Everyone is asking: Will women make history today? An unprecedented 476 women filed to run for a House seat this year; an impressive 239 women were selected by primary voters and are on ballots across the country today.
But no matter how many of them celebrate election victories, women have already won.
Yes, we still have a long way to go to create a more diverse and inclusive government that is truly representative of the people it serves. Four out of five Congressional seats are currently held by men. That leaves a lot of room for improvement. But this year, more women have run for political office than ever before. We’re moving off the sidelines and into Congressional offices, governor’s mansions and city halls. And we won’t go back.
This is not just a “big year for women.” This is a new era for the country. And I’m proud that my organization, VoteRunLead, has helped lay the framework for it.
VoteRunLead trains women to run for political office, offering the largest and most diverse training programs in the country. We aim to teach women that they are already enough—that they already have the talent and skills within them for public office, and that the world is not only ready for their leadership but needs it desperately.
Since the 2016 election, we’ve trained more than 14,000 women to run for office. This year alone, more than 200 VoteRunLead alumnae ran for office, of whom 80 percent advanced to the general election. And that number keeps growing.
Knowing that, women can celebrate victory even before the polls close tonight.
We’ve won because of the diversity of the candidates on this year’s ballot. These champions and change-makers—Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, multi-racial, gay, bisexual and transgender—are challenging the status quo and creating a more representative political arena. Stacey Abrams is running to be the first Black woman elected governor of any state. Kyrsten Sinema hopes to become the first openly bisexual senator in the country and the first female senator from Arizona. Our own VoteRunLead alum, Ilhan Omar, is set to become one of the first Muslim-Americans in the House of Representatives and the first Somali-American woman legislator.
In addition to running at record numbers, women are also donating an unprecedented amount of money to political campaigns this year, taking control of the purse strings to set our country on the right path. And they are more civically-engaged than ever before, building up a powerful infrastructure—of female donors, activists, volunteers and voters—that will last for generations to come.
From anger toward President Trump’s ugly rhetoric and cruel policies to anxiety about women’s rights, women are leading the resistance on the left and working to reclaim the Republican Party on the right. Most significantly, they are doing all of this on their own terms. From nurses to educators, business executives and fighter pilots, women are feeling empowered to run as they are. We are entering politics with a purpose, regardless of our political experience or whether we have “permission” to do so.
“Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office,” newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declared in a viral campaign video. But this year, women from all walks of life rejected that notion and jumped into the ring. No longer confined to outdated political norms or gender stereotypes, many women are ditching pantsuits for boxing gloves and tattoos.
Early victories offered proof that this country has an appetite for these kinds of leaders. Former fighter pilot Amy McGrath defeated a popular mayor in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District primary. Mary Catherine Roberson, a single mother of three, dove headfirst into a race for a county clerk seat in Illinois and is competing today in the general election, despite never having run for office before. Ocasio-Cortez overcame significant odds to defeat a long-time incumbent in the primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District.
As Rebecca Traister put it, it is “surprising, long-awaited and exhilarating to see women presenting themselves as nuanced, complicated, full human beings.” This is true empowerment. It’s also a political shift with big implications for the future.
We should be proud of what we have accomplished during this election for women and for the future of our democracy. Let’s celebrate that victory tonight—because tomorrow, we have more work to do.
Watch the Ms. LIVE Q&A with Erin Vilardi of VoteRunLead to hear more about the impact of women in politics, the energy on the ground leading into the midterms and her very own Ms. story. (And follow Ms. on Facebook to get a notification next time we go live!)