Southern Voice: Kathleen Kiernan, who is working hard to get the message out about She Should Run, a non-partisan group encouraging women to run for political office
When it comes to running for office, is 2018 the new “Year of the Woman”? I see this question daily on my search for articles to share on She Should Run’s social media platforms. It’s something the media has written about countless times as more and more women are throwing their hats into the political ring. It’s a topic our own She Should Run team ponders when we discuss how we can fully impact the more than 17,000 women who have come to us expressing their interest in participating in the political process. It’s something that has touched me deeply as a woman from the South who has never seen a female governor or senator be elected from my home state. I am 22 years old and I find this staggering. And I know that I am not alone in this fact.
The South has its charms and quirks. Only in the South will a complete stranger help you if you have broken down on the side of the road (It’s true, this has happened to me more than once. Sorry Dad!), and only in the South will someone say “Bless your heart” and you’ll have to decipher if they’re being shady with you or they actually sympathize (Thanks, Grandma). But the South is also a place where inequality still plagues the state capitols, the governors’ mansions and city councils. This is true for race, sex, religion and various other backgrounds. My own state of Georgia has never had a female governor, senator or lieutenant governor, and women only make up 26.7% of the state legislature, which is actually a drop from what it was in 2017! I attended college in Mississippi at Mississippi State University and unfortunately, the Magnolia state doesn’t fare much better. There has never been a female governor, senator or representative, and women only make up 14.9% of the state legislature! These numbers trend similarly across the rest of the South.
If those numbers don’t get your blood boiling then maybe this will: at this rate, we will not see gender parity in our lifetime. Without gender parity, our concerns as women will continue to be ignored. Our viewpoints will be shut out, and we will continue to be limited in the public arena. More little girls will grow up in the South and wonder if things will truly ever change and if they can be governor of their state when they have never seen someone like them in that position before.
These numbers and my own experience seeing firsthand the effects of the lack of female representation in Southern politics is what drove me to work with She Should Run. As a student at Mississippi State, I had the privilege of serving in student government, where I was given the freedom to address issues that face Mississippi such as gender inequity in politics. My co-director and I brought She Should Run to State to raise awareness about lack of female representation and discuss what could be done. We also organized a panel of current and formerly elected women to speak about their experiences serving in Mississippi politics. Organizing this event was a wake up call for me, and since then, I have been working to change the face of elected leadership, whether that’s through volunteering for a campaign or my work through She Should Run.
You can also be a part of this change by joining She Should Run in our mission to empower and encourage women to run for office. She Should Run is working each day to change that as a nonpartisan nonprofit that offers community, e-courses and workshops, a roadmap of resources and a weekly newsletter for women curious about running for office. We are on a mission to expand the talent pool of women running for office in the United States and change the face of elected leadership by providing community, resources and growth opportunities for aspiring political leaders. She Should Run is the first step; a place where women can feel inspired and take the next steps to run for public office one day.
Our first-of-its-kind She Should Run Incubator offers resources and a community that meets women where they are in their paths to elected leadership. We listen to our members and work with them to overcome roadblocks that prevent them from running for office. The Incubator’s unique approach focuses our members on why they want to run and the impact they’ll make in elected office, and we demystify resources available once women in our community have made the decision to run.
You can also offer your expertise, mentorship abilities or support through our initiative, 250K by 2030, which is our mission to get 250,000 women running for office by 2030. Additionally, our Ask a Woman to Run tool provides a way for you to tell us about great women leaders you know who should consider a run for office. It will take people from various backgrounds coming together to support women in their community to achieve this goal and close the gender gap in politics.
And we’re not alone. Many woman across the South have stepped up and said, “Enough is enough.” In Georgia, former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams is running to be the first black female governor of any state. In Alabama, former Miss America Mallory Hagan is running for an Alabama Congressional seat. In Texas, Lupe Valdez is running to be the first Latina governor of Texas. In Mississippi, state senator Sally Doty is running to be Mississippi’s first female congressional representative. These Southern women are changing the face of elected leadership and, win or lose, will set a new standard for the South that says we will not settle for anything less than equality.
So will 2018 be the ‘Year of the Woman?’ If these numbers and the work She Should Run does says anything, then yes. But it can’t just be 2018. It has to be 2020, 2022 and beyond. We will need women everywhere stepping up and saying, “I want to run.” Your voice is needed, and each of you are an important piece in the puzzle that is our democracy. If you’re not ready to run just yet, check out the female candidates who are running in your state. Encourage a woman to run in your life. And check out She Should Run because we are here to support women of all backgrounds on their path to public office.
Kathleen Kiernan is a recent graduate of Mississippi State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political sciences. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, she has always been a fierce feminist and passionate about having women fully represented at all levels of public office. She plans to pursue a graduate degree in public administration, focusing on nonprofit management, and also has plans to run for public office herself one day.
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