On November 5, 2019, I am setting out to make history. At 24 years old, I am running to be the youngest woman elected to the City Council in my hometown of Marlborough, Massachusetts. Our current Council here has only one woman out of 11 Councilors, and many on the Council are decades older than I am.
As I gear up for the election, I cannot help but reflect on the Jewish women before me on whose shoulders I stand.
On November 22, 1909, a 23-year-old Jewish Ukrainian immigrant, Clara Lemlich, helped spark the “Uprising of the 20,000” for the New York garment workers strike. Protesting working conditions and wages, Clara did not wait for anyone to tell her to act or speak up for underrepresented groups — she just did. When I first learned of Clara’s activism, I saw myself represented, as I was also 23 years old and have Jewish roots from Ukraine as well.
On November 3, 1970, Bella Abzug, the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants, was elected to Congress. I remember how frustrated I was that I had never heard of her before reading the Alma article, “The Inspiring Life of Jewish Feminist Trailblazer Bella Abzug.” Bella was one of the first Jewish women elected to Congress. Representing New York, she was an early advocate for women’s rights, and she, along with Patsy Mink, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, and Gloria Steinem, founded the National Women’s Political Caucus. Her chutzpah to be unapologetically herself — big hats included — motivated me to think about my own political journey and assess the wide range of female leadership styles.
Only within the past year did I make the connection that my interest in community, whether through internships, extracurriculars, or my current job, exemplifies my core value of civic engagement. Growing up, I was one of the few Jewish kids in my school. Fortunately, we had a small synagogue in our community, I attended Hebrew School, and had my bat mitzvah. As an advocate for full equality for women, I find it fitting that I had my bat mitzvah on Rosh Chodesh, which is a Jewish holiday celebrated each month for the new moon and has become a symbol and day for women. My early experiences learning from my family and teachers about tikkun olam in Judaism and learning the resiliency of the Jewish people made me proud of my heritage and instilled in me an inherent commitment to public service.
This all led me to government, where I saw the necessity of policy change and grassroots organizing. I experienced this firsthand while studying abroad in fall 2015 at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Black students critically called for equity through a movement known as #FeesMustFall, in which they directly challenged the systemic discrimination embedded in the administrative structure of the university.
I continued my political exposure through canvassing for elected officials and becoming a social justice advocate related to equity issues on my own college campus. Through internships with my state and U.S. senator, I learned how officials form coalitions, gain policy expertise, and support constituents. Afterwards, I interned with the U.S. Supreme Court and my U.S. Congresswoman in D.C. Both experiences nuanced my understanding of how commitment to social issues coupled with collaboration and intentional relationships translates into authentic community building.
This was also my first time working for a female elected official, and it demonstrated to me how politics necessitates female voices and crystallized my desire to run for office. I continued to become locally involved such as serving as the Chair of my city’s Cultural Council. As I am active in my community, I see how my perspective as a young woman is vital to the diversification and inclusion of all voices in our democracy. All of these experiences and others collectively led me to this present moment: I am running for office!
Running for office as a young woman is not without challenges. Fewer than 1/3 of elected officials are held by women, with women comprising only 23.7% of members in Congress, 29.3% of statewide office, and 28.9% of state legislatures nationwide in 2019.
Some people say young women only care about social media selfies, boozy brunches, outdoor concerts, and Netflix. I say young women care about things like advocating for equal pay, Black Lives Matter, our student debt crisis, and fighting for sexual health and access. Yes, I can recite infamous lines from Mean Girls, but I can also discuss climate change, the civic engagement gap, and the importance of voting.
We must continue to uplift one another as women and be part of the national conversation about policy and politics, because it is our generation that will be responsible for leading us into the future. We will handle complex issues like climate change, criminal justice reform, healthcare, and immigration, to name a few.
Young women are powerhouses — we have the capability to change this world for the better, and we have an obligation to push for systemic change that will open up government to women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and other historically marginalized groups.
I won’t lie: Running for office is hard. It challenges you mentally and physically. You must be vulnerable, sharing your purpose and essence with people you have never met before, and yet it is the most enriching thing I have ever done with my life. Every moment that you run for office, you are building relationships and creating a more equitable future for your community.
My favorite part about running for office is spending time knocking on doors to chat with residents. They are so welcoming and I am grateful that they share a piece of their story with me. I have memories of several young women telling me how inspiring it is to see someone in their 20s running for office — some even shared how excited they are to vote for me in their first election!
We need more young women to run for office. I am letting you know that your voice is important; you have incredible skills and ideas to offer your community, and we need you. Women need to be asked seven times to run for office. So I am asking you so we do not have to wait: RUN, RUN, RUN, RUN, RUN, RUN, RUN!
Below is Sam’s suggested reading list for inspiration as well as resources to run for office:
- Yes She Can: 10 Stories of Hope & Change from Young Female Staffers of the Obama White House, Compiled by Molly Dillon
- Running from Office: Why Young Americans are Turned Off to Politics by Jennifer L. Lawless and Richard L. Fox
- A Girl’s Guide to Joining the Resistance by Emma Gray
- Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
- Jewish Radical Feminism by Joyce Antler
- Unbought and Unbossed by Shirley Chisholm
- Run for Something: A Real-Talk Guide to Fixing the System Yourself by Amanda Litman
- Gender Gap: Bella Abzug’s Guide to Political Power for American Women
- Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America by Letty Pogrebin
- Fierce by Aly Raisman
Resources to Run:
- Center for American Women in Politics: research hub for women in politics, housed at Rutgers in New Jersey.
- Women & Politics Institute: research center aimed at closing the gender gap in politics housed at American University in DC. They have the best weekly reader on women in politics that I read each Saturday morning. You can subscribe here.
- Emerge America: organization that runs a 6-month training program to support women running for office. I completed this program here in Massachusetts this past spring and was the youngest one in the cohort. HIGHLY recommend!
- National Women’s Political Caucus: grassroots organization dedicated to improving women’s political participation at all levels of government.
- Run for Something: supports young progressive candidates running for local or state office across the country. They also do endorsements for candidates.
- IGNITE National: works to build political ambition in young women to help put them on the path to pursue public office. They also offer fellowships for college women, so check out their work. I attended their Young Women Run summit last year and spoke to young women during this year’s conference about my experience running.
- Vote Run Lead: offers free in-person training to support women nationwide
- EMILY’s List: recruits, trains, and supports women to run for office at all levels, also does endorsements
Images courtesy of the Samantha Perlman Campaign