Women’s March prompts women of color to seek office
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — As Samia Assed watched election returns come in with her children and another Muslim family, she panicked when it became clear that Donald Trump would win the presidency. The Palestinian-American woman wondered if they would have to register as Muslims, as Trump said during his campaign. Would she be barred from wearing her hijab in public?
“Honestly, I was scared,” the 51-year-old Albuquerque resident said. “I didn’t even want to take my daughter to school the next day.”
Assed has turned her fears into action, joining what advocacy groups say are hundreds, possibly thousands of women of color, who are exploring making a run for public office. Across the country, women are gathering signatures, attending workshops, and signing up for fundraising and public speaking classes as they set their eyes on school board seats, city councils, state offices, and even Congress.
Just how many women of color will actually seek office is anyone’s guess. Advocacy groups say it’s too early to determine how many women will formally file papers, but they believe the number could triple. Some are deciding on what position to seek, while others are waiting for 2018 or 2019, advocates said.
VoteRunLead director Erin Vilardi said the group has seen a jump in the number of women interested in politics. The Duluth, Minnesota-based group typically draws 50 to 100 participants for webinars like “From Protester to Politician.” But since November, the webinars have attracted more than 1,000 participants each time, Vilardi said. And about half of those signing up are women of color.
“From our inboxes to our social media sites, we can’t keep up with the fire hose,” Vilardi said.
In interviews with The Associated Press, some say Trump’s win and his past comments on minorities and women sparked them to jump into politics. Others, like Monic Behnken, 44, cite the divisiveness of the presidential campaign or Democrat Hillary Clinton’s defeat among the motivating factors.
Behnken, a criminal justice professor at Iowa State University, is seeking a seat on the Ames School Board.
“Seeing how this ugliness was filtering into my children’s lives was probably the thing that motivated me the most,” said Behnken, who is black. “I knew I had to do something to step up to make the world as safe for them as I could.”
Kathleen Daniel, 46, said she decided to run for New York’s City Council the day after Trump’s election. Her 12-year-old son refused to wear his coat that day even though it was cold. He didn’t want to be seen in a hoodie, believing Trump would bring back “stop and frisk,” said Daniel, who is black.
“I couldn’t face my kids,” said Daniel, a mother of two who lives in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. “So right then and there I decided to jump in.”
Lourdes Cruz said she long thought about running for office but seeing the first steps taken by the Trump administration solidified her decision.
The 32-year-old social worker from Yorba Linda, California, has never held elected office and plans to run for city council or the state assembly in 2018.
“What the actions are now, it is very scary as a country to see that one person can have so much power,” said Cruz, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Mexico.
Erin Loos-Cutraro, co-founder of She Should Run, a nonpartisan group that encourages women to seek office, said the group’s site usually gets about 100-200 women a month expressing interest in their programs. Since the election, it’s been close to 6,000.
Karen Hinks, founder of WeLead OC, said she’s seen at least 15 groups spring up in Orange County, California, since the women’s march was put together.
“Every day there’s another group that sprouts up, and it is all women that are doing this,” said Hinks, whose organization trains Democratic women to run for office and work on political campaigns.
It’s not just Democratic-leaning women seeking to expand the diversity of elected officeholders. The Republican State Leadership Committee’s Future Majority Project, an initiative that seeks diverse GOP candidates, is identifying and recruiting state-level candidates after a successful 2016.
Republican State Leadership Committee spokeswoman Ellie Hockenbury points to Patricia Rucker, a first-generation American from Venezuela who in November won a seat in the West Virginia Senate. And Republican Affie Ellis became the first Native American woman to win a seat in the Wyoming Legislature, Hockenbury said.
“The 2016 election cycle saw political engagement at every level of government in ways we have not seen in years,” Hockenbury said.
In addition, some female political veterans also are taking a shot at history. For example, Debra Haaland, the outgoing chair of the New Mexico Democratic Party, is mulling a run for a congressional seat in 2018. If elected, the enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo would become the first Native American woman elected to Congress.
Assed said she hasn’t decided when she’ll run for city council, but in the meantime, she plans to learn all she can. As president of the advocacy group Albuquerque Center For Peace and Justice Coalition, Assed has sought to build alliances with Latino and Native Americans on a variety of different issues, she said.
Behnken said she is starting from scratch and will focus on meeting new people.
“I don’t know if I’ll win or not, but I know this,” Behnken said. “This is what I’m supposed to be doing at this moment.”
Hajela reported from New York. Associated Press reporter Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, California, contributed to this report.
Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras. Follow Deepti Hajela at www.twitter.com/dhajela. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/deepti-hajela .
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