Demystifying Training for Office

I have always been interested in politics. I grew up the daughter of an attorney and elementary school principal. My grandmother was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Wisconsin Law School, where she met her husband, my grandfather. My great-grandfather was a judge. My uncle was a state representative.

I knew all my life I wanted to be an attorney, but I also always kept politics on the radar.  I have always wanted to be one of the decision-makers, in the room when the action is happening, making decisions that affect people’s lives. I do not like to think of myself as wanting power, but that may be part of it. However, the larger reason is that I believe I have a good heart and soul, and I want to help make the world a better place.

Our great nation had elected an African American president, so we were on the correct path, right?  I didn’t need to concern myself with politics anymore because our country’s arc of justice was headed in the right direction.

After obtaining a political science undergrad degree, years of working, and finally obtaining my law degree, politics was not something at the forefront of my mind. Our great nation had elected an African American president, so we were on the correct path, right?  I didn’t need to concern myself with politics anymore because our country’s arc of justice was headed in the right direction. I spent my time working, volunteering, and spending weekends with friends and family.

So when I heard of Emerge Wisconsin, I went ahead and tucked the information away for later.  Emerge Wisconsin is part of Emerge America, which aims to increase the number of Democratic women leaders from diverse backgrounds through recruitment, training, and networking.  Emerge America is currently in 23 states, and is expanding every year. They have an amazing success rate: 70% of women who have run, have won.[1] I figured, I’d join the program down the road, when I had the time to get involved in politics.

The best day of my life was my daughter’s birth in February 2016.  After a fairly fast 12 hour natural birth, our child arrived — and it was a girl!  The sex didn’t matter to my husband or me, but becoming the mother to a daughter was more exciting and inspiring than I could have imagined. I have never felt like a stronger person than that day in the delivery room.

Our first night together, she was snuggling into my chest. I held her close and whispered in her ear, telling her what I’ve told myself as long as I can remember: “You are perfect the way you are. You do not need any man or partner to complete you.  You can be whatever you want to be. I will love you forever and am already so proud of you.”  If I close my eyes, I can still remember her newborn smell.  I felt sure that she was entering an era when our country was on the right path.

Fast forward to November 2016.  I excitedly took my daughter to the polls to vote for our first female president. We even took a picture to commemorate the moment: me in my pants suit (Hello, Pants Suit Nation!), her in her pink “Future President” shirt. But, clearly, that was not to be the case.  That night I watched the electoral college process elect a man who was nowhere near as qualified as the female candidate. A man who less than a month before the election was in a leaked video bragging that he grabs women by the pu**y, and who refused to offer an honest apology about it. A man whose companies had deep histories of discrimination.

I, like many other women, felt my soul being ripped out. How could my daughter become whatever she wanted in this country when the most qualified person to ever run for president lost to a completely unqualified man?

I questioned whether I could attend the intensive weekend sessions while continuing to nurse my daughter, and my husband convinced me we would figure it out.  He said the words that I needed to hear to convince me: that it wasn’t about me, not really; it was about our daughter and her future.

The first week or so was lonely.  My husband also was angry and upset, but I can’t help but think that it was different for women. And then I stumbled upon a Facebook post that the deadline for applying to Emerge Wisconsin’s 2017 class was ending soon.[2] If now wasn’t the time to get involved in politics, when would it ever be?  I questioned whether I could attend the intensive weekend sessions while continuing to nurse my daughter, and my husband convinced me we would figure it out.  He said the words that I needed to hear to convince me: that it wasn’t about me, not really; it was about our daughter and her future.  I hurriedly filled out the application and found former colleagues to write me letters of recommendation.

In December, I got the news that I was accepted as one of 50 women to join the 2017 class of Emerge Wisconsin.  Our class was the largest and most diverse, and represented a wide swath of women in Wisconsin.

I was nervous to go to our first weekend training in January.  What would the other women be like? Would I be the only one who is new to politics? We packed into the basement of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in West Allis and began to share our stories. There was a similar refrain in the room: devastation by the outcome of the election, feeling tired of sitting on the sidelines in our communities, and a push to be the change we wanted to see in the world.  There were mothers, grandparents, single moms, working moms, homemakers, and retirees.  None of us fit into one category, and we found more commonality the more we talked.

Once a weekend over the next six months we trained together and volunteered on campaigns, learning from experts at each step. Strangers became friends who became sisters.  Six of my classmates were already on the ticket for spring 2017 elections, and five of them won.  We knocked on doors for candidates, made calls, tapped our networks, and generally spread the word about these amazing female candidates who were committed, invested, and excited about their communities.

Since completing Emerge, I have found even more programs to train women to run for office on both sides of the political aisle, including She Should Run, VoteRunLead, and EMILY’s List.  These are great programs to get the next generation of politicians up and running. It is an arduous journey, and it’s hard to take the first step if you do not know anyone in politics.

It’s scary to put your name and your reputation out there for people to choose or dismiss. But what I think is far scarier is having elected officials who may be underqualified and less empathetic, and who may not have your community’s best interests in mind.

It is incumbent on each of us to become involved in our communities. I am not ready to run for office yet, but that doesn’t mean I can sit on the sidelines any longer. I can be involved more than just nonprofit volunteering—and you should, too. Join your local political organization. Apply for a town/city/village committee. Read more than one news source and call your local elected officials about issues you care about. Even better—take them out to coffee and learn more about their backgrounds and why they ran for office.

Challenge the system. Don’t sit back and be complacent and allow things to occur that you do not believe in. Remember that our communities and our voices matter. And despite everything that you have going on, our country needs you.

 

[1] https://emerge.ngpvanhost.com/alumnae?role=elected

[2] Applications are now being accepted for Emerge Wisconsin’s 2018 class (http://www.emergewi.org/content/apply-future-emerge-class).

Photo by Elliott Stallion.

Krista LaFave Rosolino is a trial attorney whose practice is primarily dedicated to fighting for justice for injured people. She volunteers with various civic, service, and neighborhood organizations in the greater Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. Her favorite activities are reading, hiking, and exploring new cities. She is lucky to share her life with her husband, beautiful daughter, and two dogs.

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