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Women Lead Each Other Into Political Ring

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The readers of CosmoGirl, a lawyer in New York and an advocate for mobile-home dwellers may seem like a disparate group. But they are all on the receiving end of invitations from other women to throw their hats into the political ring.

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The readers of CosmoGirl, a lawyer in New York and an advocate for mobile-home dwellers may seem like a disparate group. But they are all on the receiving end of invitations from other women to throw their hats into the political ring.
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Training from the White House Project

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--Young women are getting plenty of invitations to see themselves as winning politicians, including from role model No. 1.

"When I think about the world you are entering as young women, I cannot help but feel excitement for the opportunities that lie ahead of you," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, wrote to readers in a letter in the September issue of CosmoGirl, the young-adult version of Cosmopolitan that reaches over 8 million readers ages 13 to 24. "Never before have so many doors been open. And by 2024, I have a feeling we'll have unlocked the door to the Oval Office too."

CosmoGirl published the letter as part of its partnership with the New York-based White House Project. The joint effort is called Project 2024, the year when the magazine's youngest readers will turn 35 and become eligible to run for president of the United States.

"After Sept. 11 happened, we were sensing that girls were feeling a sense of powerlessness and depression and 'Gosh, the world has such big problems and what can girls do to help?'" said Susan Schulz, editor in chief of CosmoGirl. "We were thinking, we want to inspire her each month with bios of successful icons and we want to give her ways to gain those skills to become a leader in her life."

Project 2024 aims to place a CosmoGirl reader in the presidency by that year, said Schulz, adding that the magazine's online Club 2024--for readers who receive a monthly newsletter on leadership--has 30,000 members to date.

Political invitations and exhortations have been building in the adult ranks since1988, when the White House Project was founded with the goal of getting a woman into the government's top job, said founder and president Marie Wilson.

The White House Project's "Vote, Run, Lead" program--launched in 2004 with an eye on "pipeline" posts--has recruited more than 16,000 women to participate in politics and trained more than 1,000 women to run for office.

Wilson said other organizations and individuals are catching on to the importance of the invitation factor.


Younger Generation Ready for A Woman

In June CosmoGirl and the White House Project released a poll on whether the next generation is ready for a female president. Answer: yes, from about 73 percent of the 1,000 young women and men surveyed. Of the respondents, 92 percent were between the ages of 13 and 19.

The study also found that 69 percent would be more likely to vote on Election Day if a woman was on the presidential ballot, underscoring the theory that women don't run for office in equal numbers because they do not see themselves reflected in the political process.

Wilson said part of the purpose of the Vote, Run, Lead program is to diversify the political ranks. "We're reaching out to women who have been working on not-for-profit political issues; therefore many of them are women who are making less money and women of color."

Among the women who have received White House Project training in the past two years, 80 have run or declared their intention to run for political office while 36 are currently in office.

Jan Bach, for example, was elected in November 2005 to serve on the city council of Thornton, Colo.

She said the trainings gave her the necessary skills to win after she had decided to run for office despite her limited knowledge of campaigns.


Urged to Run for Office

At the time she turned to the trainings, Bach had already begun serving her other political post, as chair of a mobile homeowners association, and other members began urging her to run for office.

"They felt that as the chair I could clearly state the hardships that they had being mobile home owners renting a space, and represent a broader range of diverse citizens," said Bach, who had already worked on affordable housing issues and advocated on behalf of people with disabilities.

After a friend sent her a White House Project invitation, Bach immediately submitted an application to the next training.

"I found the cost of attendance to be very reasonable, but could I afford it? No. I was awarded a scholarship for $100. I paid $300 to hire a caregiver to watch my daughter so I could focus on the learning for those three days."

During her campaign Bach managed to register 7,000 new voters after someone on the opposing Republican candidate's campaign told her that "poor people don't vote." She is now working on establishing mandatory on-site child care in corporate businesses and getting support to build a Boys and Girls club.

"You have no idea just how much confidence it gave me," she said. "The White House Project taught me about fundraising, setting up your campaign committee, ways to address the media and the effective two-minute sound bite."


Drawing in Women of Color

The White House Project estimates that about 42 percent of their participants identify as women of color and that 38 percent have an annual income of less than $30,000.

Stacy H. Schneider

On Oct. 15, television network Lifetime resumed its "Every Woman Counts" campaign--for the fifth presidential election since it launched in 1992--to encourage women to be engaged in the political process as voters and as candidates.

This year, Lifetime will also host "boot-camp" trainings in several states and online for women interested in running for office. Also available online are interviews with 86 female senators and representatives.

In another effort to increase the number of women in government, the Washington-based Women's Campaign Forum launched its "She Should Run" campaign June 27 to encourage the online nominations of 1,000 pro-choice women for political offices.

The organization had already received close to 900 nominations and plans to continue the campaign beyond the initial goal of 1,000 nominations.

The forum receives the nominations, contacts the nominators to learn more about the potential candidates and then lets the nominee know that someone thinks she has the talent and ability to lead and that she should run.

One of those nominees is attorney Stacy Schneider, an associate at New York law firm Golenbock, Eiseman, Assor, Bell and Peskoe who has been practicing for five years.

"My friends lead very busy lives and are professionals," Schneider said. "For them to take the time to nominate me meant a lot, but it's not something I've considered doing seriously. Now, with all the nominations, it definitely makes it a little bit more intriguing knowing that I have the support of people close to me."

Jacqueline Lee is a Los Angeles-based reporter with Women's eNews.

Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.

For more information:

The White House Project:
http://www.thewhitehouseproject.org/

Women's Campaign Forum, She Should Run:
http://www.sheshouldrun.org/

Lifetime Television, Every Woman Counts:
http://www.lifetimetv.com/community/olc/ewc/

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Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.