The 115th Congress, elected in 2016, set a new bar for diversity. Nonwhite lawmakers now make up 19 percent of Congress—and among new members of Congress, the number is 34 percent, suggesting this trend will only continue.Yes, She Can
Emerge America, which offers training to female Democratic candidates, has seen an 87 percent increase in applicants since Election Day 2016. Fifty-two percent of Emerge America’s alumnae have run for or been appointed to office, and in 2016, 70 percent of those who ran won. Thirty-nine percent of its alumnae are women of color. Founder Andrea Dew Steele explains why this matters: “You’ll never see policies that benefit all Americans until you change the policymakers. If you want immigration strategies that are good for immigrants, you need immigrants in office. If you want sound childcare policies, elect women with kids. And women in office are more effective. Research shows that in the Senate, we sponsor and cosponsor more legislation and work across the aisle more. According to one analysis, from 2013 to 2014, 75 percent of the major legislation passed in the Senate was passed by women—and there were only 20 in the Senate then. Women used to say, ‘I can’t run, I have kids.’ Now they say, ‘I have kids—I have to run.’”Two Emerge America alumnae explain why the ballot beckoned.
Photo: Courtesy of Shaneka Henson
Shaneka Henson, Alderwoman, Annapolis, Maryland
“I lived in this district, in subsidized housing, at 19, as a student and mother with no full-time job. My neighbors hoped to become nurses, plumbers. I managed to graduate from college, then law school, and leave—but when I’d visit, everyone was still there, their goals still unmet because of the lack of resources they faced. I started attending city council meetings to find those resources for them. There were none. So I complained for a solid year. ‘We don’t have this; we don’t have that. Where are the job training programs?’ I decided I could keep complaining or change things. I challenged the incumbent and won. My first week in office, I wrote seven amendments. Now I’m learning to pace myself.”
Photo: Courtesy of Deborah Kilgore
Deborah Kilgore, Edmonds School Board Director, District 4, Washington
“I was at a community meeting, talking about how our district’s budget cuts disproportionately affected lower-income kids. Someone said, ‘A school board seat is opening up. Why don’t you run?’ Uh, I thought, I’m comfortable griping—that’s my happy place. What do I know about holding office? But I’d been president of the parent-teacher organization. My kids are in the district. I have a PhD in education! I had to learn to say, and mean, ‘I deserve to do this.’ I tell women, ‘You’ve been doing all the work: canvassing, running phone banks, attending parent-teacher organization meetings. And you still don’t see yourself as a leader?’”