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Marching then Running: Panelists focus on women in public office

Marching then Running, as part of the Lubin symposium, discussed women’s engagement in politics with three panelists, Glynda Karr, Ryanne Olsen and Charlotte Golar Richie. The panelists focused on the growing involvement of women and women of color in politics, how to increase that growth and then concluded by taking questions from the audience.

The Lubin symposium is an annual event honoring Tilly Lubin, which focuses on contemporary issues of women and gender studies. This year, the symposium focused on women in the “Trump Era,” through a panel where the three female panelists, Carr, Olsen and Richie, discussed their roles in politics in the International Lounge on Feb. 26. Professor Jill Greenlee (POL), whose research focuses on women’s political participation, introduced the panelists.

Carr is the co-founder of “Higher Heights for America,” an organization aimed at elevating and amplifying black women’s voices in politics. She formerly served as campaign manager and chief of staff to New York state senator Kevin Parker of Brooklyn. The organization provides training to black women considering running for political office and provides support to black female voters, who “have been outvoting our male counterparts since the late 1990s” and have “been increasing our voting share over the last decade,” according to Carr.

Olson is the executive director of Emerge Massachusetts, an organization focused on increasing the number of democratic women in public office. She has worked on a variety of progressive campaigns and candidates, such as Russ Feingold for United States Senate, and is an activist and a lobbyist. Emerge Massachusetts recruits and trains women to run for office. Their training programs, which have grown to around 60+ participants per session, teaches skills for phone banking, knocking on doors and fundraising.

Richie, who Greenlee described as a “powerhouse in Massachusetts politics,” represented Suffolk’s fifth district in the Massachusetts State House from 1995-1999 and is the former senior advisor to Governor Deval Patrick, as well as the executive director of Patrick’s election campaign. She has also worked as a journalist and in the non-profit sector.

The panelists described their backgrounds in politics and discussed what kind of challenges women face in running for political office, including funding, current laws, the idea of the “old boys club” and women’s tendency to want to be over-prepared.

“Women are more likely to think they are unqualified even if they very well might be over-qualified for that position,” said Olsen. “What ends up happening is a 19 to 23 year-old man will run for office and sometimes win, when she is wondering whether she’s qualified or not.”

Members of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, a group that aims to advance women’s equality and representation in American politics, were also in attendance and distributed their research on women running for public office.

The panelists answered questions from the students in attendance and Greenlee, and gave advice about how students could run their own campaign or get involved. Carr advised the audience that everyone has a role to play, and though “not everyone has to run for office,” she encouraged audience members to run. She also stated that running a successful campaign depended on authenticity.

Richie cited the variety of organizations that exist to support women running for office. “We’re going to feel more powerful and we’re going to perform at a higher level as a candidate…if we know that we have people with us, backing us up, and that’s why I mention these organizations.”

Finally, Olsen encouraged the student attendees to get involved in campaigns. “Campaigns and organizations are always…drastically underfunded and under resourced,” Olsen said. “If you are willing to show up, work hard, be smart and put the time and energy into it, you will learn so much and be given so much more responsibility than you probably would get in any other industry.”

The event was sponsored by the Brandeis University Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department and cosponsored by the Politics Department, Sociology Department, Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, Gender and Sexuality Center and Brandeis Democrats.

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