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Career > Her20s

Empowering Young Women to Run for Office Is the Best Day Job. Here’s Why.

This article has been syndicated from Running Start, a nonpartisan organization empowering young women to get involved in politics and transform our world, one elected female leader at a time. Learn more at runningstart.org.​

by Sara Blanco, Program Director at Running Start

As a Latina, I’ve felt at times that my presence is contingent. I am shaken, for example, by assertions that my own country, the United States, should not welcome people like me, the natural-born citizen children of immigrants. But on the balance, I am very lucky that I don’t experience existential terror due to individual and systemic anti-Black racism. Race is complicated, and my relationship to my own ethnicity is, too. My Latinx relatives who live in the U.S. are not safe, not even from violence or death. But the scale of our fear of the consequences of racism, the intensity of it, the history behind it, are radically different from what Black and Afro-Latinx folks face. And so, we are certainly more safe.

With that in mind, I recognize that I have a responsibility to support Black people working hard for freedom from fear. And I can use my relative safety as a shelter that allows me to raise my voice, too. This is true when it comes to marching, when it comes to contacting elected officials, when it comes to amplifying the voices of Black people, when it comes to using the privilege of discretionary income to donate to Black organizations, and it’s true when it comes to my professional life.

I am an excellent example of that strange advice, “fake it till you make it.” Although I believe in authenticity, sometimes, you have to brace yourself to get started on something challenging. It’s like how forming your face into a smile can actually lift your mood. It started with a phone interview, where I gushed about how passionate I was about women’s political representation. Of course, I did care about this, in the abstract, but it wasn’t something I had any special interest in. I just needed an internship, and I needed an internship so that I could get a job — somewhere else, I assumed. Apparently, my performance was convincing, because Running Start welcomed me to the team.

And then, in a matter of weeks, it wasn’t a performance anymore. Running Start’s mission to make sure young women don’t fall through the cracks in the political leadership pipeline has become my life’s work. I’m only 30, so I suppose that might change, but I don’t think it will. Because even if my “day job” ever changes, this will remain central to my advocacy and philanthropy. Part of what has kept me hooked specifically to Running Start is our strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In many critical ways, we hold to it as a foundational value: in promoting our programs to young women from all kinds of backgrounds; in ensuring that we reflect who our young women are; in fostering community in our programs; and in taking very seriously the importance of data and evaluation so that we know how we’re doing.

It mattered, even back when I was starting out as an intern, when I shared a suggestion or critique that came from my experience and identity. Sometimes, that meant pointing out a snag that wasn’t really about me, but at the time, I was the only person of color in the room. That didn’t last long: as our organization has grown (at 8 staff members, we’ve almost tripled while I’ve been here), the mix of voices has grown more varied — as it should. I still feel that I can speak up and be heard, and I hope that’s something my newer colleagues feel, too. The frankness of some important discussions we’ve had suggests that they do.

These personal, internal matters in our organization are important. But there’s a wider impact, too. Striving for gender parity in political leadership isn’t meaningful unless we make sure we’re not leaving anyone behind. We train all young women to run for office, not just those who can easily access our programs or who have already been told (by their parents or by media message) that they can lead. And in this moment, we must turn our focus to young Black women, in particular. Conversations and decisions change depending on who’s at the table. The great Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm (the first Black woman elected to Congress) once said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.”

That’s where Running Start can — and will — use our power to change what leadership looks like in this country. How much better if we all shove folding chairs under our arms — for ourselves and for each other — and insist that all of our voices are part of these important conversations.

Gina was formerly the Beauty & Culture Editor at Her Campus, where she oversaw content and strategy for the site's key verticals. She was also the person behind @HerCampusBeauty, and all those other glowy selfies you faved. She got her start in digital media as a Campus Correspondent at HC Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where she graduated in 2017 with degrees in English and Theater. Now, Gina is an LA-based writer and editor, and you can regularly find her wearing a face mask in bed and scrolling through TikTok.