world-traveler and Walmart-blue-bleeding Tom, daughter to Wayne and Phyllis, speaker bureau and publishing company owner, Business: Engaged! small business radio show host, Rogers city council candidate, community activist, singer in a party band, and home improvement junkie. Follow her on Twitter @soarwitheagles or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.