Lucky Number 17

Emma Leibowitz

Bethesda, MD

Remember, the most important number is seventeen.

Although women represent the majority of the United States population, only seventeen members of the Senate are women. Of the 435 members in the House of Representatives, merely 73 are women. Yes, you guessed it: that’s about seventeen percent. In the year 1917, Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first female to ever serve in the House, before women even had the right to vote. And if you calculated the average age of the girls attending the Young Women’s Political Leadership Program (YWPL), it would be seventeen.

As a seventeen-year-old girl, I was a little sheepish about going to what could be described as “politics camp.” More formally known as the Young Women’s Political Leadership Program, “politics camp” is a program for high-school-age girls run by Running Start, a nonprofit organization that works to get more women involved in politics. During my week with 74 other girls, I learned strategies for social media, networking, fundraising, and campaigning—invaluable skills in both the political and non-political worlds. While we all were aflutter from the hot-off-the-press healthcare decision, we heard from young women who had run for local office, been mentored by the famed lady in a pantsuit (Secretary of State Clinton), and from Congressmen and women who had risen to the top– and won spectacular write-in campaigns (Senator Murkowksi). We happily watched “feminist” movies and took pictures with the marble Honest Abe, but, most importantly, we reaffirmed our belief that a woman’s view is a rare and much-needed perspective in politics.

My breakthrough moment—when I proudly declared to the world that I was excited about “politics camp”– came when we broke off into small groups and began to practice 30 second elevator pitches. Huddled under an umbrella, girls of all different backgrounds sat around a picnic table and recited our short speeches. Contrary to popular belief, elevator pitches, or brief introductory statements about important issues, are not just made in elevators. Everyone had an issue they cared about: homelessness, human trafficking, health care. But when Anedrea Cluff, another seventeen-year-old DMV (DC, Maryland, Virgina) resident, described the daily image of a pregnant fifteen-year-old African-American girl riding on the DC subway, I was amazed. Never once in my time in DC had I seen anything like that. She spoke of girls who can’t afford contraception and, once pregnant, instantly drop out of school to raise their babies. Anedrea’s vision was to open a school where teen mothers could both receive an education and provide care for their children. The passion in Anedrea’s voice made me realize why programs like YWPL and organizations like Running Start are so important. They provide girls as fervent as Anedrea with the proper skills to make a difference, starting at the young age of seventeen.

For many of us from the YWPL Class of 2012, it will be a while until we are eligible to run for elected office. In the meantime, we are dreaming big. Had you taken a survey at our graduation ceremony, you would have found about twenty presidential candidates for the election of 2040. So, as November comes around and elected seats open everywhere, remember Running Start and the Young Women’s Political Leadership program,

And, of course, the number 17.

Anita McBride and International Politics

Yuyi Li

Chapel Hill, NC

When I think of Washington DC, I often recall my last trip to the panda exhibit at the DC zoo. It wasn’t until then that I realized the importance of political diplomacy and the role that it plays in our lives. Pandas are not only cute bears; they are also symbols of diplomacy and the importance of international relations.

Today was an interesting day. As an attendee of the Young Women’s Political Leadership program, I was able to learn from Anita McBride and her varied experiences in politics. She served as Assistant to President George W. Bush and Chief of Staff to First Lady Bush from 2005 to 2009. Additionally, she has traveled and worked in over 70 countries with Laura Bush and continually advocates for international exchange programs. From her first job in the mail room to a job in the East Wing, Anita has worked in three federal administrations, which spanned over two decades.

Anita introduced us to the “four C’s” of being a woman leader:

1) Communication: You want to get your point across and inform the public about your ideas and goals.

2) Connections: It is important to grow your political and financial resources.

3) Coalition: Having support is essential, so networking is something you should do. Don’t ever forget to reach behind to help and support other women in your life once you achieve your own goals … you were once in their shoes. Lastly, you should be genuine all the time.

4) Confidence: Try to take risks in certain circumstances. Always be yourself no matter what you do!

The highlight of Anita’s speech was the description of her involvement with the empowerment of women. She helped establish the White House internship program and is involved with the Women’s Democracy Network and the Wilson Center’s Graduate Leaders Program. One of my passions is to empower women and girls in my community and around the world. Running Start’s Young Women’s Political Leadership program has further encouraged me to reach for that goal. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be in DC this week and will embrace each and every interaction I have had and will have with these amazing people.

Fundraising Game

Nimansha Jain

Omaha, NE

After learning about the vitals of fundraising from Nancy Bocskor, everyone became engaged in the “Fundraising Game”. The 75 girls were split up into two groups: donors and candidates. Every girl was given a specific persona to portray in order to obtain or donate money. For example, you could be a democrat running for president from the state of Virginia in need of funds for your campaign or an executive director of the American Nurses Association with a budget of $600,000 to give away. The room was filled with excitement and the girls jumped up and out of their seats as soon as Susannah said “go” in order to obtain the most money and win the game.

This activity allowed everyone to apply the skills they had just learned during Nancy’s discussion. Many individuals, especially females, avoid asking for help and asking for money from others because they fear that it might indicate vulnerability. One participant stated that when she was a donor she felt much more comfortable because her role held more power. Practicing how to raise money allowed me to personally understand that there are certain hints, both positive and negative, that can help to gauge how interested a donor is in a campaign. I made mistakes, and from this game I was able to learn from them. I will react differently, in more realistic circumstances, in the future.

Many of the speakers that we have heard from thus far in the  program have said that their greatest challenge was fundraising. This shows that fundraising can be tough for everyone, and that it is an important skill that can help us in the future. We all thank Nancy for teaching us and giving us helpful skills, the Running Start staff for organizing the game, and the interns for all of the hard work they did to make the game possible!

Iron Jawed Angels

Lilly Downing

Chapel Hill, NC

On Tuesday, June 26th, Running Start’s Young Women’s Political Leadership Program (YWPL) hosted an evening screening of Iron Jawed Angels for us aspiring political leaders. The screening was located in the Abramson Family Founders Room and served as an opportunity to further educate ourselves about women’s suffrage, as well as to enjoy one another’s company.

This original movie is based upon a pivotal moment in American History. The protagonist Alice Paul, played by Hilary Swank,  leads the movie as an American feminist who is fighting for women’s citizenship and the right to vote. Through her drive, Paul founds the National Woman’s Party and writes the first equal rights amendment to be presented before Congress. Paul forms a coalition with reformer Lucy Burns and the two women struggle in order to pass the 19th amendment. In order to continue their actions, the suffragists march in President Wilson’s inauguration. Soon after, the suffragettes encounter opposition from the old guard of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association led by Carrie Chapman Catt. It is here that the activists get arrested to trigger the well-publicized hunger strike, during which their refusal to eat earns them the name of “the iron-jawed angels.”

Both inspiring and riveting, Iron Jawed Angels also showcases women as strong political leaders. The ascending theme directly parallels with the overarching focus of YWPL: to create strong women political leaders. Overall, this movie teaches young women to stand up for what they believe is right and to showcase ourselves as leaders within our community and society. As a YWPL participant, I would like to thank the YWPL staff for selecting this riveting movie to showcase as we continue our journey towards becoming strong political leaders.

Miss Representation

Maya Rochefort

Dedham, MA

Only seventeen percent of Congress is made up of women. Seventeen percent! However, fifty-one percent of the US population is female; the fact that we only have seventeen percent representation of women is an eye-opener. It wasn’t until I watched Miss Representation, a documentary that highlights the issues facing women today in politics and the lack of women in leadership positions, that I realized the extent of this discrepancy. Women have different needs and issues than men that may not get addressed if women are not better represented in the media and in politics. The media constantly stresses an idea of “the ideal women” and imposes it onto us starting from a very young age. Many young girls today strive to look like supermodels and forget about what’s really important in life. If women cannot take ourselves seriously enough to know that we are more than another pretty face on an ad in a magazine, how do we expect others to take us seriously too, especially men? Women have the capacity to be leaders, and are ready to tackle any obstacle thrown our way. In the documentary, the mother of a high school student asked her daughter if she knew what it meant to be a leader.  The daughter responded, “a leader is a servant to the people.” I agree. Political leaders should be determined and confident, but at the same time, they should be able to recognize that they are representing us and our problems. It is a responsibility of any political leader to address the needs of all of its people, not just one segment of its population. It is not until we have more female leaders that women’s issues can be addressed and our voices can be heard.


Jelena Matic

Charlottesville, VA

Participating in the YWPL program has been quite an experience. I have had the opportunity to meet some of the most phenomenal friends as well as learn all about what it takes to run a campaign. Our last days were spent looking into the future as we welcomed several young female professionals to talk to us about resumes and internships. Although they worked in different fields and were at different points in their careers, they shared many of the same messages. Their advice to us? Go for it. Throughout the program we were told that many women do not run for office because they fear losing and are not comfortable with putting themselves out there. The women who came to speak to us advised us otherwise. In order for us to be successful in any field, we must first be confident.During the graduation ceremony a few of my peers gave “elevator speeches.” They spoke confidently and passionately about the issues that have touched their hearts. It was then that I noticed how confident and happy I have been throughout the program. This must be a result of being surrounded by such welcoming and talented girls. I believe that YWPL can be deemed a successful program because it both inspires girls and gives them the confidence to believe that they can be leaders. I will always be thankful to have had the opportunity to hear all of the congressmen and women speak, as well as all of the Running Start staff. Everybody and everything was nothing less than great.

“It will never be convenient to be in public service–just do it. Take risks.” – Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)

“No one thought that the 26-year-old would win, but I did because I worked harder–just like you will.”- Representative Martha Roby

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer

By: Caitlin Roshani, 16 years old

Los Angeles, California

Our first speaker during the YWPL program was Dr. Barbara Palmer. Dr. Palmer is a founding member of Running Start and has been teaching at American University in Washington, DC for the past nine years.  She also co-wrote “Breaking the Political Glass Ceiling” with Dennis Simon, which explores the integration of women in politics and specifically within congress.  Dr. Palmer spoke to us about the history of women in politics.

Dr. Palmer’s presentation was engaging and a great way to start our week here with Running Start. Dr. Palmer laid the foundation and explained the basics of politics to us. She also introduced us to many historical women that left large footprints on what is today’s world in politics for women. Among others, she presented amazing women such as Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman to win a house representative seat from New York, and Nancy Pelosi, the previous speaker of the house. This session was incredibly useful to those of us who came into the program not knowing much about the history of women in politics.

Dr. Palmer completely changed my perspective about women in politics. I came to this program thinking that I would take away essential skills like public speaking and networking. Her presentation sparked my interest and attraction to politics. I now want to take part in my community’s government and run for something as small as school board or maybe even as big as mayor of Los Angeles one day! I want to thank Susannah Shakow, Jessica Grounds, and Allison Dunatchik for dedicating their time and effort to create such an amazing program and for inviting Dr. Barbara Palmer to speak to us. I would also like to thank Dr. Palmer for taking the time to present such an amazing demonstration.