The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This post is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists.
After spending a tireless fall campaigning for office, 19-year-old Nadya Okamoto felt the excitement of a movement within her Election Day loss.
A Harvard sophomore running for the Cambridge City Council, where the average age of members is approximately 54, Okamoto fell short on votes, but not for lack of visibility. One major source of satisfaction for Okamoto was watching her own efforts empower young women nationwide to consider running for office. “It was amazing to be able to hear those messages that we were making a difference regardless of whether or not we won,” Okamoto says.
Young women become more likely to engage in politics when new female candidates receive press coverage, according to a 2017 paper published by two political scientists at University of Notre Dame. Okamoto’s candidacy encourages other young women to launch campaigns.
“It takes people running and losing to lay the path forward for how we can eventually win,” says Amanda Litman, co-founder of Run for Something, an organization that endorses progressive Democratic candidates under 35. Okamoto’s efforts represent one of numerous campaigns that recentlyhelped clear the way for future women candidates, including fellow teens pursuing public office. Take Mary-Pat Hector, 19, who came just 22 votes short of winning a seat on the City Council in Stonecrest, Ga. Candidates like these are exactly what Ignite, a nonpartisan organization that provides skills training for potential female candidates, wants to see more of. Since the 2016 presidential election, Ignite witnessed a fivefold increase in young women attending college chapter meetings and conferences.
Ignite, along with similar organizations including She Should Run and Running Start, provide necessary political inspiration to teenage girls and young women, who receive far less encouragement in politics compared to young men. While 40 percent of male college students reported receiving urging from a parent to run for an elected office, only 29 percent of female college students reported the same in a 2013 study by political scientists Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox.
“Age becomes more of a challenge [in politics] for women, young women, than for even young men,” says Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. She notes that voters tend to view young male candidates as self-starters, while young female candidates struggle to even be taken seriously.
Okamoto continues to believe that young women’s voices belong in government. “One of the big pillars of my campaign was like it doesn’t matter how old you are if you have the passion,” Okamoto says.
She may pursue elected office again. “I would consider running if I felt like it [would]…maximize the impact I could make on my community,” she says.
Until then, Okamoto urges other young women to run for office without hesitation. “We just live in a culture that constantly asks young people what they want to be when they grow up,” she says. Rather than focus on the future, Okamoto says, “We need to start asking young people…‘What are you passionate about now, and…what are you going to do about it now?’”