In this election cycle, a record number of women are taking on powerful incumbents and systems that have stalled progressive policies in states across the country. Case in point: Alessandra Biaggi, who is running for New York State Senate in District 34 in Westchester and the Bronx. Biaggi is only thirty-two years old and is a former policy aide to Hillary Clinton. She is also a lawyer who served as counsel to Andrew Cuomo.
And after last week’s enormous primary upset of 28-year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over ten-term U.S. representative Joe Crowley, well, this moment is meeting Alessandra Biaggi. Courageously, she is taking on a sitting New York State Senator, Jeff Klein, who has led an obstructionist group called the Independent Democratic Conference, comprised of seven Democratic state senators who have caucused with the Republicans. Jeff Klein’s alliance with the Republicans has enabled the blockage of a slew of progressive legislation, including early voting and codifying reproductive health rights. Klein and the Independent Democratic Conference also blocked Andrea Stewart Cousins, a female state senator from Westchester and the Bronx, from becoming the majority leader of the Senate.
Alessandra Biaggi is progressive and smart and tough and made for exactly this moment in time.
We asked Biaggi a few questions to help you get to know her better.
Here are her answers:
What is one thing most people don’t now about you? I’m left handed.
If you could pass one law today, what would it be? The Reproductive Health Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade in NYS…no, it’s not codified; yes, my opponent is the reason.
What or who helps you keep going through the criticism and attacks inherent in a political campaign? The mantra that nothing is life and death, but life and death.
If you could have dinner with one famous woman (dead or alive) who would it be? Hannah Arendt
What’s the first line of your epitaph? They said it was not possible.
Chocolate or wine? Chocolate. I stopped drinking alcohol after the 2016 election — for many reasons — one of which was that the waters we were about to charter, I believed, required a steady and clear mind to find the truth.
In 2010, Representative Scott graduated from the first class of Emerge Kentucky which prepares Democratic women to run for office.
In 2016, Attica defeated a 34-year incumbent to become the first Black woman in nearly 20 years to serve in the Kentucky state legislature. Moreover, Attica is the only woman of color in the entire Kentucky legislature. In 2017, Representative Scott was named to Essence Magazine’s list of #Woke100 women in the U.S. She is running for re-election to the state legislature this year.
Attica is an inspiring person and powerful speaker. Here is her Tedx talk:
She is a rising star in Democracy party circles. We here at Philanthropy Women thought you’d like to get to know her a little bit better.
Here are Attica’s answers to the questions we posted on our blog in May. Responding candidates should keep all answers to no more than 240 characters so that we can repost the answers on Twitter (leaving a few characters for links, etc).
Here we go!
Question: What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
Question: If you could pass one law today, what would it be?
Answer: One law won’t save enough lives.
Question: What or who helps you keep going through the criticism and attacks inherent in a political campaign?
Answer: My faith, my family and my friends.
Question: If you could have dinner with one famous woman (dead or alive) who would it be?
Answer: Harriet Tubman
Question: What’s the first line of your epitaph?
Answer: She loved her children.
Question: Chocolate or wine?
If you are a female candidate for public office in the U.S. who would like to respond to our questions and gain exposure to our mailing list of over 800 professionals in progressive philanthropy, please send your answers to us via our Contact Page.
These are exciting times we live in, as record numbers of women run for political office all over the country. And, of course, there have already been some fabulous victories in the last few weeks including, but not limited to Stacey Abrams and Jacky Rosen (from this former temple president to another, brava!)
But those candidates are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other interesting women running in important races that don’t get as much press. For instance, Deidre DeJear is running for Secretary of State in Iowa and Veronica Escobar running for Congress in Texas. These are amazing women running in tough places for important positions.
We thought it would be fun to give you a chance to get to know these under-the-radar women candidates from now until the election. These won’t be the people you’ll read about on the front pages of the New York Times, but they are really smart and committed and courageous and we think they deserve our attention and support.
You can easily find their formal biographies and positions on issues on their websites. What we want to do is allow you to get to know them personally, more like what it might feel like to meet them at a cocktail party rather than a website. Here’s our idea: we will ask under-the-radar candidates a set of questions that will help us get to know her better. Candidates: please keep your answers to under 240 characters so that we can share these answers widely on Twitter and other social media.
A few questions to get us started:
If you could pass one law today, what would it be?
What or who helps you keep going through the criticism and attacks inherent in a political campaign?
If you could have dinner with one famous woman (dead or alive) who would it be?
What’s the first line of your epitaph?
Chocolate or wine?
What is one of your favorite charities, and why?
But these are just our questions. What do you want to know about these candidates? Please let us know in the comments below. And if there are women you think we should highlight, please let us know that also!
How would you turn a moment into a movement? That’s the question that organizations supporting women running for office have been asking themselves over the last year. It’s a hard question to answer in any field. Now imagine trying to answer it while being deluged by an unprecedented number of women ready to run for office.
There are nine national organizations dedicated to training and supporting women running for office. These are long-established organizations like Ignite and Emerge America. In addition, there are newer organizations dedicated to supporting women of color running for office such as Latinas Represent and Higher Heights. Regardless of when they were started or where they focus geographically or demographically, none of these organizations have experienced a moment like this – because, of course, the country has never experienced a moment like this.
The spark for this moment wasn’t just the election, but the first women’s march on January 21, 2017, when millions of women were buoyed by the energy and determination of a sea of sisters around the country. While some were still mourning the loss of the 2016 election, younger women were ready to fight. They organized the marches and took out their checkbooks to support women candidates and the organizations that prepared them to run for office.
Marya Stark, the co-founder of Emerge America, was a pioneer in this field when she started Emerge right after the election of 2004. The importance of women’s leadership has been growing for past 15 years. She said, “People are aware that elected women are more trusted by voters. There is actually an explosion of awareness about this from the 2016 election.”
Marya returned to the organization after a four-year hiatus to start Emerge New York because the election exposed the fallacy that all was safe for women in blue states. The reality is that there continues to be a huge deficit of women in elected office at every level in every state. Ny Whitaker was hired last month as the Executive Director of Emerge New York. Ny had previously run for local positions and found out how hard it was to run against the machinery of the old guard — particularly as a young African American woman. She ran for a position called female district leader in her home district of Harlem (yes, they still have district leader positions segregated by gender) and won by 93 votes. But the incumbent wasn’t happy with the result so she asked for a recount – three times. After the third time, Ny magically lost by nine votes. She was furious at a system that enabled these kinds of shenanigans, but as her mother said, “Sometimes you have to lose to win.” Ny decided that helping other women, particularly women of color, run for office in order to change the system was her way of winning. As she said, “In our communities, people of color don’t often have those conversations about running for office. I want to change that.”
Of course, the need to help women run for office has always existed, but now the supply of women actually running has exploded and is outpacing the help that can be provided. Anne Moses the CEO of Ignite, said “Our college chapters, trainings, conferences are all five times bigger than they were before the election.”
The urgency of this moment also highlights how far we need to go. Catherine Pino and Ingrid Duran launched the PODER PAC in 2008 after overwhelming response by Latinas to Hillary’s first run for president. However, the largest minority group in the country is represented by only ten Latinas in Congress. Catherine and Ingrid were also energized by last year’s Women’s March and this year. As Catherine said, “None of us could believe what had just happened. We had to raise more money, identify good candidates, partner with other organizations and work with them to ensure that we get out the vote.” And they have done that in the last year by partnering Emily’s List to help identify and support candidates earlier. In addition, Latina celebrities like Eva Longoria have been using their voices to highlight the dearth of women of color in elected office and encourage others to give and run.
Individual donors have increased their giving to these organizations substantially over the past year. As Marya Starks said, “Before the election, women (and men) supported Emerge because they believed that electing Democratic women was an expression of their values and would make democracy function better. But now, donors, particularly women, view this moment in existential terms. Women feel like it’s up to us to save our democracy and restore decency.”
And even better news is that the women supporting this movement are younger than many other philanthropists. They are women in their 40s and 50s, many of whom made their own money. Rita Rodin, an Emerge donor in her 40s said, “A lot of women have the skills to bring, but they don’t have the network, and don’t understand the rudimentary things that need to get done to put together a campaign, much less win. Now more than ever the rhetoric, the lies, is crazy. I don’t see women lying like that, ever, for me there’s not a better place to devote my energy and money than to something like Emerge.”
Ny Whitaker echoed these sentiments saying, “Young professionals of color – it’s their turn. They’re moving up the ladders at corporate and industry, they’re entrepreneurs who are open to networking events and enjoy participating in giving circles.”
There are two shadows hovering around the silver cloud of increased giving to these efforts. The first is that individual donors too often want to give anonymously. Anne Moses describes the drawback of this. “In the last six months, we’ve received five anonymous gifts of $25,000 and up. Three foundations gave us $50k for two to three years, but we don’t know who they are and can’t cultivate them.” In addition, these anonymous donors aren’t encouraging their own networks to give.
The second challenge is that giving from institutional philanthropy has not yet risen to meet the moment. Local foundations like the New York Women’s Foundations provide support to Higher Heights. However, there are no national foundations making the support of women running for office a priority.
Here are suggestions for ways that philanthropy can meet this moment:
Foundation, STEP UP! Ingrid Duran said it best: “Foundations should consider giving to the field. Not just for voter registration, but giving to voter turnout would be a huge help. New and different ways to get people to the polls are needed.”
Invest in Laying the Groundwork. Investing more in educating girls about the importance of running for any office, literally from student body president to school board to Congress, would be tremendously helpful for creating a leadership pipeline that begins in elementary school. As Ny said, “The best investment a foundation can make is in a woman or a girl who wants to be in public service.”
Research, Research, and More Research. Investing in research on women in elected positions of power is critical to fully understanding how to make investments. We tend to focus on counting the number of women in federal elections, however city and county councils often have even less representation from women. Much more research is needed to assess the state of women’s representation at local levels and better understand the barriers to running and winning (see Ny’s experience above) and ways to support women to climb the ladder of elected office.
The arc of history bends towards justice – but not without a fight, and not without funders fueling that fight. Making sure that women are equally represented in public office as decision-makers and influencers is a key part of ensuring that 2018 is the beginning of a movement and not the end of a moment.
Editor’s Note: It gives me great pleasure to welcome Allison Fine to Philanthropy Women as a guest contributor. Allison is the author of multiple books including Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age and The Networked Nonprofit. A former Senior Fellow at Demos, Allison specializes in the intersections of online activism and democracy-building.
Exactly a year ago, millions of women across the country created the Resistance. We have marched and protested, shared our outrage using hashtags such as #metoo, #yessallwomen #nastywomen and called (and called and called) Congress. Now it’s time to shift from powering the Resistance to creating the Renaissance. However, there is one huge barrier, the “final frontier” as philanthropist Ruth Ann Harnisch calls it: our discomfort with money and power.
According to one study, more women are giving to more causes than ever before. However, the amount of money women are giving hasn’t gone up correspondingly. Here is the key point, “Men may represent a smaller slice of the donor pool, but they have made up for it by giving more money, keeping their impact and influence similar to what it was in 1990.”
Even though many women are wealthier than ever, we have yet to connect the dots between money, influence and power.
So, how do we shift to funding the Renaissance?
First, we have to put our name on things. Frankly, no one really needs to have their name on a building; however, we do need to put our names on important issues and causes and campaigns. Pick a critically important issue for rebuilding our democracy, and there are plenty of them, say immigration or anti-gerrymandering or climate change, and then tell the world you are funding it at a significant level. Step out into the spotlight and say, “This is where my $10,000 is going.” Be proud of your contribution. Your pride will be contagious and other women will do the same.
The second thing we need to do is to get comfortable asking for money. Even if you can’t write a big check, it is likely that there are people in your social networks who can. Now, don’t get into the habit of asking for money from everyone all the time because people will begin to cross the street to get away from you. But you need to get comfortable with the sentence, “Can you write a check for $10,000?” And that’s just for starters, eventually it has to be $100,000. Then $1,000,000 has to become part of your vocabulary. That’s what those seats around the board table are reserved for – not for the nice people or the smart people, women have always been those people, but for the people who can write, or get, million dollar checks.
And finally, we have to create our own systems if we can’t get equitable access to existing ones. There are powerful women in Hollywood and even a few women in the C suite here and there, but they work within a system created by and maintained by men. We need women-owned studios and banks and venture capital firms. We have women’s foundations, but they are far too small to have a big impact. We need more women to contribute to these funds or pool their money as parts of giving circles in order to magnify the impact of their giving.
The revitalization of our country will be led this time by founding mothers, but only when we embrace our own power and leverage our wealth and connections to create a more equitable society.