Erin Loos Cutraro is the Founder and CEO of She Should Run. The views expressed are her own.
On Nov 9, 2016 I woke up in a fog. Red, white and blue balloons still floated around our house from a watch party that went late into the night.
Exhausted, I sat on the edge of my oldest daughter’s bed. “Love, time to get up.” Her eyes opened wide and she grinned from ear-to-ear. “Mama, is Hillary our President?” I took a deep breath. “No baby. She’s not.”
I felt like someone knocked the wind out of me.
Once my daughters were off to school, I opened my laptop and stared blankly at the screen. It was eerily quiet. I asked my team to hop on a call. I honestly had no idea what to do next. The emails were written. The social content was ready to post. “We finally shattered the glass ceiling for the highest elected office in the U.S.” “And, now we have to focus our efforts on following that lead for all 500K+ offices in this country.”
But that ceiling hadn’t shattered, and those emails and tweets would never be sent. We needed to start from scratch.
The pit in my stomach that day wasn’t about partisan politics. As a personal philosophy, and as the leader of She Should Run, I am dedicated to inspiring women and girls to run for office. Not one specific woman or girl — I believe in leveling the playing field for all women and girls. But still, November 9 was a dark day. If not Hillary, then who? Did we, as a country, just reject the idea of a woman President? Did She Should Run have a legit path forward?
I scrambled searching for news on other races — scouring the web for glimmers of hope and good news. The United States ranks in the bottom half of all countries worldwide when it comes to women’s representation in elected office. The 2016 election represented a chance to move away from that disgraceful narrative. A chance to accelerate the slow tick of progress we’ve seen for decades. But with only a few exceptions, the news was not very good. Overall numbers were mostly static. And obviously, there was no woman President.
I took time to be grateful for the news that nine incredible, women of color were elected to Congress. But the air remained heavy. We needed to say something to our community. Yet we were speechless. Our communications platforms were silent.
The team came together and agreed on a theme. We wanted our community to know we were there for them and how imperative it was that we harnessed the energy we felt in that moment in time – the passion, the pain, the frustration – and used it to move us forward. We typed out what would become the subject of our first email and a rallying cry for months to come: We’ll always have your back.
As soon as we hit send, something remarkable started to happen.
In the months before the election, getting even 100 women signed up for our programs each month took serious elbow grease. It was so hard that I personally received a notification for every new member. And I celebrated each and every one.
But within hours of that email, the notifications started to pile up in my inbox. Women from across the country were pledging to run. The sign-ups didn’t slow. By mid-day, they were coming at a steady clip. The floodgates had opened.
We ended 2016 with more than 5,500 new women representing all 50 states in the She Should Run community. That was a 1,600% increase in growth. Today, we have more than 15,000 new women in our programs, and counting.
And as the number of women raising their hands to run for office someday started to double, triple, and then completely eclipse our wildest expectations, I started to wonder if maybe Hillary Clinton losing was the best thing for women.
Hear me out…
Democrat, Republican, or Independent, polls told us to expect Hillary to shatter the highest and hardest glass ceiling. And the toxic, divisive election cycle had taken a massive toll on our country. We were all ready for it to be over. Many were ready to shut politics out completely and get on with our lives.
But now, rather than shutting out politics, women are choosing action.
A call of duty is falling to thousands of women in this country, many of whom have never thought of running before, and who are now going to run next year, in 2020, and ten years from now.
We now hear over and over from women who join our community: I have to get involved. I have to do something. I can’t shrink back. The urgency is present in a way it never was before. The collective search for powerful action — to step into the power of your voice — is fierce. And while the motivations are varied, it’s clear: November 9 represented a new day.
Gone are the days where She Should Run had to constantly explain why our mission was worthwhile. Our new reality is a community of tens of thousands of women discussing the best ways to get onto local boards and commissions, how to handle sexism, and how to navigate local politics. Democrats, Republicans, Independents eyeing offices from school board to Congress, discussing the challenges unique to being a female in politics, and encouraging their daughters to raise their hands. Just last night, we saw the first returns on those efforts: Women won in key races up and down the ballot, some making history in the process.
And yet – as much as we would like it to – the change in representation won’t happen overnight. While we will continue to celebrate the women running (and winning) NOW, we are also focusing on the women who are thinking of running in the future. Because we can’t settle for just thousands of women running for the 500,000-plus elected offices in the U.S. We need, at a minimum, over 250,000.
Which is why, just a few months ago, She Should Run launched 250Kby2030, a multi-year campaign dedicated to building a pool of 250,000 women pledged to run for office.
We’re in this for the long haul. Our work to build a stronger democracy in the U.S. by fueling a community of women taking an active role in our political system is just getting started. And just as we said one year ago today: We’ll always have your backs.
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