Hockaday students and Annie’s List organization support local female politicians such as State Sen. Wendy Davis of Texas
In a world where only 20 women serve in the U.S. Senate and only 78 hold political office in the 435-member House of Representatives, a large discrepancy exists between the number of women who live in the country and those that actually hold political power. It’s a gap that organizations like Annie’s List recognized and sought to change 10 years ago.
“Either by unfair redistricting, institutional bias or self-imposed limitations, women have been severely underrepresented in the Texas Legislature,” Annie’s List Deputy Director Megan Rodman said. “In fact, over 6,000 men have been elected statewide compared to just 143 women.”
This lack of female leadership disturbs Hockaday students as well.
“Our politicians are making so many decisions specifically affecting women that it is odd how more of them aren’t female,” Young Democrats President senior Emily Yeh said.
But this fall, students have begun to take initiative and have actively started to support female candidates. In addition, many of this year’s senior class will be able to vote in the 2014 election cycle for midterm elections and local House and Senate seats in Texas.
Two senior members of the Young Democrats Club, Yeh and Anisha Anand, attended a press conference held by State Sen. Wendy Davis of Texas on Oct. 3 as she announced her bid for Texas State Governor; the election of which will take place in November of next year. She is the Democratic candidate in the race.
“You never know how famous the speaker might be one day. Each event poses a unique opportunity to listen to some influential individuals who have ideas and stories to share,” Yeh said. “And of course, it is always helpful for the speaker to have us in attendance as a way to demonstrate his or her support for students.”
Two weeks later, a group of 16 Hockaday students attended the annual Annie’s List Luncheon with 1,000 other Texas men and women where they met Davis.
“Her story and message is so inspiring to women, especially to those in Texas, so I was really glad that I got the chance to meet her,” senior Ali Aston said.
The Impact of Annie’s List
At the luncheon, the students not only learned staggering facts about the importance of female voices in power from U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York but also more about the organization of Annie’s List, which seeks to“change the face of power” and increase female voice in government.
Named after Annie Webb Blanton, the first woman elected to a statewide office in Texas, the grassroots movement began as a one-person organization and has now grown to six full-time staff members. In the 10 years of its existence, Annie’s List has elected and re-elected 21 women to public office in order “to bring a balanced perspective back to Texas government,” Rodman said.
Its philosophy comes from the belief that women do not run for office unless specifically asked, so this particular organization actively searches for capable women to run for public office in especially crucial but often difficult districts.
“We do not sit around and wait for great women candidates to appear from thin air,” said Rodman. “Within targeted districts, we build relationships on the ground and recruit women candidates willing to do what it takes to win a tough campaign.”
Annie’s List goes to city councils, school boards, local charity organizations and businesses in search for these potential political leaders, which coincidentally is how Wendy Davis was discovered in 2008.
The organization’s work can be divided into four different aspects, including fundraising, candidate training, discussion of the issues and the Campaign School. The training sessions that they lead are supposed to provide candidates with the experiences and resources that they need.
“The candidates come with all different levels of experience,” Annie’s List Vice- Chair Patricia Miller said. “We look for someone who has strong motivation and someone who is really willing to work.”
Miller noted that much of their instruction involves fundraising, which she considers a distinct difference between female and male political campaigns.
“Men often raise money very comfortably, but women are a little more tentative about raising it for themselves,” she said. “Our candidates need to make phone calls, reach out to donors both large and small, and they really need to be assertive in their fundraising.”
In addition to training the candidate, the organization also gives instruction to the staff through the Campaign School and actively searches for potential workers.
“We are empowering the next generation of progressive activists and helping our endorsed candidates win at the same time,” Rodman said.
But the organization goes beyond party politics despite their PAC status and speaks largely to the need for more female representation in Texas government and increased support for the candidates that attempt to change that.
“Our priority is 100 percent to elect female candidates,” said Miller.
Students like Yeh agree with this statement, asserting that the need for female voices truly transcends party lines.
“While I believe we should consider the candidate’s stance first and foremost, we should be looking toward women as we consider all of the potential representatives within our parties,” Yeh said.
The Future of Texas
For the majority of 2013, Annie’s List focused on the re-election campaign of Houston Mayor Annise Parker. But for the upcoming 2014 year, they will concentrate on garnering support to aid 11 State Representative candidates in their campaigns for re-election as well as Senator Davis’s gubernatorial run.
“Senator Davis has worked across party lines to get things done. Her hometown newspaper called her a legislator who will ‘stand up and fight’—and that’s just what she’s done, on behalf of Texas children, families and veterans,” said Rodman.
Yeh considers Davis a figure that might appeal to both sides of the aisle because of her gender, and just like Annie’s List, she believes the Young Democrats Club will be actively working for the state senator’s campaign next spring.
“Beyond her famous filibusters, she is an extremely strong feminist and proponent of well-funded public education. Her focus has always been women, children, veterans and the unemployed.”
The Wendy Davis Campaign was unavailable for comment.
Though a national movement towards increasing female representation in government has emerged, especially with high profile stories like Davis’s, Annie’s List plans to stay in the state of Texas and keep focused on municipal and state elections.
“We have our work cut out for us here. In 10 short years we have elected 22 to women to office in Texas and plan to double and triple that number in coming years,” Rodman said.
And Miller agreed, explaining the excitement of working on a state like Texas.
“[Texas is] geographically large and diverse. We have major urban and metropolitan districts to rural and farming districts,” Miller said. “I think our demographics are changing, and I think we are going to have much more diverse political leadership because some people who have not been well represented before are gaining in their power and impact.”
But that demographic change can only happen with the recruitment of young college graduates and the harnessing of talent from younger generations, said Miller. This is a fact that many Hockaday students and alumni have come to understand.
Hockaday alumna Leigh Bailey ‘97 will be running in the Texas House race for District 108 as the only female candidate. The election will take place next year.
And as for the Hockaday political clubs, they will continue to work towards this goal as well while attending party functions and supporting female candidates.
“We don’t want to be people who just claim to believe something for no reason,” senior and member of the Upper School Young Democrats Club Evie Pena said. “We go to these things because we truly care and want to know more. We really are the next generation of leaders.”
– Katie Payne