How Washington Works and How Women in the States Can Make a Difference


Heather Barmore, moderator ( and @HeatherBarmore
Maya Rupert: @MayaRupert
Erica Holloway: and @erica_holloway
Lea Webb: and @LeaWebb1014
Buffy Wicks: and @BuffyWicks

Heather: Women are 51% of the country but we only make up 17% of congress. Women have to be asked at least 3 times to run for congress. I want this session to be empowering. I want you to get involved, because once you do, it's hard to get out!

Heather: How did each of you get involved in politics?

Lea: I come from long line of social family. They showed me how to get involved. Whether it was going to community housing meeting or just seeing my family struggle. My involvement came from seeing my family's own struggle, from healthcare to minimum wage.

Buffy: The week the war started and a friend of mine was diagnosed with Aids. He said he didn't have health insurance. I realized that I wanted to be at the table when these decisions are made. We can actually change the system. We can create the change we what to see. I had to be engage. I found that avenue through the president, but you can be involved in local ways.

Erica: I wanted to be a journalist. But that became stale. I wanted to change things and see the community change. In my childhood, we found that 3 boys were being sexually molested. I saw a repeated offense of sexual abuse based on the current city laws. I hated it. I wasn't doing anything to change it. I got involved in working with a senator who was tough on sexual offender policy.

Maya: I went to law school to work for social justice. My sister helped my realize I wanted to work for the LGBT movement.

Heather: I watched a lot of CSPAN and I'd get excited about seeing Ted Kennedy and wanted to do what he did! End of story.

Heather: What I find is, talking about 18-30 year old women, I find that older women don't care about politics. But so much of our lives are rooted in politics.

Heather: How do your friends take you talking about politics?

Erica: I have to say to people, "I'm an open republican." I've never said I'm right and you're wrong. I don't watch FoxNews. I can't watch CSPAN but I love MeetThePress. I love talking politics but in the beginning I was uncomfortable to talk about my role in politics.

Buffy: The biggest thing is to talk about what people care about. People have their own experience. When someone talks about policy to our camp, we ask, "why?" Because there is always a story and a reason why they care. Your personal story is powerful. When you talk about your experience, it has power.

Heather: Do you ever feel like you can't be yourself as an elected official, directed to Lea?

Lea: I was asked many times to run for office because I thought I was too young and in my community there was never a person of color elected. I think being an organizer helps you understand the community. I base my work on thinking about other people. I try to show my youngest family members what I do at the capitol so they can see and motivate them to know that their voice matters.

Heather: You're telling me I can get involved, but how? How can I reach out to my representative?

Heather: You now have a direct line with social media. Do you think social media makes it easier to get involved?

Maya: Absolutely. Social media has made it easier to write something then use that to advocate for something. I was more comfortable writing. You can write and then say, "I wrote this thing on this topic." I use my writing as proof of advocacy. I use it as a starting point for advocacy. I was slow to use social media. We're are no longer saying, only send a letter but we are now taking in the tweets and emails and comments on various issues -- social media matters.

Buffy: Our goal is to open the door and get people talking. It's amazing how information moves. You can see in a debate within two minutes on twitter how well a point is made. It's fast and it's powerful. Women are 55% of the electorate. For women to speak online, we need to talk about the issues we care about as women.

Audience Member: What is the role of an advocate?

Lea: An advocate provides an avenue for people to get resources they need to be heard and talk about an issue.

Heather: If you show up at townhalls and complain, they will begin to recognize you.

Erica: Senators have townhalls in the local city and states. Attend those meetings and blog about the issues. Get in the face and meet your leaders.

Audience Member: For people to get started, how to people started in being active? What's the best way to use social media to impact the issue?

Erica: Become a coalition. For California, I worked with a coalition to pass Prop 8. Women always get involved late. Once they get involved, they never stop.

Buffy: Women are the ones who are the core of our campaign. They log the hours per week in volunteering. They are the strong voice.

Erica: Campaigns are always looking for ways to get their name out there. Ask leaders if they would like you to write for them or about them.

Heather: A lot of people aren't on social media. How do we reach out to other non-social media users?

Lea: One thing is that you cannot replace old-school organizing. Social media isn't the end, it's the tool. I believe that like spirits get together. I tell people to go to city hall and get involved with groups of interests. Look at newspapers and phonebook for interests groups. Talk to people. I talk to people and ask them about what interests are important to them. We can't lose the people connection. We have to be careful with social media not to let that trump face-to-face meetings and gatherings.
I encouraged people to go to PTA meetings and community events. Attend and get involved to meet with people and learn what issues are important to them.

Maya: There is a sense of showing diversity but sometimes it's hard to find the actual diversity to show up. We have to be better at reaching out to diverse groups. Reach out to state and local groups. Most organizations have phone numbers. Try local. Get people involved.

Audience Member: An easy way to get involved is to talk. Don't be quiet about things that are important to us. We end up not raising our voices. When you do talk, you find out that others care about the issues. It's hard work, but once you start it's not scary anymore.

Lea: At the same time you're calling, once your successful, call the legislator back. Let your leader know when the goal has been reached. Keep up the relationship. It's frustrating to have people care about something but only for a short time or not follow-up. Stay connected.

Audience Member: My biggest problem is all the women who say they aren't political but they talk about school and kids. They don't want the label of being political. How do we get people unafraid of the label of being political?

Maya: Be open and let people talk about what they care about. I sometimes forget that people see my role as political. Let people talk on their level. Let go of the idea that only certain things are politics.

Erica: Government is us. We are the government. Is everyone in the room registered to vote?

Lea: And have you help register someone else to vote?

Buffy: Have a house party and talk about the things that women care about, but you don't have to call it politics.

Lea: We learn by example. Our parents told us many things growing up, we didn't listen most of the time. But over time, you learn that they are right. If you don't do politics, politics will do you!

Audience Member: How do you avoid burn-out? How do you run for political office?

Lea: For me, I have a strong support network of family and friends. You have to dedicate yourself, even for an hour. Make getting involved in the community daily.

Maya: For more on LGBT go to for resources.