Today we’re talking to Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY’s List. Founded in 1985, EMILY’s List is the country’s largest resource for women in politics, and has worked to elect 85 pro-choice women to the U.S. House of Representatives, 16 to the Senate, nine governors, and hundreds of women to state legislatures, constitutional offices, and other local offices.
When did you first call yourself a feminist, and what influenced that decision?
I was raised with feminist ideals by parents who were clearly feminists, but at the time and place I was growing up, the word itself was seen as a negative. So I never thought of myself as a feminist – just a strong woman who could do anything. I think there are lots of 30- and 40- somethings who feel the same way. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a new generation of women and men take back the word – and I am proud to join them.
What does feminism mean to you?
That women should be as free as men to pursue life, liberty and happiness. And I believe we will be.
But I love hearing different definitions of feminism. There are so many aspects of being a woman that we ought to celebrate, and learning what feminism means to each of us is a way to do that. Every day, reading sites like yours and meeting new women in the community, I find a new reason to love what I do.
EMILY’s List is dedicated to electing pro-choice women to office. This is undoubtedly a complex process, but could you give our readers an overview of how your organization accomplishes this?
We do a number of things – we introduce women candidates to a network of men and women all over the country who are dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women. And we try to grow that community so we’re stronger with every election – join us at emilyslist.org.
We train women to get involved in politics and run for office. And we create a pipeline for pro-choice Democratic women so we’re running up and down the ballot, all over the country. From the school board to the Presidency.
One aspect of EMILY’s List’s work that gets overlooked regularly is recruitment. I truly think the biggest obstacle to feminism right now is the fact that not enough Democratic women are running for office.
I want to give your readers some homework: think of your friends. One of them – you know who she is – should run for office. Now, next time you see her, tell her. You may be the first person to suggest it. And if she goes for it, do everything you can to help her. Women can do this when we work for and with each other.
The 2012 election is already generating a lot of coverage. Aside from the presidential race, are there any specific state elections that you’re watching closely?
Kathy Hochul’s special election victory in New York last month began a new lease on life for Democrats – one driven by Democratic women.
Every special election in 2011 has a Democratic woman running in it: Janice Hahn in California, Kate Marshall in Nevada, and five out of the six Wisconsin recalls elections you’re hearing so much about are featuring Democratic women challengers. This is a really exciting year.
Wisconsin is the next front in the Republican war on women – Republicans there are promoting a radical agenda that strips the social safety net that women rely on to care for themselves and their families. Election Day is August 9 and we’re doing everything we can to turn out the vote. Folks all over the country are helping out – and you can join us at emilyslist.org.
This is the year when we start playing offense, by electing women who fight for what women and families really need. It all leads up to taking back the House in 2012.
2012 is a massive year for women in the Senate, too. Six women – that’s half of the Democratic female Senators – are up for re-election. And they are some of the best legislators we have in Washington. Champions like Kirsten Gillibrand, Dianne Feinstein, and Maria Cantwell. We have to protect those seats and we have to send them reinforcements. EMILY’s List has already endorsed Shelley Berkley in Nevada and Mazie Hirono in Hawaii – and stay tuned, there are going to be even more.
What advice would you give to young women who are considering entering politics?
Just go for it! Seriously, you can absolutely get involved and make a difference. There are resources available to you whether you want to run for office or run a campaign – EMILY’s List can help. We have trainings all over the country – look one up in your area and check it out.
We will only improve the policies of our government when we send more Democratic women to Washington and to governor’s mansions. And there is actually a handbook for running – women all over the country are doing it and you can too.
Go to the website right now and read our blog, check out our candidates, volunteer for a campaign in your area. Nothing is better than going out to volunteer right now. I guarantee there is an awesome woman running for something in your area. Volunteer. You’ll help her, and you’ll build your network, which means you’ll expand our network of women involved in politics.
In your opinion, what are the most effective ways for individuals to help pro-choice women get elected?
I have four quick ones:
- Donate time and money. Both are absolutely needed.
- Talk to your friends, neighbors, women you might not even know yet. Women talking to women is one of the most powerful ways to influence an election. Join our grassroots activist team, Team EMILY – we can set you up with phone lists in districts that matter. You can make calls and you can really make a difference.
- I was serious before: tell your friend to run. Maybe tell yourself, too.
- And don’t forget to vote! Also, drag everyone you know with you.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.