More women running — and winning elections — is the new normal

An awful lot of candidates were inspired by the Women’s Marches to run for office. How about in your community?

As exciting as it is to have multiple Democratic women running for president, it’s just as exciting when people you know and admire run for office — and win.

Three women I know recently won local elections — as a village trustee, as a member of a community college board of trustees, and as a local school board member. All are smart, progressive women who, like thousands of others around the country, were inspired to get involved in local politics after their deep disappointment in the 2016 election results.

After Hillary Clinton’s loss in the Electoral College — even though she beat Donald Trump by nearly 3 million votes — women got mad. And then they got energized.

Women turned out in record numbers to run for office at all levels. Emily’s List reported that, while only 910 women sought electoral help in 2016, some 42,000 women indicated an interest in running in 2018. A record number — 256 — won House and Senate primaries. Obviously, not all of them won in November, but there are now 127 women in Congress, a 15 percent increase from the last term and another record. And what was true in all modern U.S. elections also was true in 2018: Women vote in greater numbers than men, both in absolute totals and as a proportion of eligible voters.

Here are three women, none of whom had ever held elective office before, who decided to make a difference on their own. All are successful in their professional careers and wanted to expand their influence. They got involved in Women’s Marches, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense groups, and volunteer community organizations, but all saw openings where their interests and skills could serve a wider purpose.

All three launched grassroots campaigns, raising money on their own and enlisting friends as campaign volunteers. All three received endorsements from local newspapers, faculty organizations, and/or progressive groups. All three aimed their campaigns at each community’s local issues, whether those were financial concerns, environmental sustainability, affordable housing, racial equity, new ideas for educational excellence, or opening education to a more diverse population.

And all three of them won.

Susan Buchanan went to Congress to seek greater funding for graduate training in occupational health and safety.

The new village trustee. Susan Buchanan is a family physician specializing in occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she’s an associate professor. She has a master’s degree in public health and is also board-certified in preventive medicine. She currently serves as a commissioner on the local board of health in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb. From there, it was logical to take the step step to run for the Village Board.

“As a family doctor and researcher, I understand the importance of studying problems in depth while listening to and addressing the needs of my patients and communities I serve,” she said on her campaign website. “I will provide the same quality of care to our village’s residents. I will listen and do all I can to protect the health of our community — its economic, social, and environmental health—while ensuring the most vulnerable among us have a voice and receive the services they need to thrive.”

Buchanan received the most votes in a crowded field of 11 candidates. Although she was new to electoral politics, she has a long record of activism: She volunteered at the Chicago Community Health free clinic on Chicago’s West Side, treating Hispanic families, and is on the board of directors for the Chicago chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. She was also an election observer in El Salvador and a volunteer physician in Nicaragua.

One of her key issues in the race was environmental sustainability. “In the Chicago area, heat waves and rainfall are increasing. That means higher risk of heat illness and asthma attacks, flooding, mold overgrowth, and allergies. The Village of Oak Park government has an important role to play in combating the further degradation of our environment. Scientists tell us there are actions we can take at the local level to decrease our carbon footprint, and I support using evidence-based approaches to do as much as we possibly can as individuals and as a community.”

Suzanne Hoban

The new member of a community college board. Suzanne Hoban is the executive director of a health clinic in Woodstock, northwest of Chicago. With a master’s degree in public health, she founded the clinic over 20 years ago as the first charitable clinic in McHenry County. Her volunteer community involvement spurred her to serve the local community college, and she was just elected a member of the McHenry County College Board of Trustees.

Hoban is a board member of the Illinois Association of Free and Charitable Clinics and the Leadership of Greater McHenry County. She is also a member of the Senior Services Grant Commission of McHenry County. But it was her late father’s position as a community college teacher and administrator that inspired her to run for the college board of trustees.

“I grew up thinking that everyone understood the value of community colleges,” she said on her campaign website. “After all, in the early 1970s, my father’s doctoral thesis was on the incredible possibilities of this radically new concept of education for the entire community. He spent his career at Waubonsee Community College in various roles as dean, teacher, and administrator. The community college was a part of our family’s life every day. It was only as I grew older that I realized that many people have no concept of the role that community colleges can play in a community.”

Hoban’s answers in a campaign profile interview with The Daily Herald earned her that newspaper’s endorsement. “I believe a community college should be the hub of community learning — a campus where students can pursue associates degrees and professional or technical certificates; a resource that local businesses can tap into to enhance employee skills, and a place accessible to any community member who wants to learn something new — from painting to beekeeping.”

Emily Berry

The new school board member. Emily Berry is a former reporter who now works in corporate communications. She got involved as a PTO volunteer in her kids’ schools in the Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood. She first ran for the school board in 2017, only narrowly getting edged out by incumbents.

Berry already had been attending school board meetings as an interested parent and observer. Her school involvement propelled her to start a blog on local educational issues two years ago, one that has received a growing readership in the community. This time around, she was successful in her run for a seat on the Shorewood School Board. Her winning campaign slogan was (of course), “Pick Berry.”

“I am a proud Democrat and a strong believer in public education,” Berry said on her campaign website. “The time I’ve spent volunteering in our schools, attending board meetings, and researching in my free time has reinforced my strong support for public schools as the heart of our community. My support and care for our schools also means I am determined to see clearly where we can do better and where we may even be failing our students.”

Here’s an excerpt from a recent blog post dealing with racial equity. “Just a few months ago, our fall play was cancelled after objections to the racial slurs in the play. Suddenly systemic inequities that have been harming generations of black students in Shorewood were laid bare. … A survey and analysis of African-American students (commissioned long before the events in October) produced a series of evidence-based recommendations around how the district could start to better support non-white students. … I think it’s past time for the board to weave language around equity through board policy. … I just hope they move quickly past it and on to some more tangible changes, including and especially two things: first, asking administrators to take specific and targeted steps to hire more non-white teachers, staff, and administrators, and second, to ask teachers to look at ways to deliberately redesign their materials and teaching practice to be anti-racist, inclusive, and equitable.”

Maybe the issues in your community are different from the ones these three women faced. Perhaps your time, talents, and interests don’t lend themselves to a run for elective office, or maybe you’re better suited to a role as a campaign volunteer working a phone bank, writing campaign postcards, or knocking on doors (that’s certainly true for me).

Women in politics at the national level receive media coverage, even if there’s a severe imbalance in the over-coverage of male presidential candidates (that’s a whole other story).

But more and more women are stepping up at local as well as national levels. We need to support progressive women candidates and take them as seriously as we do those running for president.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 7, 2019.

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