Beyond Protests, Women Want Political Power

February 15, 2017

An ardent Hillary Clinton supporter, Ryanne Olsen woke up the morning after the presidential election worried about both the direction of the country and her job.  She runs a training program for progressive women interested in running for office.

 “I was afraid there’d be despondency,” recalled Ryanne Olsen.  “I was afraid that everyone would just opt out.”

Instead, a record number of women applied to the Emerge program in Massachusetts and sixteen other states.   Olsen received so many applications she doubled the size the of local program to accommodate nearly fifty women. 

“We had more applications in the first three days after the election than in the entire period before that combined,” said Olsen.

Olsen’s new recruits meet one weekend a month inside an office space in downtown Boston.  Over the next six months they’ll learn campaign fundamentals - raising money, getting endorsements, even how to knock on a neighbor’s door and ask for a vote.

The program is aimed at democrats, so these are women who supported Hillary Clinton.  Yet, Donald Trump – who before the presidency never held elected office -  is also an inspiration.   

“You see someone like him run and you’re like, if he can run, I can totally run and do a better job,” said Leesa Coyne, a 36-year-old Somerville resident.

 Coyne recently bought her first home, runs her own business, but before the presidential election, was hesitant to get into politics.   She hopes the Emerge program will give her the tactical skills she needs.

 “I only have a two-year degree.  I didn’t go to Harvard,” said Coyne, “but there’s people in office who don’t do much.  I get stuff done”.

Confidence about having the right experience or credentials is among the factors that Ryanne Olsen says leads to a ‘political ambition gap’ - women being less likely than men to run for office.  Another concern is something many of the women in the training program believe Hillary Clinton faced:  a double-standard.  

“They care about how we dress, how we talk, how your family is.   A man you just need to wear a suit and sign up and that’s it,” said Stephanie Martins, who is also enrolled in the Emerge program.

 After the election Martins decided to run for city council in Everett.   She says campaigning is tough, but she sees her effort as part of something bigger.  Win or lose, she believes it will help open doors for other women.

 “We need to get together and become this strong group that will just get other women elected,” said Martins.  “So once we have this voice, I don’t think they can stop us”.

Women have done well in Massachusetts politics.  Elizabeth Warren is one of the country’s best-known senators and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy is considered a rising star.  Yet the state legislature is only about a quarter female and - in more than fifty communities -  there are no women serving as either mayor or selectmen. 

“I think we have a real chance to see the face of politics shift in Massachusetts,” said Ryanne Olsen.  “We’re seeing women and people color come out of the woodwork like never before.”

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