Growing up in a small town made it easy to be involved in local politics. I helped with my first school levy when I was in 8th grade and continued to cover local government as a newspaper stringer in high school. I visited Washington DC two times in high school for awards trips, one for the Ohio Rural Electric Cooperative Youth Tour and one for the Washington Journalism Conference. I even ran for Lieutenant Governor at Buckeye Girls State during high school.
It’s no wonder that I started college as a political science and journalism major with intentions of going to law school and into politics. If you have read my byline or seen my LinkedIn page, you know I deviated from his path. Our current political environment has made me examine what happened on this path and how I can re-engage in politics in a meaningful way. This is a follow-up to my post election blog post.
One step toward re-engaging was to participate in Ignite Change, an event put on by The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio. Being in a place where women were encouraging other women to both talk to their legislators about applying a gender lens to policy as well as run for office made me examine why I changed my initial course. Several of my male classmates are now in elected positions or planning their campaigns. I can’t say the same for any of my female classmates.
Key things that deviated my path:
Working at the House of Representatives – as a freshman in college I worked as a Congressional Page at the Ohio Statehouse. Mostly, I fetched coffee, and occasionally a bagel for an elected official. An exciting day meant that I might get to make copies. Attending general sessions was about as exciting as watching paint dry. I didn’t get to talk to constituents about how laws affect them. I decided after six months that it would be more fun to work in a fast-paced campus job.
Living and working in DC – My junior year in college I participated in the John Glenn Washington Academic Internship Program. Instead of working on the Hill or at a think tank, I trekked to Silver Spring, Maryland every day to work for a healthcare non profit. The work being done was extraordinarily meaningful and my internship project was a good lesson in getting legislation passed. What I couldn’t understand at the time was: why did it take so many people and so much money to pass a bill that was a no-brainer?
Life happened – My two immersions into government didn’t make me eager to go to law school. I kept my political science major, and added a second major in psychology because it interested me more. By this time, I had also met my now-husband, who was in graduate school at Stanford. We got engaged, married, and I moved across the country. I worked at the university and became involved in the Palo Alto community. I was in California during the bizarre recall election of Governor Gray Davis and subsequent election of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Life continued to happen at a rapid pace – graduate school for me, new job, new house, and babies. And then last week I lifted my head to realize I was back at the Ohio Statehouse to learn how I can have my voice heard.
My key takeaways from the event:
Mentor young women – Several eager college students addressed the crowd and indicated their desire to go into politics. I could see myself in those young women. We need to stay close to them and mentor them as “life happens” to them.
Become engaged at all levels of government – Posting an anti-this or pro-that on our Facebook wall won’t accomplish much. We need to become educated and voice our opinion on issues at the local, state, and national levels. A new resource I learned about at the event was the Countable app. It gives you an overview of what issues are up for a vote and provides an easy option to contact your Senators and Congressional representatives.
Bring focus to the impact of public policy on women and minorities – Women and minorities are negatively affected by select public policies and pending legislation – think health care, minimum wage laws and parental leave. It’s important to take a minute to walk in the shoes of those affected to put a face on our laws.
What I’m going to do: I’m going to get my head out of the sand. It’s was easy to burrow as life happened. I realized while sitting in the Statehouse rotunda that the country needs my strong voice. Whether it’s an occasional call to my Senator or Representative, attending a local city hall meeting, or simply following the pending legislation to be fully informed, I can make a difference. A future run for office remains unseen, but I will never say never.
Small Town Leadership Lesson: It was easy to be engaged in public life in a small town. It takes education and effort to move that engagement forward on a larger scale. My key to becoming re-engaged is to remind myself that real people are affected by laws and policies. I will walk in their shoes and take action from there. I will think of my 2017 mantra as I engage in this work: Not a single person in this world chose where, how and to whom they were born. All of us have a great opportunity – or perhaps even an obligation – to understand our differences and embrace diversity.
What are you going to do to have your voice heard? No matter what side of the aisle you are on, I invite you to join me in getting educated and active.