I’d always thought when I was young that perhaps I might run for office someday. I served in various board positions on student organizations growing up and then became elected as student government president for the engineering college at the University of Michigan where I gained some of the best leadership training possible through university and affiliated programs. Some of the student leaders at UofM were the best I’ve encountered.
Then I graduated and moved to the Bay Area where I rapidly became involved in my job and realized that holding positions of leadership was very difficult as a newbie in the workforce. I got my break to become a manager and began participating in more local nonprofit organizations as a volunteer, learning the ropes and meeting people. The idea of serving in a public office was not on my radar.
My passion through college was the intersection between technology and society, including a lot of policy-related issues so I became involved in organizations like the Association for Computing Machinery and its U.S. Public Policy Committee, USACM. Then I interned for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and became a contract project manager for CPSR, the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility under a grant. I was excited to finally be putting my energies toward what I considered important issues surrounding something I was passionate about and knowledgeable about – technology. I thought every once in a while that it would be cool to be involved in a political campaign if I could find a candidate also passionate about things meaningful to me, but I hadn’t found one.
Finally, I got into politics the way many do – I helped a friend of the family with a campaign – and I was hooked. In my case, the family friend was former Senator Gary Hart, who was contemplating another presidential run in 2003. I used my technical and writing skills to manage Internet strategy, launch his blog and edit online content. Through that, I met some incredible people both locally and nationally and I learned that although there are some in politics who are just in it for power, most people truly do it because they honestly want to make a difference.
That leads me to Emerge. I’ve mentioned Emerge once or twice in the past, but I wanted to tell a little bit about my story and why I’m so enthralled by the program. Emerge America trains pro-choice Democratic women around the country to run for office and work on campaigns. I heard about it from a friend of mine who graduated in their first class in 2003. I applied for the 2004 program but didn’t have the local experience at the time, so after helping out with local campaigns and learning a little more about politics, I reapplied in 2005 and was accepted into the Emerge California program. The program meets one weekend a month in locations around the Bay Area, and I met some of the brightest, kindest, most interesting women I’ve ever known.
Emerge provided a variety of opportunities for me and opened many doors. I learned about campaign nuts and bolts, fundraising, public speaking, network building, and the legislative process. I sat at a table with Nancy Pelosi and other program members. I was part of an event with Jackie Speier, who I later worked for on her campaign for Lieutenant Governor. I met several other notable local women like Dianne Feinstein, and I had the chance to see Anna Eshoo, Silicon Valley’s representative to Congress, whom I admire. I haven’t run for office, but I applied to and was appointed to a Menlo Park’s Environmental Quality Commission, where I continued to learn more about how local government works.
It can be difficult for women to find out about Emerge, so that’s why I’m posting about it here. I also want to emphasize that Emerge trains women of all ages, all ethnicities, all sexual orientations, all professions. (Although I’ve noticed at least half of the alumni are moms.) The only requirements are that the women be pro-choice, Democrats, have a record of community involvement, and a serious interest in running for office in the near future. Counties where Emerge California is recruiting include Alameda, Contra Costa, Sacramento, Marin, Napa, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano and Sonoma. Several program graduates have run for office and been elected. (Stats: 114 alumnae, 17 runs for office, 10 wins, 3 more running for November ’07, and approx. 60 board and commission appointments.)
Information sessions are this week – Monday in Palo Alto at 6:30pm at 2091 Barbara Drive, and Wednesday in San Jose at 6:30pm at 1191 Carolyn Avenue. To RSVP, please email the Emerge California Executive Director, Gretchen Schoenstein, gretchen[at]emergeca[dot]org. Applications are available on the Emerge California web site. They are due September 24, interviews will be in late October and/or early November, and the program begins December of 2007.
(Also posted at the Silicon Valley Moms Blog.)