Not Unqualified, Uniquely Qualified: Why More Women Must Run for Office

Eleanor Roosevelt Monument. Washington, DC

“At present, our country needs women’s idealism and determination, perhaps more in politics than anywhere else.”

Although the Honorable Shirley Chisholm spoke these words over forty years ago as the first African American woman elected to the United States Congress, her words ring as loudly and true today as they did when she was elected in 1968.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University, as of 2017, only 19% of members of the US Congress are women, and women comprise just roughly one quarter of State legislatures across the nation, at 24.8%. While these numbers are notably higher than in Shirley’s time in Congress, which was less than 10%,  the number is still abysmally low in comparison to the number of women in the US, who comprise half the population.

So what keeps more women from running for office? While there are various factors, the most common reasons include perceived lack of experience, women thinking  they are unqualified, motherhood, and societal expectations of a woman’s place in the home. In fact, despite rising levels of educational and professional achievement, women are still responsible for the majority of home and family care. A portion of women even leave the workplace altogether, despite educational and professional attainment, to take care of home. Further, for young women, the fear of lack of experience due to young age and entry level work experience can be a deterrent for seeking public office or even higher career advancement.

However, these challenges do not make women unqualified or even underqualified to run for office, but rather uniquely qualified, as women regularly exercise some of the most critical skills necessary for holding public office. These include communication skills, project management skills, and team building skills.

As primary caregivers, women must constantly communicate to their children, often using words and tones to effectively relay the message to fit their audience, which is critical when talking with diverse groups of constituents and even adverse legislators. The same holds true for working women who may need to tailor their words to explain their thoughts and ideas in the workplace in ways that men are not asked to do. Women also possess important project management skills in both the home and office, balancing family budgets and errands along with work tasks and deadlines, and even school schedules and assignments for their kids and themselves as well. Additionally, women possess key team building skills, often delegating tasks to family members and friends, effectively enlisting help with work and household chores as needed, which is critical in building strong coalitions to increase success in implementing solutions to problems.

With no political experience, voters judge candidates based on their personal records. Women use these skills as an everyday necessity of their lives, making up for any lack of experience, which doesn’t guarantee attaining or using these skills in practice. Furthermore, even with lack of political experience, women are more educated than men, recently surpassing them in earning college degrees, in spite of persistent lack of equal pay for equal work. This holds particularly true for black women, who earned  bachelors degrees at a 60% completion rate as of 2013, higher than any other group.

Women have the education, skills, and population necessary to run for and win public office, and there is no better time than now to put those resources to use. Not only are the current numbers an inadequate representation of the population, but legislatures across the nation, as well as the current presidential administration, have implemented bills and orders negatively affecting women, with little to no input from women. Think of our now president signing an executive order affecting women worldwide, only three days into his administration, surrounded by men. Finally, some of the most hot button political issues such as defunding planned parenthood and repealing the Affordable Care Act directly impact women and children more than others, so it is up to us to protect ourselves and our families by getting involved in our politics at every level.

As the Honorable Ms. Chisholm reminded us, “We must reject not only the stereotypes that others have of us but also those that we have of ourselves.” We must be the catalysts for change in our communities and our nation by embracing what makes us uniquely qualified to run for office and be a powerful force in our political process.

Run for The Resistance!

Michigan Supreme Court. Lansing, MI.

“If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.”

Spoken by President Barack Obama in Chicago during his farewell speech on January 10, 2017, these words resonate loudly given the political mood across the country in reaction to the recent inauguration of the 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump.

Following the results of the 2016 presidential election, protests and marches have occurred nationwide in demonstration against Trump’s campaign message of sexism and racism, culminating in the historic Women’s March in Washington DC this past weekend, with sister marches not only around the country, but around the world. Yet, while protests and marches are fundamental rights and expressions in our democracy, they are only a starting point in this new era, now labeled “The Resistance.”

Since the election, political interest and involvement has increased, with advocacy groups focused on training people to run for office experiencing a spike in applications, particularly by women. This includes the Michigan chapter of Emerge America, a national organization dedicated to training democratic women to run for office, of which I am an alumna. The interest in Emerge Michigan was so strong after the election that the organization extended its deadline from November 14 to December 31 to accommodate the increase in applications. Further, during the Women’s March in DC, some participants interviewed by Time Magazine identified this moment in time as a wake up call to run for office as a way to seek the change they wish to see in their communities.

However strong your desire to run, to increase your chances of success, you must have a strong team behind you. Core members of a campaign include a campaign manager to organize all elements of the campaign, a treasurer responsible for campaign finances, a fundraiser to raise dollars to support the campaign, and a field coordinator to implement voter outreach strategies. These positions are responsible for critical components of the campaign, which frees the candidate to do the most important job of contacting and delivering their message to voters. Significantly, do not discount the value of having a lawyer on your team, as we are most effective in ensuring key requirements, including compliance with campaign finance laws, reviewing contracts for campaign work, and most importantly of all, ensuring ballot access so that the candidate is not left off the ballot for election.

Furthermore, with the political energy and focus created by the 2016 presidential election, it is imperative to remember that all politics is local. 2017 and 2018 are big election years here in Michigan, meaning  you can run for office to effect change right in your own community. With the political climate ripe for change, now is the perfect time to take advantage of the opportunity.

2017 marks the City of Detroit election for all city officials, including mayor, city council, and city clerk. Additionally, it is not too early to explore the opportunity to run for a race in 2018, as the election will feature crucial state seats up for grab in the Michigan House, as well as the governorship. Finally, 2018 is also a critical national midterm election, with congressional seats up for grab in what is sure to be a competitive race to flip the majority red seats blue.

No matter your prior political experience, as our now former President Barack Obama perfectly stated in his farewell speech, “…change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.” Now is your time to run for the resistance. Assemble your team, and get to work.

MLK: The Sacrifice of One for the Opportunity to Many

Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument. National Mall, Washington, DC.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke these words 60 years ago in Montgomery, Alabama in 1957.

As I reflect on this holiday in remembrance of one of the most prolific civil rights leaders and historical figures of the 20th century,  I can’t help but relate the meaning of this quote to the life Dr. King lived himself. He was a brilliant, highly educated, and impressive young man, graduating from Morehouse College at age 19 and obtaining a PhD from Boston University at the age of 26.

Given the time in which he lived, one can argue that he could have rested his laurels on the education he received alone, achieving these rare feats at an extremely young age and as a Black man during the height of the Jim Crow era. He did not need to dedicate his life to advancing the cause of civil rights, so that not only he, but other African Americans, could have access to educational and economic opportunities for advancement. However, that’s exactly what he did, and he paid the ultimate price in the struggle for freedom and equality with his tragic assassination in 1968 at the still very young age of 39 years old.

During an era when segregation was legal and rampant in schools, and employment and housing were outright denied based on race, Dr. King and others persevered and blazed the trail for others to follow. They broke down barriers and opened the gateway not only for themselves, but for countless contemporaries and future generations by achieving historic and sweeping legislation such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1965 Voting Rights Act, and 1968 Fair Housing Act, the last of which was signed into law exactly one week after Dr. King’s assassination.

His sacrifice, along with the many ancestors who came before, paved the way for progress so that decades later, young black children, myself included, could have the opportunity to achieve their highest potential. They embodied the quote and truly answered the call of life’s most persistent and urgent question.

I am sure that without the service and sacrifice of Dr. King, I could not do what I am able to do or be the attorney I am today. While black owned law firms existed in Dr. King’s time, many of these were established out of necessity, due to the routine exclusion of blacks from mainstream firms and other significant employment opportunities. Despite their credentials and qualifications, few employers would hire them due solely to their race, so they had to set out on their own and make a way for themselves.

Today, I am announcing the creation of my own law firm, TMP Law, PLLC, through this inaugural blog post. Significantly, through this introduction, I recognize and am grateful for the extreme honor and privilege in being able to choose to take on this new venture, not in the least due to the courageous efforts of Dr. King and the preceding generations.

Finally, in perhaps his greatest legacy, Dr. King inspired following generations to likewise answer the call of life’s most persistent and urgent question, which has enabled us to progress and move forward, in spite of remaining setbacks in the current day and age. In light of this, when I ask myself the question, I am never fully satisfied with the answer. Why? Because I understand, as Dr. King did, that others will follow, so there is always a greater desire to be better and to do more, not solely for myself, but for those who come after me. To not only live up to the legacy left by Dr. King, but to model his leadership by influencing and implementing change for not only myself and my peers, but for generations to follow.