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How to ignite change by running for office

OPINION: When more women of color, queer people and activists seek office, there’s a better opportunity that the needs of our communities will be prioritized.

Any way you look at it, the systems and structures in place in the United States are not meant to serve women. In fact, they are not built to serve anyone other than rich, white, straight, cisgender men. As a Black, queer activist, I have been navigating a world governed by legislation created by white men for white men.

How many women like me have you seen elected to office? It is hard to name more than a handful, if that.

The lack of representation of intersecting identities in politics is dangerous. Not only does it prevent women of color, queer people, and activists from breaking barriers in politics, but it makes it difficult to ensure the needs of our communities are prioritized by the government and met in legislation.

Right now, the decisions that impact my body, my rights and my resources are being dictated by people who don’t know what it is like to live life in my shoes.

A white man does not know what it is like to be looked down upon or dismissed because of his skin color. A straight man does not know what it is like to interact with people that think your sexuality is a sin. A cisgender man won’t know what it is like to face sexism and harassment in the street or in the workplace.

As an activist in Texas, I confront social injustice daily. I meet people on a regular basis who are suffering at the hands of white supremacy and patriarchy. It is hard to watch my brothers and sisters get killed by the police. It is hard to watch my trans brothers and sisters be victims of transphobic violence.

Making deep sustainable change is not optional.

I am not the only one who thinks so. Women like Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) have been fighting this fight for her entire life. She was the previous chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, the chair emeritus of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and is a founding member of the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. Last year, Rep. Lee shared the story of her abortion before the House Oversight Committee. She is a shining example of how politicians can use their lived experiences to truly represent their communities in government.

We must work to end the systems of oppression or else we will continue to see the cycles of violence that hurt the people we care about. The unfortunate part, however, is that a lot of legislators don’t care.

Part of my work in activism is logistical organizing and facilitating conversations between different grassroots organizers and community leaders trying to create solutions to the problems that persist in my community. The obstacles that organizers and community leaders often run up against are lawmakers who are motivated by self-interest, corporate interest, and greed. They are not motivated to end the cycles of violence.

So I know I need to run for office myself. Unfortunately, for a Black woman, a queer woman and a woman without a lot of deep-pocketed connections, it is hard to figure out where to start.

Luckily, I have been following EMILY’s List for a few years and was accepted to participate in the fall 2021 cohort of Ignite Change Fellows. The fellowship is a biannual program that brings a cohort of 30 amazing people through the basics of how to run for office and win.

Throughout the fellowship, I learned a lot about the logistics of running for office. I completed a self-audit to find out which elected office would suit me the best. I learned all about fundraising and call time (every candidate’s favorite part of campaigning). I even learned how to craft my personal story. I met a group of like-minded individuals who share my goals and values. Most importantly, I was able to work one on one with experts who helped me put together the pieces of the puzzle of my decision to run for office.

EMILY’s List has been doing the work of helping women like me run for office for over three decades. The organization has been backing women without the “typical” politician’s background longer than I have been alive and they are not slowing down anytime soon.

The reality is that fitting into a system that’s not made for you takes work. Electing Democratic pro-choice women is not an easy feat. Electing women with diverse backgrounds is even harder. But it’s work worth doing, and I am grateful to have found a place to get started.

We have a long, hard road to true equity and inclusion, but EMILY’s List has taught me that I am more than capable of doing it. I can run for office. I can win an election. I can make a difference on behalf of my community. And while society has not provided the easiest path to politics for people who share my identity, I know my experience will be my strength as I serve my community.

Applications for the fourth cohort of the EMILY’s List Ignite Change Fellowship are being accepted now through Friday, March 4, 2022. Click here to apply. Virtual information sessions for the program will take place on February 9 and February 24. Click on the dates to register.

Victoria Love is an activist and licensed social worker in Texas, and was a fellow in the third cohort of the EMILY’s List Ignite Change Fellowship Program.  A graduate of Florida International University and the University of Texas, Arlington, Victoria is active in the fight to realize justice and equity for marginalized communities.

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