Last night (Thursday, July 1), I graduated from the seven-month intensive political leadership training program known as Emerge: Women Leaders for a Democratic Future. About a week before the graduation, my name, along with the names of two of my "fellow Emerge'rs", was drawn from a hat to say a few words and address the attendees. I didn't really prepare a speech and thought I would just speak off the cuff and from the heart ~ especially since I thought the graduation would consist of the 20 Program Members and a few of our loved ones ~ "no big deal," I thought, "I can speak to a small group of friends". Right? Right?
Well, my first clue that this was indeed GOING TO BE A BIG DEAL is that the graduation was scheduled to take place at San Francisco's beautiful City Hall, in the elegant and marbled South Light Court. More clues: When I arrived, I noticed the CROWD of people (gulp), then I noticed the PODIUM set up in the Light Court (gasp), facing a THRONG OF CHAIRS (I feel faint) ~~ oh, and then I began reading the formal PROGRAMS laid out on each chair; um, it appeared I would be speaking AFTER THE MAYOR and BEFORE CONGRESSWOMAN LYNN WOOLSEY (pick me up from the floor now, please). Oh, I also noticed the reporter from KQED (recording the entire event for, I learned later, inclusion in a larger story in a few weeks), as well as Supervisor (and future Assembly Member!) Fiona Ma and the Fire Chief, Joanne Hayes-White. Well, I'm no "slow pony," so I had it figured out by then that I had been wrong, very wrong, about my assumption. (Remember what they say ~ "when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.")
But this is how I work best. My adrenaline and "auto pilot" kicked in and I got to work, doing what I seem to do well, which is to say, talking. I introduced myself to the Mayor and was glad he remembered me from our other meetings. Our group took photos and mingled with the guests. I barely remembered that my personal life is in, shall we say, shambles, right now. I mean, how can you worry about your pitiful personal life and the last $6 in your bank account when you have the Mayor's attention and you hear these words coming out of your mouth: "My Fellowship is wrapping up so I want to send my résumé to your office and hope to work in your Administration." I mean, one would have to be "ON" in this type of situation, no? Pure Game Face. Top Of Your Game. I learned last night, that I seem to be a master of this art form.
Fortunately, I was the 3rd of the three Program Members to speak. My fellow Emerge'rs who spoke before me, Dhaya and Whitney, were amazing, poised, articulate, and HAD PREPARED SPEECHES. Damn, I thought, as I sat there listening to their poignant words, all the while writing my speech in my head ~ I do not want to go down in history as the one Emerge'r who assumed! Also troubling was the fact that I adore my Emerge sisters and, given my emotional state, was terrified I would burst into tears at the podium as I described "how Emerge impacted my life." I vaguely remember hearing my name called and my bio read, or even walking to the podium, hoping nothing was on my pants as everyone watched me. And then it happened again ~ something just turned on. I looked out and saw my friend Maxine's supportive and smiling face, as well as the beautiful faces of the Emerge women ~ and they inspired me to speak from my heart. I described how I moved to San Francisco in 1989, not knowing anyone here and never having even visited ~ how I lived in the Mission District and discovered community, and then broadened my community with Emerge ~ how, as a Latina who is passionate about labor and racial issues, it was important for me, through Emerge, to work with a multi-racial group of women who are passionate about other issues ~ and how much I valued the privileged, private meetings we had with elected officials such as Senator Barbara Boxer and District Attorney Kamala Harris. And who knows what else I said ~ it's all a blur ~ but they all clapped and congratulated me afterwards ~ so I am assuming there was no spinach in my teeth and that my words were well-received.
Later, the KQED radio guy interviewed me and asked me specifically about issues facing women of color in the political arena. A part of me stood outside myself, watching myself give the interview, thinking ~ can you imagine me giving an informed opinion about the lack of women, particularly women of color, in elected office on the radio ~ I mean, who knew?
The Emerge Board also gave us the ceremonial "walk" to receive our diplomas ~ imagine my awe and sense of empowerment when I saw that, in addition to my Emerge diploma, I received eight (8!) other commendations of recognition from Mayor Newsom, Senator Boxer, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Supervisor Fiona Ma, Senator Dianne Feinstein, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, State Senator Jackie Speier, and Assemblywoman Sally J. Lieber. Senator Feinstein's letter even commended my work at The Impact Fund and Senator Boxer's letter noted how proud she was that one of her interns was now an Emerge member (I worked at her office during my last semester of law school)
All of these accolades made me remember all of the hard work we had just accomplished in Emerge, and the importance of the program itself. You see, Emerge is the only group in California that provides Democratic women with the hands-on training they need to actually achieve their political aspirations ~ all of us in the Program have a 1-yr, 5-yr, or even 10-yr plan for when we will run for office; several of our current Members are already running for City Council and School Board seats. The Emerge Board is looking to expand the program, and we have our eyes set on Arizona, Wisconsin, and Southern California. We have a huge task ahead of us because there is not a single Democratic training program like this on a national level. HOW DO THE DEMOCRATS EXPECT TO WIN? We know that 22 million unmarried women did not vote in the last presidential election. We need to organize, train, and invite our young women to imagine a career in political life!
The Republicans are way ahead of the game with not one, but TWO national training programs: (1) Winning Women: Leadership for the New Century (an initiative of the Republic National Committee), and their political training program, Excellence in Public Service, which has chapters in 16 states ~ the RNC has funds set aside for any state which wishes to open a new chapter ~ they automatically get funded! and (2) the National Federation of Republican Women, which in 2003 re-instituted their Campaign Management Schools.
Meanwhile, at Emerge, we rely heavily on private funders and local fundraising events. And, while the Democratic National Committee indeed has a program called Democratic Voices, run by the DNC Women's Voter Center, it does not appear to be as extensive as the RNC programs, nor intensive as our local Emerge program.
These are some of the reasons Emerge was founded in the first place. Two amazing women, Andrea Dew Steele and Emily Evers, founded Emerge only a couple of years ago, when they recognized that, not only are women disproportionately under-represented in politics, but noted that term limits will force out what few women have made it into elected office. On top of that, women simply do not self-select to run for public office. Plenty of little boys grow up thinking they will be President one day ~ and they create for themselves a feeling of entitlement. Girls rarely do that. Further, as we grow older, we come face-to-face with obstacles such as the need for fundraising (we don't like to ask for money), the desire to balance our family life (we don't want to neglect our partners and children), and the exhausting work hours (we'd like to still get some beauty sleep). Emerge works to help us overcome those obstacles. Not only does Emerge work to identify, educate, and inspire Democratic women, but they make a long-term investment in us by virtue of the training we receive.
The 2004 Curriculum included intensive weekend trainings, one weekend per month, for seven months ~ sometimes we had 12 hour days, for two consecutive days. We had amazing educators from Emily's List, the California Democratic Party, local unions, and the offices of elected officials. We also spent six of those months, in teams, running a simulated campaign for a City Council seat (in the imaginary State of Frenzy and City of Hyperbole ~ aren't politicians funny?). On top of all that, we each had to volunteer at least 10 hours on a campaign of our choice. The time-commitment was monumental ~ as much work as I had in law school, but much more satisfying. We each also had full-time jobs, some were in school, and some had families. I mean, how much more kick-ass can we all be? ~ :) ~ I hope to overcome my fears of running for office soon, and make my Emerge sisters proud (plus I will need their financial and in-kind support!).
If you're a Democrat woman in the Bay Area, you should apply for this program! The 2004-2005 Application is on-line now and the deadline to apply is September 10, 2004. If you can't apply for the program, then please consider making a donation. The tuition for the program is $1,000, but individual financial circumstances are not a barrier to participation in the program ~ since I was on a public interest fellowship at a non-profit organization, Emerge gave me a scholarship to the program. Donations to Emerge help support women like me who wish to participate in the program ~~ this point was driven home to me when I discovered that I was the only Latina (out of 20 women) in the program, and there was only one African-American woman.
HELP SUPPORT YOUR FUTURE WOMEN DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES. If you can, donate today (or tomorrow or next month or next year), won't you?:)