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Abigail Edwards, Rachel Hyden and Alex Navarro (L-R) spoke on a panel entitled “Ideas to Action: Women Mobilizing for Change.”

The next generation of women in politics

on March 4, 2019

About 150 young women filled the basement conference room inside the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center on a rainy Saturday morning to listen to inspirational talks about becoming the next generation of women to run for political office.

Although the event, entitled Young Women Run, was mainly geared towards high school and college-aged students, women in their thirties, as well as pre-teens, also attended.

“We have an opportunity to engage and excite and mobilize the next generation of people to be the leaders,” and create progressive health and tech policies, said Amy Zucchero, chief of resource development and communications at Ignite, an Oakland-based nonprofit that hosted the event and that encourages young women to be civically engaged.

That aim seemed particularly relevant this year. “At least in today’s political climate, I definitely think that women’s representation is extremely important,” said Eshna Narayan, a third-year UC Davis international relations major.

Only 24 percent of the country’s 520,000 elected offices are held by women, Zucchero said. “At the rate in which we’re electing women, we’re looking at another 100 years before we reach parity,” she said.

“The only way we’re going to shift parity is if we invest in the next generation of women,” Zucchero continued. “I mean, it’s just a numbers game if you think about it. You have to flood the pipeline or we’re going to stall.”

Third-year San Francisco State University political science major Michaela Byrd, who also serves in student government as a class representative, said that her desire to run for elected office spurred her interest in coming to the event. “Why not feel empowered by many women in the room around me?” Byrd said. “I love the energy in the room when women are all together, talking together.”

Alex Navarro, 34, a statewide city gun violence lead for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said the fear of something happening to one of her daughters, now ages 4 and 6, is present in her life every day. “As a mom, every time I take my child to school it crosses my mind that there might be a school shooting that day—every single time,” she said.

Kisha Grove (far right, standing) moderates a panel entitled “Ideas to Action: Women Mobilizing for Change,” which consisted of Abigail Edwards, Rachel Hyden and Alex Navarro (L-R).

Despite the fear-inducing climate nationally, messages of positivity and unity were abundant in the public forums Saturday morning. Booming affirmations of “YAS!” could be heard frequently when a speaker would hit an emotional high point in her speech.

“If there’s something that I would love for all of us to take away today, it would be to feel like we all belong,” said Chana Fitton, co-chair of the Ignite California Council. “I also encourage all of you and myself to do one scary, courageous thing in this conference today.”

Ignite Fellow and Newark, N.J., resident Quadira Coles is doing just that. She is considering a run for General Assembly in her native New Jersey and came to Oakland to participate in a media training workshop last week and to participate in Saturday’s conference. “I see that now is the time for more millennial voices to be a part of government, especially in areas like North New Jersey, where we aren’t represented in our local government at all,” Coles said.

Cecilia Ruesta (L) and Dulce Lopez (R) at the 2019 Young Women Run Bay Area conference

The event ended on a high note with a call to action, led by Cecilia Ruesta, the Central Valley Fellow for Ignite, who drove home the day’s message. The attendees gathered as a large group to take a photo to commemorate the day. As a call and response to animate the crowd, one of the leaders shouted “Political!” as the gathering of future leaders yelled back “Power!” with fists raised in the air.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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