Training All Young Women to Run for Office Is My Life’s Work. Here’s Why.

By Sara Blanco

You can find Running Start’s official statement here.

As a Latina, I’ve felt at times that my presence is contingent. I am shaken, for example, by assertions that my own country, the United States, should not welcome people like me, the natural-born citizen children of immigrants. But on the balance, I am very lucky that I don’t experience existential terror due to individual and systemic anti-Black racism. Race is complicated, and my relationship to my own ethnicity is, too. My Latinx relatives who live in the US are not safe, not even from violence or death. But the scale of our fear of the consequences of racism, the intensity of it, the history behind it, are radically different from what Black and Afro-Latinx folks face. And so, we are certainly more safe.

With that in mind, I recognize that I have a responsibility to support Black people working hard for freedom from fear. And I can use my relative safety as a shelter that allows me to raise my voice, too. This is true when it comes to marching, when it comes to contacting elected officials, when it comes to amplifying the voices of Black people, when it comes to using the privilege of discretionary income to donate to Black organizations, and it’s true when it comes to my professional life.

I am an excellent example of that strange advice, “fake it till you make it.” Although I believe in authenticity, sometimes, you have to brace yourself to get started on something challenging. It’s like how forming your face into a smile can actually lift your mood. It started with a phone interview, where I gushed about how passionate I was about women’s political representation. Of course, I did care about this, in the abstract, but it wasn’t something I had any special interest in. I just needed an internship, and I needed an internship so that I could get a job — somewhere else, I assumed. Apparently, my performance was convincing, because Running Start welcomed me to the team.

And then, in a matter of weeks, it wasn’t a performance anymore. Running Start’s mission to make sure young women don’t fall through the cracks in the political leadership pipeline has become my life’s work. I’m only 30, so I suppose that might change, but I don’t think it will. Because even if my “day job” ever changes, this will remain central to my advocacy and philanthropy. Part of what has kept me hooked specifically to Running Start is our strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In many critical ways, we hold to it as a foundational value: in promoting our programs to young women from all kinds of backgrounds; in ensuring that we reflect who our young women are; in fostering community in our programs; and in taking very seriously the importance of data and evaluation so that we know how we’re doing.

It mattered, even back when I was starting out as an intern, when I shared a suggestion or critique that came from my experience and identity. Sometimes, that meant pointing out a snag that wasn’t really about me, but at the time, I was the only person of color in the room. That didn’t last long: as our organization has grown (at 8 staff members, we’ve almost tripled while I’ve been here), the mix of voices has grown more varied — as it should. I still feel that I can speak up and be heard, and I hope that’s something my newer colleagues feel, too. The frankness of some important discussions we’ve had suggests that they do.

These personal, internal matters in our organization are important. But there’s a wider impact, too. Striving for gender parity in political leadership isn’t meaningful unless we make sure we’re not leaving anyone behind. We train all young women to run for office, not just those who can easily access our programs or who have already been told (by their parents or by media message) that they can lead. And in this moment, we must turn our focus to young Black women, in particular. Conversations and decisions change depending on who’s at the table. The great Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm (the first Black woman elected to Congress) once said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.”

That’s where Running Start can — and will — use our power to change what leadership looks like in this country. How much better if we all shove folding chairs under our arms — for ourselves and for each other — and insist that all of our voices are part of these important conversations.

Professional headshot of Sara Blanco.

Sara Blanco is the Program Director at Running Start. She has always been interested in women’s empowerment and became especially passionate about women’s political leadership upon joining the Running Start team. As a Latina, she’s particularly interested in empowering women of color to run for office. With Running Start, she has had the opportunity to speak to audiences large and small about women in politics and appreciates the small nonprofit experience of wearing many hats and doing every kind of work.

In 2018, Sara earned a Master of Public Policy at the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at the George Washington University. At Trachtenberg, she was a fellow in the 2015–2016 Women’s Leadership Fellows (WLF) program and a co-chair the subsequent year. She graduated from Swarthmore College in 2012 with a degree in English Literature and a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. She continues to live in her hometown of Arlington, Virginia, enjoying the adventure of DC life and working to bring young women to politics. Sara is a member of the Women’s Information Network, the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, and has co-written an unpublished novella.

Notes from the Running Start Campaign Trail

By Sara Blanco (email interviews conducted by Alex Aiello)

Running Start alum Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, the youngest-ever Black woman elected to Congress, shared her story with our high school students earlier this summer, and that got us thinking. What other gems could our amazing alums share?

Meet Maryland State Delegate Lesley Lopez, Dallas Independent School District Board of Trustees Member Karla Garcia, Fairfax County School Board candidate Abrar Omeish, Prince William County Board of County Supervisors candidate Margaret Angela Franklin, former New York State Assembly candidate Morgan Zegers, and former Polk County School Board candidate Kala Tedder.

Here’s what these real young women candidates took away from Running Start’s political leadership programs and their advice for young women leaders.

Excerpted and edited for clarity.


LL: I think that in order to recognize certain leadership qualities in myself, I needed to be exposed to a group of equally passionate peers who I could start to see myself in, as well as meet speakers in positions that were aspirational but still attainable. I had the energy and conviction, just needed a spark to help me connect the dots and see that potential in myself.

KG: I don’t think there’s anything more empowering than convening young women from all backgrounds and addressing their concerns (because we already know what we want — that’s why we’re here) through training and mentorship by leaders we see ourselves reflected in. I am affirmed that I belong — and that I can do this — in every sense of the word.

MZ: When you run for office you have to be able to push yourself outside of your comfort zone every day, even if you’re struggling with impostor syndrome or feel out of place. Running Start gave me the courage to embrace the awkwardness of being a young, female candidate and instead focus on the most important factor: I was a member of my community who cared and wanted to bring positive change.

AO: I learned the power and importance of fighting, fighting some more, and continuing to fight despite the discouragement and dismay of those around you. I learned to derive confidence from within and to lean on those mentors and women who are out there rooting for me and who are counting on me to get there because politics is not easy… In the same way some of the senior leading ladies we met were able to make it in a time that rejected them, perhaps I, a young Muslim woman, may be able to push for my values and make it today.

Left: Abrar Omeish (second from left) participating in Running Start’s 2012 High School Program. Right: Kala Tedder (left) participating in Running Start’s 2018 High School Program.

KT: Prior to Running Start, I had the confidence needed to run, but not the confidence make the most out of my run. I was unsure of myself and what people would think of an 18-year-old running for office, and the more time I spent thinking about what other people thought, the less time I spent actually communicating with those very people. Running Start helped me to put myself out there and be apologetically me in a world where authenticity is not always valued.


LL: Being collaborative, more results-driven than ego-driven, being unafraid of compromise — these are what women effective leaders in government.

KG: The importance of building relationships. Extend your hand, give a firm handshake, confidently state who you are and what your aspirations are, and work on it — you’ll never know where it takes you!

MZ: Running Start taught me the power that comes from lifting up those around you and building relationships. As an underdog candidate, building a strong network of key stakeholders and party leaders in the district was key to securing needed endorsements, volunteers and supporters.

KT: Running Start taught me to view networking differently. I learned how to make strong connections with people from the beginning and, most importantly, how to maintain those connections, which was absolutely crucial for campaigning.


LL: The fact that it’s a nonpartisan org was also really helpful, not just because it strips the tactics down to the essentials, but because you work on shared missions with women from the other side — just as I do now as a legislator.

MAF: Running Start not only introduced us to women who are elected officials, but they also introduced us to consultants, heads of agencies, and other dignitaries who helped us envision ourselves as candidates and elected officials. They gave us the courage to step up and run for office and normalized the idea of women running for office, particularly women of color.

Right: Margaret Angela Franklin, at Running Start’s 2012 Young Women to Watch Awards.

AO: I should add — the mentorship of women and seeing what they were willing to do for us inspired me to further value mentorship and giving back as I go up. There is never a time when I can justify not giving back for being “too busy.” I am not too important for anyone and no one is too unimportant for my full attention.


KG: Build your network of support. When times get tough (and they inevitably will) have a solid team of mentors, advisors, and simply good friends.

MZ: Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into using campaign tactics or messaging that doesn’t fit your personality or come from your heart. Authenticity gives you extra confidence in yourself and in your campaign, and increases the effectiveness of your message to your community members.

Speak up when you are mistreated. I experienced sexual harassment when I was a candidate, and I wish it took me less time to gain the confidence to speak out about it… Sexual harassment can be uncomfortable to discuss, but I would rather feel uncomfortable for a small time if it means young women who run for office and experience these negative situations won’t feel alone. If we don’t share our experiences, they will continue to be brushed under the rug. If we share our experiences, we can move forward with a plan for change and serve as mentors and supporters for each other.

AO: Stay true to you and to the principles that guide us towards a better world.

KT: One of the most invaluable tools Running Start will ever give you are the people in the program with you. Those bonds, if you choose to put the work into maintaining them, form a national network of support. Learn from each other, grow with each other, support each other, and you will find friendships that cross political and geographic boundaries.

As a Latina, Running Start Outreach Director Sara Blanco is especially interested in empowering women of color to run for office. Her leadership experience includes participating in and then co-chairing a women’s leadership development series in her grad program. Sara is a current and lifelong Arlingtonian. Under her fresh leadership, Running Start’s social media presence has grown 500%!

BA, English Literature & Gender and Sexuality Studies, Swarthmore College (2012); MPP, Gender Policy, the George Washington University (2018)

@sarablancosays, LinkedIn,

Running Start Summer 2019 Intern Alex Aiello is a sociology and religious studies double-major at Davidson College, Class of 2021. She has served as secretary for Amnesty International, small group Bible study leader for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and treasurer for a mental health awareness club. Alex is a member of the Davidson College Democrats and advocates on campus for students to get involved in politics. She is from New York City and loves trying new coffee shops in Manhattan and going for runs along the East River or in Central Park. She hopes to attend law school and then represent sexual assault survivors. Ultimately, Alex hopes to run for office and make lasting policy changes protecting women from sexual assault and harassment.

@AlexAiello8, LinkedIn

Political Pipeline Design: Insights from a Survey of Women Serving in State Legislatures

By Reniya Dinkins

According to the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP), 29% of the 7,383 state legislators in the United States are currently women. This is a step forward from 2018, when only 25% were women.

From June 2018 to April 2019, Running Start surveyed women serving as state legislators in US states, territories, and the District of Columbia, who were in office June 2018 in order to collect self-identified demographic information and to learn more about their leadership training, experience running for office, and ties to mentorship. We’d like to thank our partners at the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University and at Women in Government for providing us with the data resources in order to make our outreach successful. Thanks also to supporting partners The National Foundation for Women Legislators and Women in Public Service Project at the Wilson Center.

Most legislators responded by filling out an online form we emailed them; we also conducted some phone surveys and recorded their responses. We recognize that these preliminary findings are not perfect, as our methods were not perfectly scientific. However, we received a 19% response rate from legislators and believe that this data is generally reflective of women state legislators across the country.


Compared to women in the US population, the demographic data we found on women state legislators reveals that their backgrounds are not always a perfect representation of the country. Two characteristics especially jump out: age and education. Most of these women are at least 40 years old (65%) and only 7% are under 40. Yet, across the US, a whopping 26% of women are younger than 40 and only 49% are 40 or older. And while 88% of our women state legislators have a bachelor’s degree or higher, among all women in the US, only 32% have attained these educational credentials. Clearly, there is still work to be done to make sure women of all backgrounds and identities run for office. (A forthcoming formal report will paint a more detailed picture with the rest of the characteristics we collected data on.)

What encourages women to run? According to our survey results, community involvement, support from family and friends, being asked to run, and having a supportive partner are among the top factors that motivate women to run for office, revealing that encouragement from others is indeed key to women deciding to run. In addition, we found that when women participate in leadership activities at a young age, they are more likely to run for office in the future. 52% of legislators were Girl Scouts and 47% were in student government in school. Running Start trains young women to run for student government in our Elect Her program, which we bring to over 75 schools (2,500+ students) every year. These results support the importance of this work to create a pipeline of young women who will run for elected office.

In addition, 50% of women state legislators are mentoring a successor. While it was the least popular motivator for them to run for office (perhaps indicative of the lack of women in leadership in the past), mentorship still seems to be important to these women for raising up the next generation of leaders.

Check out a sneak peek of some of our other most interesting findings below!

Geographic Demographics

We received responses from legislators in all 50 states. The most responses came from the following states:

10% New Hampshire
6% Kansas
4% Pennsylvania
4% Maine
4% Oregon

Party Affiliation

67% Democrat
30% Republican
3% Other Party

According to Pew Research Center, here is the party breakdown among women in the US:
54% Democrat (or lean Democrat)
38% Republican (or lean Republican)

Women Under 40

7% are under 40 years old
65% are 40 years old and older
28% preferred to not respond

For context, 26% of women in the US are between the ages of 18–39, while 49% are 40 and older.

Race & Ethnicity

80% White
11% Black/African American
3% American Indian/Alaska Native
2% Asian American
0.2% Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander
8% Hispanic or Latino
0.8% Multiracial
7% preferred to not respond

According to the 2010 Census, here are the race and ethnicity demographics of women in the US population:
77% White
13% Black/African American
1% American Indian/Alaska Native
3% Asian
0.2% Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander
16% Hispanic or Latino
2% Multiracial


44% Heterosexual
2% Lesbian/Gay
1% Bisexual
52% preferred to not respond

According to the CDC, here are the sexuality demographics of women in the US population:
98% Heterosexual
1.5% Lesbian/Gay
1% Bisexual


80% identify as a cisgender woman
20% preferred to not respond

First-Generation College Student

23% were first-generation college students
73% were not first-generation college students
4% preferred to not respond

Veteran Status

2% are US veterans
96% are not US veterans
2% preferred to not respond

According to the US Census Bureau, 1.2% of women in the US are veterans.


2% have a disability
96% do not have a disability
2% preferred to not respond

According to the US Census Bureau, about 20% of women have a disability.


2% are immigrants
96% are not immigrants
2% preferred to not respond

Religious Minority

8% identify as religious minorities
89% do not identify as religious minorities
3% preferred to not respond

Highest Level of Education

1% received high school diploma or equivalent
5% completed some college, no degree
4% received an associate’s degree
30% received a bachelor’s degree
36% received a master’s degree
11% received some professional degree
11% received a doctorate degree
2% preferred to not respond
(88% have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher)

Compared to the US Census’ women in the US attained have the following levels of education:
20% received high school diploma or equivalent
36% completed some college or received an associate’s degree
32% received a bachelor’s degree or higher

Household Income Growing Up

13% low income
26% low-middle income
32% middle income
14% middle-high income
1% high income
1% varied
13% preferred to not respond

Current Household Income

1% low income
4% low-middle income
31% middle income
37% middle-high income
13% high income
14% preferred to not respond

Lost an Election

30% have lost an election before
69% have never lost an election
1% preferred to not respond

Motivation to Run for Office

1. Involvement in your community (85%)
2. Support from family/friends (73%)
3. Being asked to run (68%)
4. Having a supportive partner (65%)
5. Interest in a specific issue (54%)
6. Financial security (49%)
7. Involvement with a political party (46%)
8. Mentorship (29%)

Legislators with a Woman as a Chief of Staff

33% have a woman as a chief of staff
61% do not have a woman as a chief of staff
6% preferred to not respond

Legislators with Legislative Staff Experience

15% were once legislative staffers
83% have never been legislative staffers
2% preferred to not respond

Former Girl Scouts

52% were Girl Scouts
41% were never Girl Scouts
7% preferred to not respond

Student Government Experience

47% were in student government in high school and/or college
46% were never in student government
7% preferred to not respond

Campaign School & Leadership Training

36% went to a campaign school or had other leadership training before running
58% never went to a campaign school or had other leadership training before running
6% preferred to not respond

Popular campaign schools listed include Emerge, EMILY’s List, Wellstone, and the Women’s Campaign School at Yale.

Running for Higher Office

70% would consider running for higher office
28% would not consider running for higher office
2% preferred to not respond

Mentoring a Successor

50% are currently mentoring a successor
44% are not currently mentoring a successor
6% preferred to not respond

Sara Blanco contributed to this post.


Reniya Dinkins was born and raised in Washington, DC. She recently graduated from Columbia University with a double major in Political Science and Sociology, and her academic interests are centered on radical black feminism and black political thought. In 2016, Reniya was a Running Start intern through Urban Alliance, and while in college, she also interned at the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the Eric H. Holder Jr. Initiative for Civil and Political Rights. She also helped run a nonprofit called the WomanHOOD Project. Reniya’s passion is serving and uplifting underrepresented and underserved communities. Women’s leadership is particularly important to her because she values the importance of redefining what political leadership looks like.

Reniya currently serves as the Development Coordiantor at Running Start. Outside of work, she loves finding new books to read and enjoying the many things to do in DC.


As a Latina, Sara Blanco is especially interested in empowering women of color to run for office. Her leadership experience includes participating in and then co-chairing a women’s leadership development series in her grad program. Sara is a current and lifelong Arlingtonian. Under her fresh leadership, Running Start’s social media presence has grown 500%!

BA, English Literature & Gender and Sexuality Studies, Swarthmore College (2012); MPP, Gender Policy, the George Washington University (2018)

@sarablancosays, LinkedIn,


Elect Her was developed with AAUW, the American Association of University Women.

“We must lift others as we rise.” — How Running Start is changing the status quo of political power.

by Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah

I am a first-generation American who for some reason found myself drawn to politics as a child. Maybe it is because as I grew up, I saw that while my parents lived in a country they loved, they did not have much ability to influence the decisions made about their community because they were not citizens. Maybe it was because I realized on some fundamental level, even as a child, that women, especially women of color, were not often in positions where they were calling the shots. (As a fifth grader, my student council president speech ended with — I kid you not — “Don’t stick to the status quo! It’s time for a female president!”)

Either way, though I was interested in politics and ran for leadership positions from fifth grade student council president all the way to student body vice president at my university, I never had the opportunity to see what things looked like within the great halls of power. At least, not until my Congressional Fellowship with Running Start.

I was placed in the office of a Senator I admire, in part because of her position on a Senate Committee I am interested in and the work she has done around issues I am passionate about. Unusually contentious committee business that took place during my internship made the experience especially challenging. But there were other profound issues at play as well.

Before my internship, I’d had an idea about what Capitol Hill might look like. Even as a child, I was attuned to the fact that not many women had the opportunity to serve as leaders in any capacity. I looked up to the women closest to me but had few women to look up to as political role models. So, I approached my time on the Hill clear-eyed, and with the understanding that I just wouldn’t see many people who looked like me. Even with my expectations, it was still disheartening for me to see how few women and people of color, especially women of color, there were throughout the Hill, in both staff and elected positions. It was frustrating that the nation’s highest body of government felt in many ways unrepresentative of our country.

It was in these disheartening moments, though, that I was most grateful for my involvement with Running Start. As a Congressional Fellow, I was told every week in different forms and from different people, that I was strong, smart, capable, and tough — and that though it might be hard for me to see at times, I could do anything I put my mind to.

Left: Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah making her #ILookLikeAPolitician contest speech to the crowd of DC movers and shakers at the Young Women to Watch Awards. Right: Ewurama and Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin taking a selfie at the event’s reception.

After my fellowship, in a beautiful full-circle moment at Running Start’s Young Women to Watch Awards, I had my own newly-elected Congresswoman, Representative Elissa Slotkin (whose campaign I had strongly supported) cheer me on and campaign for me as I competed to serve as Running Start’s Ambassador. Being surrounded by multitudes of politically-inclined women to celebrate the most diverse Congress in American history was unbelievably special. More than anything else, it helped me realize that we have the ability to shape what the future of our politics looks like. And that’s because organizations like Running Start are working hard to change the face of power.

So many of us have not seen ourselves represented in our nation’s politics. As Running Start’s #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador, I hope to use my platform to reach out to young women across the country and help them see that we need their voices in the political realm. Even a few months ago, Congress didn’t look the way it does now. We all have the responsibility to ensure that we don’t go back to how things were before. We must continue to tell young women from all backgrounds that they are strong, smart, capable, and tough, and encourage them to share their ideas. We must follow the example of people like my own Congresswoman, mentoring those who aspire to be in their positions. We must lift others as we rise.

I like to think my fifth-grade self would be proud of me today; it is for her that I will continue working. The status quo, slowly but surely, is beginning to change, and I’m proud to be a part of changing it.

Ewurama Appiagyei-Dankah is a graduate of James Madison College at Michigan State University. As a student, she served as the Vice President for Academic Affairs in ASMSU, where she focused on college and textbook affordability issues. She is an alumna of the Running Start / Walmart Congressional Fellowship, where she interned for a Senator. She was recently elected to serve as Running Start’s 2019 #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador, a position which will give her the opportunity to encourage young women across the country to embrace their political ambitions.

Easiest. Mentorship. Ever.

“Most likely to run for President”? Make sure she does!

Do you know a young woman in high school interested in learning about leadership and politics? Or maybe you know a someone who isn’t totally sure about pursuing public office but who wants to make a difference.

Running Start’s nonpartisan High School Program is ideal both for students hungry for leadership training and those who could use a little nudge. Encourage the future leaders in your life to apply by February 15th! (Details below.)

But you don’t have to take our word for it. Read (and listen) about the program at NPR, and learn what real Running Start alums say about their experience:

“My Summer Week Spent In Washington DC With Running Start”

“From Arkansas to Capitol Hill”

“I stood firm and I was powerful.”

“Acceptance, Inclusion, and Following My Passions”

Running Start High School Program 2019

June 17–22, 2019, at Georgetown University in Washington, DC
Learn More / Apply by February 15th:
Eligibility: Young women who will be in high school in fall 2019 and 2019 graduates.
Cost: $2,000 (Includes housing, meals and snacks, and travel during the program. Scholarships available.)

Program Overview

The week-long, intensive program brings 75 high school women from across the country to Washington, DC. They learn key political skills like networking, messaging, and fundraising, and meet 250+ trainers, speakers, and mentors along the way. Via hands-on workshops, a campaign simulation contest, a trip to Capitol Hill, and more, young women gain the confidence, capabilities, and connections they need to own their voice and lead in politics.

Running Start

Since 2007, Running Start — a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization — has trained more than 15,000 young women to run for political office. Running Start’s long-term mission is political parity. Research shows that when women run they win at the same rates as men, but there aren’t enough women running (just one in four elected leaders are women). Women’s political confidence starts decreasing in early adolescence, so Running Start provides an important intervention at a critical moment. And it works: 80% of its alums seek leadership opportunities and 90% who run for student government win. Running Start trained the youngest-ever elected officials in Washington, DC, Illinois, and West Virginia. Find us online:, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

Failing Up: Reflections on Running Start’s Resilience Summit

Thank you to our friends at RepresentWomen (a nonpartisan organization working to advance women’s representation and leadership through reforming recruitment practices and voting systems) for this excellent post from one of their interns, Katie Pruitt, and for allowing us to share it. You can find the original post here.

Katherine Baird looked put together. As the minister of congressional, public and governmental affairs, she oversees important business on behalf of the Canadian Embassy. Last Thursday, standing fall, shoulders back, and eyes ahead, she addressed a room of over fifty high-achieving young women: “I am failing right now,” she said. Relief flooded her face as she confessed that she feels that she is unqualified for the job she currently holds.

Baird took to the stage at the Resilience Summit, an event hosted by Running Start and the Canadian Embassy, to air out her failures. Young women are significantly more likely than young men to believe that they will be “unqualified” to run for office in the future, an idea that seems to stem from a fear of failing. The purpose of the summit was to help young women dispel those fears and embrace failure as a necessary complement to success. Attending the summit was a transformative and moving experience that challenged the way I think about women who fail in the public eye.

Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Debbie Dingell, & Will Hurd speaking at the Resilience Summit.

Many of the politicians at the conference talked about how they dealt with losing elections. Congressman Will Hurd (R-TX), the sole male speaker, discussed how he lost his first congressional race at age 32. He admitted that he had seriously considered applying for a job at a fast food restaurant outside of his district where no one would recognize him. Instead, he joined a cybersecurity firm doing meaningful work before successfully running again four years later. “You have to refine that process [for failing],” Hurd said. Though losing felt catastrophic at the time, it ultimately provided another opportunity for Hurd to contribute to his community.

Melissa Fitzgerald (The West Wing & Director, Advancing Justice Initiative, NADCP) & Charlotte Clymer (Press Secretary for Rapid Response, HRC) speaking at the Resilience Summit.

Other speakers discussed the day-to-day failures they’ve experienced as politicians. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) spoke about the votes she regretted making in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and against the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Though she faced backlash when she later changed her position on these issues, she’s said that she was glad she made the decision to speak her mind. “I don’t care what they say,” she said. “There’s no substitute for self-satisfaction.”

Moderator Cierra Jackson (#ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador) and panelists Nishita Henry (Chief Innovation Officer for Consulting, Deloitte), Jeunesse Wright (Agent & Owner, State Farm Insurance Agency), Mara Palkovich (Vice President, Consumers Energy, CMS), Jessica Hogle (Senior Director, Federal Affairs, PG&E), & Marla Blow (Founder & CEO, FS Card) speaking at the Resilience Summit.

Several prolific businesswomen sat on a panel where they discussed the failures they’ve faced at work, from missed promotions to problems at home that bled into the workplace. “You have to stop thinking of it as a failure that stopped you,” Chief Innovation Officer for Consulting at Deloitte Nishita Henry said. Instead, she urged the audience to think of failure at work as an opportunity to reconsider end-goals.

Rebecca Thompson (Vice President, Deliver Strategies) speaking at the Resilience Summit.

Among the many speakers who opened up about their failures, I was particularly moved by Rebecca Thompson, vice president of Deliver Strategies. In 2014, she lost a Democratic primary for Michigan state representative by a mere six votes. The loss devastated her both emotionally and financially. She felt that she had betrayed her younger self by giving up on her childhood dream of holding office. After a period of reckoning and healing, she decided to follow a different path and went to work for a communications firm with the goal of helping other women of color run for office. Though at the time she was heartbroken, Thompson now feels that she made the right decision. “It’s okay to dream new dreams,” she said. As women we’re taught to work twice as hard as our male counterparts to get the promotion or win the election. Stepping down, even when that position is bad fit, can feel like a betrayal of all the effort that went into getting to that position. It was comforting to hear Thompson candidly discuss how she dealt with that guilt.

Running Start Staff (Susannah Wellford, Sara Blanco, Jessica Kelly, Natalie Caraballo, Reniya Dinkins, & Melissa Richmond) & Running Start Alum Imani Ross speaking at the Resilience Summit.

I’ve mulled over the conference quite a bit in the days since. The conference made me realize that though I am bombarded with stories of female success, I hardly hear positive stories about women’s failures. Every election cycle, we get excited for all the women running, and later for the women who win. But what about the women who fall short of the podium? These are the stories we need to tell more often: of the women who pick themselves up and try again, or change their path altogether.

Canadian MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes speaking at the Resilience Summit.
Resilience Summit participants sharing stories of struggle and bouncing back during an open mic session.

Katie Pruitt is an intern at RepresentWomen. She is a rising junior at Swarthmore College, where she is pursuing a double major in Political Science and Economics. She has studied voter suppression and institutional sexism in the classroom and is eager to work with RepresentWomen to address these issues. Katie has volunteered for several women candidates’ campaigns, including Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run. During the school year, you can find Katie editing news articles for Swarthmore’s only print newspaper The Phoenix, leading tours around campus, or listening to political podcasts.

Keep your eyes on these “Young Women to Watch”!

Meet the incredible Running Start alums competing to be our next #ILookLikeAPolitician Ambassador! Celebrate young women in politics, hear from these inspiring young women, and vote for the next ambassador at the Young Women to Watch Awards on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. Click here for more info and tickets!

Additional speakers include: Reps. Yvette Clarke, Barbara Comstock, Will Hurd, and Tim Ryan; Ruth Marcus, Deputy Editorial Page Editor, The Washington Post; Anita McBride, former COS to Laura Bush; Sarah Chamberlain, President & CEO, Republican Main Street Partnership; Sandra Pepera, Director of Gender, National Democratic Institute; Rosie Rios, 43rd Treasurer of the United States; Eshauna Smith, CEO, Urban Alliance; Sharon Yuan, Managing Partner & General Counsel, The Asia Group; former Rep. Connie Morella; Running Start Board CoChair Tasha Cole, Vice President of Development, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation; and Running Start Board CoChair Laura Cox Kaplan, Host & Creator, She Said/She Said Podcast.

Victoria Bright is Assistant Director for Alumni Engagement at Duke University, her alma mater. In this role, Victoria develops strategies to engage 70,000 Duke women in the U.S. and abroad in the life of the university and create opportunities for learning, leadership and mentorship. She previously served as senior aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi where she developed and implemented integrated communications, outreach, and legislative tactics designed to strengthen and maintain the Speaker’s position in her Congressional district. Victoria managed logistics for President Barack Obama’s 2013 Inauguration and the 2015 visit by His Holiness Pope Francis to the U.S. Capitol. She also served as policy aide to the Speaker on health, veterans and judiciary issues. Victoria earned her B.A. in Women’s Studies from Duke in 2010 and was a 2011 Running Start Star Fellow.

Sydney Burns’s career in politics was truly kicked off by Running Start. After completing the Running Start summer internship, she immediately applied to the Running Start Star Fellowship. As a 2017 Star Fellow, Sydney worked in the office of Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, and continued her internship after the Star Fellowship ended. Sydney then worked in Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Capitol office as a communications intern. From there, she was hired by the Committee on House Administration as a Staff Assistant, where she currently works with the Franking Director, the Election Assistance Director, and the Diversity Initiative Director. Sydney graduated from West Virginia University in 2017.

Megan Lehman is a proud Iowan and plans to run for North Liberty, IA City Council in the next two years. As a 2015 Running Start Star Fellow, Megan worked in the office of Senator Joni Ernst. After the Star Fellowship, Megan attended the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University. These experiences empowered her to begin her political career by applying for a local commission in her town. She was recently selected to join the Chamber of Commerce’s Business Legislative Council. Megan is currently writing a book about women running for office. She is also looking forward to volunteering for the next Iowa Governor’s race, as the state could have its first elected female Governor. Megan graduated with honors from the University of Iowa.

Anna Captain is a 2017 alum of Running Start’s Young Women’s Political Leadership Program. Since then, she has interned for Manka Dhingra’s campaign for Washington State Senate, recruiting and training volunteers, entering voters into the campaign’s database, and organizing for a special election that flipped the Washington State Senate. Anna has had multiple articles published about women’s leadership and plans to be very involved in the midterm elections later this year. Anna is Media Chair for Leadership Initiatives, where she works with other students to help a struggling business in Nigeria flourish under harsh conditions. At her high school, Anna is Junior Class Vice President and Philosophy Club President.

Lauren Covetta is a champion for mental health and women’s empowerment. She is a sophomore studying International Business and Political Science at the Ohio State University. Lauren was a Running Start intern in 2016, and since then, she ran for and won the positions of Fundraising Vice President for Delta Sigma Pi Professional Fraternity, and Corporate Relations Vice President for the Undergraduate Business Women’s Association. She was also appointed Director of Business Operations for the Student Philanthropy Council. Lauren was a Non-Profit Management Intern with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and worked within the Columbus community to provide free mental health resources. She has also led a social media campaign for the Center for International Education and Research’s international programs.

Cierra Jackson is a proud alumna of Spelman College and Women’s Campaign School at Yale. She was selected as the only White House intern to serve the Chief of Staff as their communications intern during her term in the Obama White House. As Miss District of Columbia in the Miss America Organization, she created the 1st annual Miss District of Columbia’s Day at DC Council. A military child herself, Cierra focuses her advocacy on her platform Behind the Frontline, to aid military children. She created the “Day of the Military Child” and has been featured in numerous publications and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces campaign. She is the author of a children’s book “CC the Military Kid,” that chronicles her life as a military child through September 11th and beyond college. Cierra is speaker and vocalist by trade, and is a 2015 alum of the Running Start Star Fellowship.

Brooke E. López ran for City Council in her hometown of Wylie TX at age 18, making her the youngest candidate in the history of the town. Though she lost, Brooke was appointed to the Public Arts Advisory Board where she currently serves as the Vice Chairman and is the youngest member and only Hispanic woman member. An alum of Running Start’s Young Women’s Political Leadership Program and Young Women Run, Brooke has worked as a Program Facilitator for IGNITE National, served as a Texas Civic Ambassador for the Annette Strauss Institute of Civic Life, and began forming a Commission on the Status of women for Dallas County (the first of its kind). Along with Texas State Representative Victoria Neave, Brooke advocated for Nahum’s Law in response to the tragic death of a classmate. Brooke graduated from UT Dallas where she wrote her honors thesis on women’s political candidacy.

Click here for more info and tickets!

Young and Republican

It’s funny. I never considered myself to be a Republican. I’m actually a registered Independent. But, after spending a long time as the political girl without a party, I am starting to ask myself why I have not joined one.

That’s because I would join the Republican one. As a 21-year-old college student in Washington, DC, Republican isn’t just a bad word, it’s a polarizing one. “Republican” is like a road block: people see it, but they are too frustrated to understand the reasons behind it. My fear of committing to the word has nothing to do with the party, it has to do with the way the party is perceived and the way people in it are stereotyped. I do not want to label myself if the label is a bad one.

Among many of my peers, Republicans are stereotyped, and they are unliked as people as much as their policies are unliked. There’s truth to that perception because demographically, they are older, they are whiter, and they are richer. For a young woman paying her own way through college, it is difficult to see myself in that stereotype.

Some of the hostility is because Democrats have better messaging. They even have Hollywood. Republican stereotypes say, “I hate minorities, transgender people, the black community, homeless people, and feminists.” It would mean I want less government and more guns; that I want the government to hold religion over individual rights; that I want to increase military spending and even have a military parade. That’s the what critics assume.

That stereotype of Republicans does not represent who I am at all. My freshman year of college when I was the class representative for College Republicans, I was also the treasurer of CUAllies, an unrecognized LGBT group on Catholic University’s campus. As I was walking to my Republican internships on the Hill, I was smiling at homeless people and eventually handing them soft granola bars. Right before I started interning for Fox News I went on a trip to Camden, New Jersey and learned the difference policy can make in people’s lives and the importance of raising awareness through telling people’s stories. Attending the Women’s March in 2017 is one of the coolest things I have ever been a part of. All these things make me who I am. Could someone like me be a Republican?

As you can tell, I have always had a difficult time saying I am a Republican. In fact, I have never said those words out loud. For young women it is a word that can change friendships. It is a confusing label because many people believe that a Republican cannot be a feminist, even though I know young Republican women are the definition of feminists. Women like Congresswomen Elise Stefanik and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have shattered glass ceilings and opened the doors for younger women to follow in their footsteps.

I am not alone. Of millennial women registered to vote, 36% are Independents, 18% are Republicans, and 43% are Democrats. I wonder how many of those Independent women would be Republican, and if they are Independent because they do not want to commit to a party or because they are truly centrist on every single issue. What if, like me, other young women do not want to shut down the other side of the debate or join the party of the ‘old boys’ club’?

Republican women are the minority among millennials. Their unpopular views are constantly questioned with a certain passion people would not question about their own side. Unlike other older Republicans, young members of the party are in constant contact with people who have different views than themselves. For Republicans in college, it is impossible to only speak to Republicans.

Sitting in class one day a classmate asked me if I interned for Fox News. I said ‘yes’ and tried to explain to her what I did because it was exciting. In my time at Fox I was learning how to tell accurate stories, making sure my quotes were surrounded by context. Her boyfriend then cut me off and asked me why I was interning for Fox. They asked me if I voted for Trump and why. They asked me if my family did. When I gave them an answer that satisfied them, they went back to asking how I could work at a place like Fox. It was an intense interview that I was not prepared for as the professor began to write on the chalk board. But it is something that happens often (I must point out that the audience of Fox News is as much to the right as The Washington Post’s is to the left).

Even people on the right are skeptical about Republican women. It is not uncommon for Republican women running for office to lose in primaries because the base does not see them as being enough to the right. There is more focus on their stances on abortion and other so-called “women’s issues”. It is easier for a man to run a campaign focused on fixing the economy than it is for a woman.

It took a few years for me to realize that just because my political opinions are moderate does not mean they are weak. Often in debates, I find myself understanding the other points of view. If I am having a conversation with two people I often am the one in between them, turning my head back and forth wondering why they do not understand where the other is coming from. Then, I say something about it and the one on the left sees me as an opponent but the one on the right doesn’t see me as a committed member of his team. For a long time, I was so focused on not fitting into either side that I failed to realize this empathy is crucial for a leader to have. The understanding I felt was not an inability to make a decision; it was emotional intelligence.

So, I remained in the middle being passionately Independent. But I am tired of being in the middle. I have opinions about everything — researched and passionate opinions.

Admitting to this is scary, having a voice and not knowing what to say is scary. Saying ‘I am a Republican’ is scary. But finally, I am ready to declare:

I am a Republican.


Liz Friden is a junior politics major at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. She currently interns at Running Start and Fox News Channel. On campus, she writes for her school newspaper, works for Events and Conference Services, leads Program Board Gives Back and is the Vice President of Events for the Student Philanthropy Council. In the past she has interned for Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, Congressman Chris Gibson and New York State Senator Rich Funke. She loves the DC community and takes part in Habitat for Humanity. Originally from Rochester, NY, she loves the outdoors and is currently training for her second half marathon.

Women Rule (but not at the presidential level)

Women Rule. That’s true at DC-based nonprofits (like Running Start) and at media companies like POLITICO. But, it’s not true at the presidential level — in business, college student governments, or national capitols.

In this week’s Women Rule podcast, POLITICO’s editors Margaret Slattery and Elizabeth Ralph talk about why the United States hasn’t had a woman President and suggest that displays of masculinity in politics may have a chilling effect on potential women candidates.

Running Start’s fellows listened to the podcast and shared their reactions. Spoiler alert — these same fellows participated in a focus group with some of POLITICO’s women leaders several weeks ago to give their thoughts on what would make a podcast appealing to millennial women like them. As you’ll read below, this one was!

Lara Ellen Plecas: Right off the bat I was intrigued by this podcast segment. President Trump’s style has certainly reminded me of the masculinity the President can project. I think it’s interesting how the United States has been perceived around the world as masculine and assertive since his arrival in office. It’s especially striking since we often associate our country with freedom and liberty, concepts we typically personify as women (think the Statue of Liberty).

Rianne Bonner: I think that the podcast is a great start in getting women interested in talking about politics as well as breaking the glass ceiling in other sectors. I could see how our discussions in the focus group were incorporated into the podcast. They specifically mentioned getting young women interested in politics, which is the mission of Running Start. I’m glad to know that the strategy of planting the seed at a young age that women should run for office is starting to catch on.

POLITICO’s editors touched on how Nancy Pelosi maintains power as Minority Leader in the House and how it seems like Betsy DeVos has limited power in her role because she is a woman running a department historically seen as feminine. It is interesting that women face similar challenges in being perceived as powerful, regardless of party affiliation. Women go through a sort of “political hazing” process before they are able to fully own their positions.

Tiana Thomas: The masculinity portrayed by many politicians highlights the stereotypes that women deal with in politics. Women interested in running for office often feel like they are not supported, either by other women or by their own party. This all makes women less likely to run for office. So, the question is whether they are simply choosing to not speak up, or if they are not really given the opportunity to do so. This happens in media, too: there are more male political commentators than women.

Having more representation of women in all fields, including journalism, can help women see that they can do it and can show critics that women are just as capable in those jobs.

Rianne: The important take-away is that in order for there to be a woman President, there must be a woman candidate. Women should not be discouraged or give up hope because of setbacks, but keep striving in order to keep breaking glass ceilings.

Lara: Speaking of glass ceilings, do we think that we’ll ever break it if more women aren’t in the game? For example, the podcast mentioned that our political system favors incumbents, so it doesn’t allow for more people to cycle through public offices. I had never really thought about this but it’s so true! For example, in Iowa, we had the same Senators for most of my life until Senator Harkin retired, which created an opportunity for Senator Ernst.

Rianne: Yes, and even the Founding Fathers were men. From the very beginning, our system of government has been dominated by a male perspective. The Constitution and our government are slow to change, so maybe the structure of our political process itself has reinforced the trend that women are less likely than men to run for office. That’s over 200 years of a system of government that is primarily male-centered!

Lara: Regarding Leader Pelosi, I think it’s so important to note that the system makes women work twice as hard to get recognition and then people still criticize them as abrasive or worse.

Tiana: Overall, I truly admire Margaret Slattery’s and Elizabeth Ralph’s idea of starting young. Their background in political journalism from a young age is a good example to encourage other women to start their political careers early on. And this is exactly what Running Start’s programs encourage! We’ll get to see this in action soon: I’m excited to attend an Elect Her training for college women at American University next month.


Rianne Bonner is a George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management student, focusing on Electoral Politics. Rianne is originally from Oakland, California and earned bachelor’s in Political Science from Clemson University.

Lara Ellen Plecas is a George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management student, focusing on Advocacy Politics. Lara is from Des Moines, Iowa, went to DePaul University, and has a degree in Relational Communication and Communications and Media.

Tiana Thomas is a George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management student, focusing on Legislative Affairs. She cares about health care, tax reform and immigration. Tiana was born and raised in the Virgin Islands and relocated to New York to pursue a Bachelors of Arts in Government and Politics at St. John’s University.


On October 20h, 2017 POLITICO’s Managing Director of Audience Insights Rebecca Haller, President Poppy MacDonald, and VP of POLITICO Live Alexis Williams met with Running Start’s fellows. These fellows included George Washington Graduate School of Political Management sponsored fellows, Lara Ellen Plecas, Tiana Thomas, Rianne Bonner, and Ekoyo Atkins (who wasn’t present during the above discussion). Running Start’s Walmart-sponsored Star Fellows were also part of the focus group, but also were not part of the above follow-on discussion.