Guest Columns

WINTER: DIVERSE WOMEN TRANSFORM POLITICAL SCENE

'Run, Vote, Lead' puts 20 candidates on ballot

Last year, Colorado and the rest of the country fell in love with a community organizer of humble beginnings who was raised by a hardworking single mother. With the support of the Centennial State he went on to win the presidency in 2008.

Although the 2009 election was low-key by comparison, the same dynamism was alive among this year’s candidates. As a young elected official who also trains women to run for political office, I am proud to say that 20 alumnae from The White House Project’s Vote, Run, Lead program were on ballots throughout Colorado. They comprise a diverse and dedicated pool of women whose commitment to service is transforming the faces and voices of leadership across the Rocky Mountain state.

These candidates are not your usual suspects, which is what makes their bids and eventual service so transformative to our political landscape. They are everyday women who seek to translate their experiences into engaged political participation and effective policy on behalf of Coloradans.

Their stories resonate because they mirror our own. On one ballot was a low-income single mother who saw her child’s school degenerate to the point that she decided to run for School Board so she could help fix the mess. Another first-time candidate is a union member and activist whose goal is to make things better for working people. We had a candidate who is an employee of the National Rugby Association and who is taking her skills from the playing field to the political arena. There is also an Army nurse who has witnessed the service of U.S. troops and wants to engage others to get involved in the community. And the impressive, inspiring list goes on.

There has been a great deal of speculation that the passion and sense of purpose that arose from the 2008 election season is leveling. Yet, at The White House Project, we have seen the opposite — women of incredibly diverse backgrounds have located a place for themselves in the political sphere, and they are advancing towards making their voices heard and their visions a reality. The pipeline to women’s political leadership is alive and well — and growing every day.

Critical to their continued success is the support not only of other women, but of the men in their lives. Encouragement from male colleagues — husbands, fathers and sons — to take the next step in a woman’s leadership is often a deciding factor in whether or not she will take the leap. One candidate in this year’s election, for instance, was supported by her grandson — who not only provided familial encouragement, but lent his skills as her campaign manager.

Every spring, we hold an event in Colorado entitled, “Invite a Woman to Run.” Elected and community leaders send out personalized invitations to hundreds of women leaders from across the state, inviting them to run for office. The support and active encouragement from male allies in the political arena are crucial to moving a woman from civic leader to candidate, and I’m proud that scores of women and men alike have offered their names to the initiative.

Of course, we can’t all become state representatives and City Council members. What can the average person do? It’s simple: call, write or e-mail the women in your life and tell them to take the next step in their leadership, whether it’s running for office, applying for a better job or taking on a new role in the community. When we work together to elevate women in leadership — alongside men — our democracy can only benefit.

Faith Winter is outreach and training director of The White House Project Colorado and a member of the Westminster City Council.