As the kids say today “OMG like”—as in OMG like I’ve been asked to run for public office by Jan Schakowsky (Congresswoman from the 9th Congressional District of Illinois) and Shelia Simon (2010 candidate for Illinois Lieutenant Governor) and both on the same day. Not individually you understand but as one of about 50 audience members gathered on October 21, 2010, at the Hotel Allegro Chicago for the “Women Running for Public Office” forum hosted by The Diversity Scholarship Foundation NFP and the John Marshall Law School. The event took the form of a panel discussion and addressed the challenges faced by women running for public office and how those challenges can be overcome. In addition to Congresswoman Schakowsky and Ms. Simon (daughter of the late Senator Paul Simon, D-Ill) the panel included: Stephanie D. Neeley (Treasurer of the City of Chicago); Dorothy Brown (Clerk of the Circuit Cook of Cook County); and, Robin Kelly (2010 candidate for Illinois State Treasurer). The moderator was ISBA’s very own Aurora Austriaco, who was herself recently a candidate for public office and shared her own interesting stories of encounters on the campaign trail.
All gathered acknowledged that “the agenda changes when women come to the political table.” However, the consensus was that sexism is still very much alive in American politics with the U.S. ranking only 84th in the world for women in elected position. This juxtaposed with the fact that women now make up more than half of the U.S. population and more than half of all those receiving advanced degrees, such as juris doctorates. The women gathered did not bemoan the fact that sexism is a factor in many elections. Ms. Neeley advised that “the best way to trump sexism or racism is to work hard.” Ms. Kelly advised to be “quick to listen and slow to speak” and tend to “your split ends.” Many of the candidates talked about having been given unsolicited advice on how to wear their hair as part of the “political strategy.” All agreed that no matter your hair or personal style that remaining authentic and committed to your core values trumps looks any day. Congresswomen Schakowsky did express deep concern that the “a line was crossed last summer on civility” when members of Congress were spat upon during a Tea Party rally. She urged everyone considering a run for election (be it library board or President) to make all attempts to stay away from negativism, which she says “just gets you off your game.” The general consensus of the panel was that no matter what “don’t let anyone else define you” and “don’t question yourself or your beliefs.”
The panelists spoke about their very own personal roads to public office—Ms. Neeley and Ms. Kelly were both asked to run for their positions, while Ms. Brown talked about her choosing to return to law school as a 38-year-old single mother as part of her intentional preparation for her run for public office. All talked about the impact of public life on their families and how important it is to protect ones children and family from the harsh lime light political involvement can often shine on them. Running for open seats, getting involved in not-for-profits organizations and attempting smaller races first, such as school board elections, were all highly recommended as an entry into a career in politics. Doing lots of research and homework on the race you are considering a run for is essential. As is establishing affiliations with various organizations like: EMILY’s1 List, a national organization dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to office, <emilyslist or the Illinois Women’s Institute for Leadership (IWIL) P O Box 1149, Springfield, IL 62705 217.525.8434, . Being asked was also considered another key factor in run, ergo Ms. Simon’s and the Congresswoman’s invitation to run—which I gladly pass along to you with their best regards and theirs and the other panelists personal offers of mentorship and guidance.
The panelists spoke also about the tendency of women to be too hard on themselves and often striving for perfection. Ms. Brown and Congresswoman Schakowsky both spoke about the pitfalls of focusing on the 5 percent that didn’t work well is a speech or at an event and not taking time to congratulating oneself on the other 95 percent that did work or go well. “Adequate is often good enough” was Ms. Schakowsky’s advice to those gathered. She also shared with the audience a bright blue burka (also spelled burqa) which she brought back from her travels in Afghanistan. The only ventilation in which is a very narrow mesh grid window at eye level. Her sharing this at an event encouraging women to become more actively involved in seeking elected office gave great perspective on just how advanced women’s issues are here compared to other places around the global. It also illustrated eloquently how having the ability to use our voices can give us a platform from which to help others on issues like domestic violence. Ms. Schakowsky is actively seeking support for the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA). Violence against women and girls represents a global health, economic development, and human rights problem. At least one out of every three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, with rates of domestic violence reaching 70% in some countries. I-VAWA is an unprecedented effort by the United States to addressglobally.
The event was high energy, intimate and interactive with the panelist answering lots of questions posed by the attendees. It included a wonderful buffet supper and was co-hosted by: the Asian American Bar Association of Greater Chicago, the Black Women Lawyer’s Association of Greater Chicago, Inc., the Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois, the Cook County Bar Association, the Hispanic Bar Association, the Illinois Judicial Council, the Lake County Bar Association, and the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois. Similar events are currently being planned by the Diversity Scholarship Foundation NFP. So like OMG look for more information about those events in the Bar news and don’t miss them! ■