The rising “new girls’ club” for female candidates

Women of the Massachusetts House of Representatives supporting the "1 Day Without a Woman" movement. Photo courtesy @MAWomensCaucus twitter.

By Natasha Ishak


The 2016 election results sparked countless postmortems as to why and how Hillary Clinton lost the U.S. presidency. Despite disappointment from the 65 million voters who chose the former secretary of state as their president, the defeat has also ignited hope.

“Let us hope there is a wave of young women running for office in America,” Clinton said in a speech, four months after her defeat in the election. That wish may be coming true as recent news in the media highlight a surge in candidacy pledges and applications to campaign-training programs across the U.S.

An article from Refinery29 reports 11,000 women are already planning to run for office in the 2018 midterm election.

Nonprofits that aim to inspire Democratic women to run for office, like Emerge Massachusetts, have witnessed a surge in applicants to join their female-focused political training programs. This year, Emerge MA Executive Director Ryanne Olsen says the organization received 115 applications compared to only 57 applications in the previous year.

“We had the option to either double our program – which meant running two six-month training programs, basically doing two years worth of work in 6 months – or, reject 60 women. All of whom were feeling passionate and excited and inspired to step up and be leaders in their community,” Olsen explained. The organization decided to double up.

Since its inception in 2008, 187 women have graduated from the tutelage of Emerge MA. At least half of them went on to run for public office in their respective communities. Notable alumna include Boston city council women (Michelle Wu, Andrea Campbell and Annissa Essaibi George), Diana Hwang (co-founder of the Asian-American Women’s Political Initiative, the first of its kind in the U.S.), Christine Barber (MA State Representative, 34th Middlesex District) and Judith Garcia (the youngest city councilor ever elected in Chelsea).

Stephanie Martins, a Brazilian-American legal practitioner who is enrolled in this year’s 6-month training program, says the most surprising thing she encountered at the program was the sense of sisterhood.

“It was a great surprise to see how much support I received from the other girls,” she said during a training session break. The support system that the Emerge program provides is so strong that Martins was able to raise enough funds with the help of her fellow trainees to launch her campaign for Everett City Council in April.

Stephanie Martins (middle) at her campaign kickoff for Everett City Council. Photo courtesy Stephanie Martins for Everett City Council – Ward 2 Facebook Page. 

The organization also offers options for women who may not be able to dedicate six months of their lives to training. For candidates who are already campaigning, they can opt to take a two-and-a-half-day boot camp, essentially a crash course in campaign how-tos. For those looking to simply advance their political engagement, the organization offers two-to-four-hour workshops on a range of topics such as fundraising and door-to-door canvassing.

Watch: According to Emerge MA Executive Director Ryanne Olsen, there are a number of things that male lawmakers can do to help advance women in the field.

Emerge MA isn’t alone in its efforts to build a new network of women in political office. Other well-known organizations and programs working to increase representation equity include Emily’s List, She Should Run, and Ready to Run (a campaign under the Center for American Women and Politics).

And though a long road lies ahead before women can truly reach equity in politics, women across the U.S. are already starting the journey to accomplish this goal.

About Natasha Ishak 4 Articles

Natasha Ishak is a second-year graduate student studying journalism at Emerson College. Originally from the Southeast Asian archipelago of Indonesia, she received her bachelor's degree in Advertising from Tarumanagara University, and worked as a journalist at The Jakarta Post for several years.

As an immigrant and woman of color, her passion lies in bringing forward stories that touch on issues of minorities and diversity. When she is not busy going on a food hunt or tweeting, she is on the streets talking to the people of Massachusetts about their immigrant stories for her passion project with a local advocacy group.