LOS ANGELES, August 17–Karenna Gore Schiff has been a major player this week at the Democratic National Convention, and her high-profile role culminated in her nomination of her father, Al Gore, as the Democratic candidate for President.
Her speech was supposed to help voters get to know the “real Al.” But to many young female delegates on the floor this week her mere presence at the podium represented a new generation of young, politically active women who are looking for role models and mentors to help them get involved–not only at the polls, but in leadership roles.
“I think what she’s doing is awesome,” said Josephine Sittenfeld, 19, the youngest member of the Ohio state delegation.
Sittenfeld added that the podium appearances not only of Schiff, but also of many of the Democratic women in Congress have made her feel as though her opinions, those of a young woman, really do matter.
“People are listening to me,” she said. “People are interested to hear what my perspectives are on the issues.”
Democrats should be listening to women like Sittenfeld, said Marie Wilson, executive director of the White House Project, an organization dedicated to encouraging women to run for elective office.
She calls women between the ages of 18 to 24 the most liberal voting bloc.
“They’re a secret weapon,” Wilson said.
Alexandra Acker, 22, of New York, also credits Schiff with helping to make young women voters feel important.
“Young people need to hear that someone wants us to vote,” said Acker, the outgoing vice president of the College Democrats of America. “I think maybe Karenna understood the impact young people had in the 1992 election. She is one of the few people I’ve heard really talk about what young people care about–campaign finance reform and reproductive rights.”
Acker also pointed out that young women like her need to feel like they have role models in politics.
“I would not be here today if it weren’t for Geraldine Ferraro,” she said, referring to the unsuccessful vice presidential candidate, the first woman ever nominated for the post. “Karenna is a role model, too. She’s the epitome of our generation–a mom, a lawyer. I’m in awe of her.”
Like Acker, Amanda Stitt, 20, at first found a role model in another generation of politician. A delegate from Flint, Mich., Stitt became involved with U.S. Rep. Debbie Stabenow’s current campaign for the U.S. Senate in her state.
“I’ve met a lot of women through that,” she said. “Young women need mentors. In the generation Debbie was from, women didn’t have mentors.”
Now, Stitt said, it’s more likely that women will be up on the podium.
“A lot of the time you will see sons speaking for their fathers,” she said, adding that it was “inspirational” to see a daughter, Karenna, taking over that role.
The White House Project’s Wilson adds that Schiff is especially effective in not only encouraging women to vote, but also encouraging them to take on leadership roles in politics.
“You can’t just ask people to participate, you have to let them know they can lead,” Wilson said. “Our research has found that one participates in any system to the extent that one feels like she has an opportunity to be a leader in it. And this is where Karenna comes in. Young women see her leading.”
Selena Davis, 27, a delegate from Washington, agrees. “A lot of people don’t see participating in politics as creating social change,” she said. “One on one, they will volunteer, but they don’t see that activism has an impact socially.” Then they see Karenna, and they think again.
Kathyrn Beaumont is a free-lance writer based in Los Angeles.