Lesson LearnedFebruary 17, 2011
The women of Northern Illinois University are planning to take state politics by storm. The Elect Her–Campus Women Win training program came to snowy DeKalb, Illinois, last weekend, and the young Huskies didn’t let a week of blizzard-driven shutdowns put a chill on their enthusiasm for talking politics.
A small but enthusiastic crowd came to the Student Center on a snowy Saturday to spend the day learning the keys to running for office. Focused on encouraging these young women to run for student government, the daylong training also laid the groundwork for their ambitions post-college. From school board to state senate, many of the participants have already set their sights on political office after graduation. Made up mostly of juniors and seniors, the audience also included many who had already successfully run for leadership positions for student organizations on campus.
In the discussion about the barriers to running for office, many of the women noted the feeling that they were not qualified or prepared to run. They also complained of a campus system that was “locked down” by fraternal organizations that often trade off key leadership positions in the student senate. But when it was pointed out that NIU women make up the majority of the student body and that the typical turnout for student elections can be as low as 2 percent, the possibilities started to open up.
The audience found inspiration in the words of Alderman Stephanie Kifowit. This rising star of Illinois politics gave the women a good dose of straight talk on what it takes to run and win. Her primary message was perseverance. She encouraged the young women to never back down even when “the old boys’ club” tells you no. Just 31 years old when she first took office, her own career served as an example for the audience. Elected eight years ago after a contentious primary and a hard-fought general election, Kifowit went on to be re-elected last year by the highest margin of all aldermen.
The young women then got down to work mapping out their own campaigns including their issues agenda, campaign team, and campaign message. They also worked out their own elevator speech, that critical one-minute speech that they can use to pitch their candidacy in any situation.
A highlight of the day was the campaign simulation. Taking their freshly drafted speeches, the women hit the campus in a dash to collect “votes” from their fellow students by making their pitches and having students fill out ballots. With only 30 minutes to canvass everyone in the area, the young women ran around the campus collecting ballots from their potential supporters. Latasha Bennett returned with the greatest number of votes and earned bragging rights for the day!
Young women who at the beginning of the day were intimidated by the prospect of having to pitch themselves to potential voters returned from the campaign simulation energized and excited about the response they got. They also found that what at first had seemed like a huge task was easy and even fun. While many had come to the training dubious of ever holding elective office in college or after, they left declaring their intentions to run and win so that they can change the system and have a positive effect on their campus and community.
This post was written by Winning Over Washington’s Ramona Oliver.