Updated: May 4
November 22, 2018
For about 14 years, Carol Marshall has hosted a monthly meeting of women at her house. By design, the group is half Democrats, half Republicans—they come together to talk about what’s going on in the world. At a meeting in 2016, the subject of gender and equity came up, and the group lamented the fact that the national percentage of women in elected positions was hovering around 20 percent.
At the end of the meeting, Marshall told her guests, “We can’t just talk about the fact that there aren’t enough women in public office. We have to try to do something about it.”
In 2017, Marshall founded a group called WIRE, which stands for Women who Identify, Recruit and Elect. The organization works within Santa Clara and San Mateo counties to seek out women who would be a good fit for public office and to support their campaigns once they decide to run.
In October, as 2019 isn’t an election year, the group hosted a workshop for women who were on the fence about running to learn more about the process and identify open seats in their districts. The event included a slate of women with experience in local politics, including former Saratoga mayor and city councilmember Emily Lo.
Unlike other political groups that also aim to increase the number of women in office, WIRE is nonpartisan—meaning it will assist women of any or no party affiliation with their campaigns—and the organization doesn’t offer any official endorsements.
“Our organization does not care if a woman is pro-life or pro-choice or pro-gun or anti-gun,” Marshall said. “If she’s a woman, and she wants to run for office or seek appointed office, we will help her run.”
According to research done by Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, the chance that a woman will win an election is not significantly different than the chance a man will emerge victorious. But there is a significant difference in the number of women running for office. Marshall agrees with that assessment, saying that recruitment is often the hardest part.
When she talks to crowds, she tells a story about a woman in Palo Alto who was asked to run for a seat on her local school board, but she said she wasn’t qualified. The woman had three kids in public school and a PhD in education from Stanford University.
The organization’s scope is small, particularly to mitigate the difficulties in recruiting and identifying candidates. Its focus on local, nonpartisan offices—school boards, city councils, special districts—allows the women the organization recruits to see how politics work at the most basic level, where Marshall said, “it’s down and dirty.”
“We still badly need more women in the pipeline,” Marshall said. “And of course, the way to do it is to get them on appointed boards, and have them run for local nonpartisan offices, and then hopefully, some of them will become interested in wanting to move up and run for State Assembly or State Senate.”
Lo said she didn’t have a plan when she entered the political arena. “I just jumped right in,” she said.
Lo had been president of the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce and active in the school community for years when her friends encouraged her to run for city council in 2008. She was a nonpartisan candidate, and she didn’t have any campaigning experience to speak of. While she didn’t win her first election, she ran again in 2010 and won.
In a way, she thinks her grassroots support helped her in the long run. It allowed people to see her passion, and that she wasn’t running on behalf of a “big party machine.” But she admits it was tough to run without a formal support system.
Lo now sits on WIRE’s board of directors. She hopes to help other women jump right in, just as she did a decade ago. She started as a speaker at one of the group’s workshops last year, and she said she related to the organization’s mission, as she’d come across many women who “were qualified, had good backgrounds, their hearts were in the right place, but they lacked the experience to run a political campaign.”
“The first step is usually the biggest step to climb,” Lo said.
WIRE is planning several more workshops in 2020 to teach candidates specialized skills including social media and web design. The group will also continue its mentorship program, where women in politics with expertise will be paired with candidates who are seeking help in various areas.
Marshall said she’s often asked what the group’s goal is—whether they’d be satisfied with 50 percent women in politics, or if they’re aiming for a majority.
“We don’t have a goal of a percentage,” Marshall said. “Right now we just need more.”
San Jose Mercury news article link here.