Women march into political arena

Local candidates speak up about sexism in politics

Illustration by Cat Frink / Production Director

According to the New York Times, the nation is seeing a surge of women campaigning for office, including 354 women running for the U.S. House of Representatives, four times as many as in 2015. Oregon Women Action for New Direction, a Democratic organization that is engaged in increasing women’s political involvement, has hosted multiple events to encourage women to join the effort.

Three local women running for office spoke at the Eugene chapter of WAND event about their experience campaigning on Thursday, April 26. Kimberly Koops, running for state representative in District 11, Heather Buch, running for East Lane County Commissioner, and Mindy Schlossberg, running for Eugene Water and Electric Board were the keynote speakers. Collectively, there are 35 women campaigning with Emerge Oregon, a program that trains and encourages progressive women to run for government positions.

“When women see that other women can do it, it encourages them,” WAND event coordinator Janice Zagorin said. “It’s hard being the only woman in a sea of men.”

WAND’s purpose was to have women give the community insight into their experiences with politics.

“I think it’s important for young women and other women to see women running for office because you can’t be what you can’t see,” Koops said. “I’ve learned young women can, and should, lead.”

A common motivator for the campaigners was the 2016 election. After seeing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton campaign for the presidency, many women started to get more involved in local, state and federal government seats.

“After the 2016 election, I realized that I had been a little too complacent for too long in terms of American politics,” Schlossberg said. “There was plenty of things I wanted to complain about, but I hadn’t been active enough in part of the solution.”

After getting involved with MoveOn’s efforts to meet in their communities, Schlossberg created Take Action Eugene. Her experience in politics motivated Schlossberg to run for office. Several local elected officials urged Schlossberg to run for EWEB.

“As an aside, EWEB board has five members and only one is a woman,” Schlossberg said. “I think we need more women in all levels of elected leadership.”

The speakers gave the audience an insight into the challenges they face every day on the campaign trail. WAND focuses on sharing women’s personal experiences in politics to promote activism towards their goal of getting more women elected to office. Many of the struggles were similar. Even in 2018, the women running for office were dealing with different ideologies along their campaign.

“Things like ageism and sexism are definitely still alive and those are things that I have experienced on the campaign trail,” Koops said. “ I think ageism and sexism are still a huge determinant for women running for office in general, but there are also things that we can overcome and work through and use to our advantage.”

Many Americans are taking their shot at office and trying to find new ways to run government.

“What I see happening in the 2018 election is that women are ready for their time to shake up the status quo in politics,” Buch said. “They are finally encouraged and feel that their skills, even as mothers, are actually an asset to running where before many people felt they were detriments.”

As many candidates start their campaign, the issues that women face are becoming more public during elections. Elections can bring a plethora of challenges that can be difficult to face because a majority of the government is controlled by men. Organizations like WAND serve as additional support for women running for office on top of the candidates’ personal support system.

“Because we still are in the culture we are at with a majority of elected being men, there are going to be days when you are running a campaign that are going to be down days. It’s imperative that you draw upon the support of your friends, your family and supporters to get you through those down days because you are going to have up days too,” Buch said. “You’ll get through it and there are going to be people backing you and supporting you all along the way; it is critical that women know that they have that support when that happens.”

As more women venture into campaigns, the rest of the community gets to experience the new surge of female representation. For young people, the movement can be empowering. Buch mentioned that her daughter has learned a big lesson from her mother’s campaign.

“The best feeling in the world to know that she knows already, at four, that she can do something bigger,” Buch said.