Thursday, July 23, 2009

Young Women's Political Leadership Retreat 2009

Everyone at Running Start is still reeling in the success of another Young Women’s Political Leadership Retreat. 2009 was our biggest year yet, and there was certainly never a dull moment.

52 girls from 24 states arrived all throughout the day Wednesday. Their excitement was contagious to all of the staff members, and the first night was full of enthusiastic chatter. The young women were immediately excited to connect with others their age in an intellectually and politically stimulating environment.

Thursday morning, the festivities began. The first item on the agenda was an early morning trip to the Capitol building to meet real members of Congress and to hear about their experiences running for and holding office. After hearing from amazing role models including Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (FL-20), Rosa DeLauro (CT-3), Virginia Foxx (NC-5), Jared Polis (CO-2), and Chellie Pingree (ME-1), the participants of the Young Women’s Political Leadership Retreat had the opportunity to introduce themselves and ask questions. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was a popular speaker with the girls as she described her experience running for office as a young mother. In response to a complaint that she used a crayon instead of a pen during her campaign, she quotes herself as saying, “I may not always have a pen in my purse, but I always have crayons.”

From there, the Young Women’s Political Leadership Retreat participants headed to the Motion Picture Association of America, where they were able to screen the movie, What’s Your Point Honey? in a professional screening theatre. What’s Your Point Honey? explores the possibility and likelihood of having a woman serve as U.S. President, including an introduction to potential future candidates as well as following varying age groups of girls in order to observe how society impacts their ideas about political leadership.

After the movie, the young women metro-ed back to American University, where they heard from one of the keynote speakers of the Retreat – Dee Dee Myers, former Clinton White House Press Secretary. Dee Dee’s electric enthusiasm was contagious and energized her audience as she described her experiences and career, following her book, Why Women Should Rule the World.

Following a busy, jam-packed day, the girls (and the staff!) of the Young Women’s Political Leadership Retreat enjoyed an introductory session to yoga, sponsored by Tranquil Space. They discussed what leadership and creativity mean, attempted a few basic yoga techniques, and learned about the importance of journaling and channeling your thoughts and energies. During a powerful cool down, participants had the opportunity to embrace their fears, and then to release them as strength.

Friday was another busy day for the young ladies of the Young Women’s Political Leadership Retreat. Brianne Nadeau, a locally elected official to her Neighborhood Advisory Commission, spoke about her career and experience. As a young women beginning at the local level, she explained politics as a career and running for office in ways to which participants can relate.

Following Ms. Nadeau’s presentation, Julianna Smoot, the second keynote speaker and Obama’s campaign financial advisor, arrived. She talked to the girls about one of the most important parts of running for office – fundraising. Her impact on the evolution of campaign fundraising that occurred during the 2008 Presidential race was inspiring to everyone in the room.

Next, Christie Garton, author and creator of UChic, a book and website for college girls, presented to the Young Women’s Political Leadership Retreat about her book, website, and the importance of using new media to spread your message. Her book was also made available to participants, and it was quickly popular.

After a lunch break, the girls immediately immersed into another session. This time, they heard from Kelly Trumpbour, Senior Director of Running Start and author of Working at Interest Groups and Nonprofits. She gave participants a crash course in public speaking. Immediately, the girls participated in a public speaking workshop where they were provided the opportunity to give each other feedback and to gain experience talking to a crowd.

That night, a charter bus picked up all the participants of the Young Women’s Political Leadership Retreat and gave a short tour of Embassy Row, the Smithsonian, the Washington Monument, the White House, and Capitol Hill. The girls enjoyed this opportunity to take pictures of some of the most beautiful views of the city and to learn a small amount of history in the nation’s capital.

The ladies were transported by bus to a Networking Reception on Constitution Avenue. From the ninth floor terrace, the Young Women’s Political Leadership Retreat and their guests had a breathtaking view of the Capitol building. After a brief introduction to the art of networking and receiving their very own business cards, participants were joined by various professionals from elite careers that live and work right here in Washington, DC.

Following the Networking Reception, participants took a walking tour from the National Mall to the White House. With some of the most famous locations in the city lit up at night, the girls were given numerous amazing photo opportunities.

On Saturday morning, it was back to business. The first speaker of the day was Kate Geyer, Grassroots Advocacy Manager for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network; she spoke about the fundamentals of campaigning in her presentation: Campaign 101. Between “hot seat” workshops and lectures, the participants of the Young Women’s Political Leadership Retreat learned about campaigns in a new and realistic way.

Next, the girls heard from Alyse Nelson, President and CEO of Vital Voices. Her presentation about human trafficking, women leadership on a global scale, and working to improve others’ quality of life around the world touched and inspired us all. She then spoke about internship and future career opportunities, which sparked interest in many of the young ladies in her audience.

After lunch, Marjorie Clifton, Director of Special Projects of America’s Voice, gave the girls some media training and tips before putting them in front of the camera. The girls were asked a variety of questions in an on-camera interview and then received feedback about their performance from media professionals.

From media to career counseling, participants then took their resumes to various DC professionals for critiques.

At the end of the day, the young women of the Retreat took part in a Fundraising Game. Splitting into two groups, half of the participants acted as donors and the other half acted as candidates and tried to convince the donors to give them money. Then, the two groups switched. The girls who raised the most money in each round both received copies of What’s Your Point Honey? on DVD.

That night, participants voted on superlatives amongst themselves – including Most Likely to be future U.S. President, Running Start Board Member, Congresswoman, Time Magazine’s Woman of the Year, and Supreme Court Justice. The winners of each superlative won not only a paper plate award announcing their title, but also either a copy of Dee Dee Myers’ book Why Women Should Rule the World or She’s Out There, a collection of essays by female future U.S. Presidential candidates.

Sunday was Graduation Day, where the girls and their families attended a ceremony in honor of the completion of the program. Each of the girls had the opportunity to display just a small sample of the skills they developed during the program by announcing a “soundbyte” or brief introduction of themselves, their accomplishments, and their future goals. Then there was a final reception before participants were shuttled off to their airports and homes.

The Young Women’s Political Leadership Retreat of 2009 was a success, packed full of political and leadership elites in Washington, DC, workshops, training sessions, lectures, and experiences that will benefit the participants extensively as they embark on the rest of their lives and careers.

This internship has been indescribably amazing, and so valuable. Thank you, Running Start!

Emma Nash (Prestbury, England)

Sarah Heeter (Phoenix, Arizona)

Jeannette Trejo (Silver Spring, Maryland)

Dominique Jenkins (Fairfax, Virginia)

Summer 2009 Interns

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Stoning of Soraya M.

I think we forget, sometimes, the privilege that it is to live in a country as tolerant and secular as America. I’m not saying we don’t have our problems; every government, including ours, has its problems. As a young woman though, I feel privileged to live in this place at this time in history.

Wednesday night, I attended an advance screening of The Stoning of Soraya M. at the Georgetown movie theater. I can think of no better description for it than brutally haunting. And I say that in praise of the film – not in judgment.

The plot chronicles the revelation of a horrific story from a rural village in Iran in 1986. When a French-Iranian journalist is stranded in a village because of car troubles, an older woman tells him of an act the men in her village are hiding from the outside world. Her niece, Soraya, was falsely accused and convicted of infidelity and stoned to death by her village so that her husband could marry another woman and not be required by law to pay her support. Her neighbors and family partake in this plot; participate in the murder, and band together to cover it up.

It may be hard to see past the vicious murder of an innocent woman that is depicted on screen. I walked away from the film as distressed as anyone but inspired by the spirit of Zahra, Soraya’s aunt. In a country and culture that still, more than 20 years after the events took place, suppresses women in shockingly inhumane ways, she understood the power of a single human voice. She promised her niece, “I will tell your daughters the truth about you; I will tell the whole world.” And despite all odds, she managed to do so, telling the young reporter, “I want you to take my voice with you,” before she began her story.

The message that the voice of a woman will insight change and influence communities is one we understand here at Running Start. It is at the heart of our mission to encourage young women to run early for public office. Great change can be put in motion by speaking up every chance you get. How can anyone know that you want change, that you want to make a difference, if you sit in the corner and don’t speak up for yourself?

Have a voice ladies – and use it!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Path to Politics Networking Lunch

Wednesday, April 15th, Running Start had another greatly successful Path to Politics lunch at the offices of Winston & Strawn, LLP. The subject was networking, and I’m so glad that I went. I picked up some new skills I hadn’t necessarily thought of before, met some great young women, and was wholly impressed by the conversation and passion of the women around me.

You know, there is a lot more that goes into successful networking than you might think. You’ve got to make an impression, hopefully positive, on the people you meet. You should try hard – and if you’re anything like me this may be the most challenging aspect of networking – to remember names and associations. Juggle the glass of wine you might be toting or the small plate, and for Heaven’s sake, please chew with your mouth closed!

Running Start did a great job of reminding me of some of the most fundamental points of networking. For instance, I’m great at the conversation, and I’m pretty good at remembering to jump in with my name before someone has to say “and you are?” But I almost always just say, “Hi, I’m Rachael.” Now how memorable am I if you don’t know my last name? It’s important to remember to always say your first and last name while making a good impression with a solid handshake and eye contact.

I get so much out of teaching moments like this luncheon, and I know that it is this characteristic that is one of the things that drew me to Running Start in the first place. The programs are all geared towards educating young women on politics, the world, and professional skills.

I don’t get to make it to Path to Politics lunches very often. I wish I could make it to more but I’m often chained to my desk through lunchtime. If you make it to these meetings with any regularity and want to write a little something about them here, let me know. We can always use new voices on our blog!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What Michelle Means to Us

Last week’s Newsweek cover story is “What Michelle Means to Us,” and I was more than a little excited to read it. Swiping the magazine from a waiting table, I hunkered down expecting a hard-hitting article about the First Lady-Elect, what I got was so much more. Allison Samuels wrote an in-depth, deeply personal analysis of the striking beauty of Mrs. Obama and all that she will bring to the proverbial table as our First Lady come January 20, 2009. Her husband is not the only figure entering the White House next month bearing the weight of the hopes and dreams of a generation.

The idea of Michelle Obama evokes murmurs of a resurrected Camelot at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She calls herself “First Mom” and is putting not only her own family first but, rumor has it, will be putting the families of our brave men and women overseas serving in Afghanistan and Iraq at the forefront of her projects once she is First Lady. Coupled with her young, inspiring husband and their two adorable children, it is not surprising that comparisons to JFK and Jackie abound in the press and on the web.

My favorite part of Allison Samuels’ article is not the reminder and hope for a return to times past. My favorite discussion is her dissection of our First Lady-Elect as everything she is in addition to mother and wife.

Her ever-present appearance at the side of her husband during the election alongside the coverage of her habitual return to Chicago and her children may make it easy for some to forget that this woman is educated, driven and incredibly intelligent. She has served on the PTA and 6 Boards of Directors across Chicago. She finished law school a year before her husband and, again rumor has it, put off his advances when he interned at the law firm were she was an associate her first year out of school because of her concern over the ethics of an associate dating an intern.

Michelle Obama is the kind of woman I am proud to say I admire. She has not been afraid to speak her mind and has stood tall as those decisions have sometimes been ripped apart by the press. I have read the stories that criticize her fashion choices even the morning after Election Day.

I look forward to the next four (hopefully eight) years. I am excited to see this First Lady in action alongside her husband, and I have serious hopes that she will not be judged as First Ladys present – and past – have for their pursuits both inside and outside the White House. I can’t wait to see what she does next. I hope she inspires a whole new generation of women to step up to the plate.

Monday, October 27, 2008

T-Minus 8 Days

The election is a week away and frankly, I'm pretty ready for it to be
here and happening. There's one part of the news though that I will
not miss when it stops being a 24 hour coverage of Obama and McCain.
I'm sick of the sexist nature of the commentary. If women are voting
for McCain/Palin, they're doing it "because she's a woman" and
Democrats are ripping into them because they're voting the gender
card. If women are voting for Obama/Biden, they're accused of not
standing up for their gender and isn't it important to get a woman in
the White House, one way or another?

When did my gender become my only reason for voting? And when did it
become the only thing that politicians, pollsters and journalists
cared about? I'm almost 26 and gender is not my top priority this
November. Would I have voted for Clinton happily? Yes, but that's
because I agreed with her policies, not her gender. Next Tuesday, I
will be voting for my economic future and the economic future of my
friends and family. I will vote for national security and the shaky
reputation we have on the international stage - I follow Australian
blogs that are watching our presidential race avidly, half out of
interest and half out of fear. I will vote for health care and
infrastructure and the environment and my right to choose what happens
to my body.

I guess, the purpose of this is to say that I'm sick of being told I
should be voting one way or another because of my gender. To me, the
strongest voices women can bring to the polls next week are those that
speak up and speak strong for what they believe in. Isn't that part of
what we've been fighting for all along? Feminism isn't just a numbers
game to me - whether or not we have a woman president, and I can't
wait for the day that we do, or a female Chief Justice, Speaker of the
House or President Pro Tempore of the Senate. Feminism is the belief
that women have a say in the policy and shaping of our Nation because
our voices are equal to our male partners. Just because we're not
sitting at the head of the table doesn't mean we don't have a deep
impact on the daily events in our great Nation's history.

It's part of what drew me to Running Start actually - that we
encourage women to take that step forward and run for office on every
level. The more women at the table, the more we can affect change in
the lives of our families, friends and neighbors.

Next Tuesday, when you go to pull the lever at your local voting
station, touch the screen, fill in the bubble or put the stamp on your
mail-in ballot, do your research and decide based on what believe and
what you want to see happen over the next four years - not on the
gender of the candidate. A win for a woman simply because she's a
woman is not a step forward for feminism in my mind - it's a step back
because she wins because she's being judged as a woman, not a person.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Obama-Clinton Dream Ticket No Longer a Reality

After Hillary Clinton conceded the Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama, the concept of a dream ticket emerged in which Clinton would serve as Vice President. This idea seemed like a good way to appease the 18 million people, according to ABC News, who stood behind Clinton during her run for the presidential nomination. However, this dream is no longer a possibility as Obama announced his choice of Senator Joe Biden from Delaware as his vice president last night. As a result, several issues have been raised. Will Obama’s choice to not choose Clinton as his Vice President cost him votes? If he had chosen Clinton, would she have been satisfied as the vice president? Would Clinton have outshined Obama during his presidency if he was elected as Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist and former campaign spokesperson for Al Gore, argued? More importantly, would Clinton and Obama have gotten along in the White House? It seems that there are a lot more questions than answers. Only time will tell if Obama made the right choice or not.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Feminist Hammer Keeps on Tapping

Rebecca Traister’s most recent blog on certainly made me stop for a second. I nearly threw up my hands in dismay and prepared myself to write a loathing review of her words. In fact, I made that snap decision only about half way through the article itself. I’m glad I had the self control to finish what I’d started and that I didn’t run right off to vent through my keyboard. She actually had some (and I mean “some” literally) good points.

The first portion of her blog is rather inflammatory in my opinion, and I rather took umbrage at her opening paragraphs. They seemed unnecessarily harsh and they seemed to use the language that each and every single journalist I have loathed for their political coverage of the women taking part in the 2008 presidential campaign – candidates and candidates’ wives together. It was blunt; it was infuriating; I wanted to throw things at it. As I try not to regularly throw things at my computer, I settled for seething on my couch instead.

I kept reading. I tried to give Ms. Traister the benefit of the doubt. After all, we don’t all support the same candidate. But what I couldn’t understand was that this woman claimed to be a Hillary supporter – or at least claimed that she had voted for her and voted for her because of legitimate reasons, not just because she was a woman. And I’m glad I continued. Though her elucidation on the subject remained rather caustic in my opinion, she came back around towards the end and remembered that Sen. Clinton is a woman making history with every election-step she takes. Her speech on Saturday was moving and powerful, and while she amply took the opportunity to throw her support wholeheartedly behind Sen. Obama, she also remembered to pat not only herself on the back but all the women who have stood before her and behind her on this history changing campaign. She remembered the octogenarians who were born before women had the right to vote in America. She remembered the young women she inspired and the children whose parents brought them to rallies and were reminded that they could be anything they wanted to be when they grew up.

My personal favorite moments: the 18,000,000 cracks in the glass ceiling; and the story about the old woman who cast her absentee ballot from her hospice bed and passed away. Her vote couldn’t be counted because she was no longer living so her husband, who hadn’t voted in 40+ years, went to the primary and voted for Sen. Clinton in his wife’s memory.

There’s no way around the fact that Sen. Clinton has become a polarizing figure in American politics. To me, she will always be the first woman to successfully run a major, nationwide, campaign for the highest office in the land. She will always be the woman who was derided for standing by her husband in the face of national scrutiny of an affair. She will always be the woman who spoke her mind and relentlessly pursued her goals – traits men would be praised for, she was ridiculed and called a ball-buster or fake. Whether Sen. Obama or Sen. McCain win the White House in November, this has been a historical primary season and Sen. Clinton has been one of the pivotal pieces of making it historic.

That was the final point I decided to take from Rebecca Traister’s blog earlier tonight. I decided to stare past what I found offensive and ugly and see the over-arching message I desperately wanted to see in an article that claimed to see the feminist hammer knocking on the glass wall between women across the country and the Oval Office.