Phew! Here three WIE Suite members share what it means to actively become involved politics and how they did it.
Politics is Leadership
In 2019, New York City had its first citywide special election ever upon the election of Attorney
General Tish James to that office. Dawn Smalls ran as a first-time candidate in a 17-person-wide special election. While she didn’t win, she placed sixth, beating a number of sitting elected officials, and obtained over 17,000 votes in all five boroughs.
Dawn, a partner at the law firm of Jenner and Block, has a career that spans law, politics, government, and philanthropy. She worked in the Clinton Administration as assistant to the White House Chief of Staff and as a liaison on policy and budget issues for the District of Columbia, and the Chief Regulatory Officer at the Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama Administration. In the 2008 election cycle, Dawn served as a regional political director for the Hillary Clinton for President Campaign, covering six states, and in the general election as the New York political director for then-Sen. Barack Obama.
As a commissioner of the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics, she provided oversight to the state agency tasked with ensuring that state elected officials and lobbyists comply with the state’s ethics and lobbying laws and regulations. Previously, she served as the Secretary of the New York City Bar’s Ethics Committee and worked for the Open Society Foundations and the Ford Foundation, two of the largest philanthropies in the world.
"When I ran for office in 2019, one of the things that bothered me the most was when I was trying to engage in a conversation with someone about the election who was with their children, and they would just walk right by me. Some of that is generally to be expected – it is NY after all – but the thing that really bothered me was the message that it was sending to those kids: that elections don’t matter. The messages that people get from their leaders – whether it be in the private or public sectors or at home – signal to them whether this is something they should prioritize. It very much is – particularly now when women’s basic autonomy over their bodies is somehow on the line, we are in the midst of a global conflict, and we continue to fight authoritarianism and for a basic respect for the rule of law here at home.
Politics is Helping People.
Reshma Saujani a lawyer, politician, civil servant, and the founder of Girls Who Code, also worked in city government as a deputy public advocate at the New York City Public Advocate's office. In 2009, Saujani ran against Carolyn Maloney for the U.S. House of Representatives seat from New York's 14th congressional district, becoming the first Indian-American woman to run for Congress. In 2013, she ran as a Democratic candidate for Public Advocate herself, coming third in the primary.
“I ran for office because I always knew I wanted to help people. And then I lost, terribly, twice. But I remained politically engaged— and now more than ever it’s incredibly important for us moms to get organized and get involved. We’re living in scary times where they’re trying to control our bodies, our minds, and our futures, by default. We need to get involved on all levels of government, particularly locally.”
Politics is Protection.
Grace Lee is a community organizer, small business owner, daughter of immigrants, mom to three children, and a long-time resident of Lower Manhattan. She is a progressive running in 2022 for New York State Assembly and who has a proven record of getting things done for our communities. Grace co-founded Children First, a parent-led coalition fighting for the safe clean-up of a toxic mercury site located in the South Street Seaport that puts thousands of children and residents at risk of exposure. By holding rallies, press conferences, and organizing folks to testify, Grace and her fellow parents slowed down the process and held the developer accountable to ensure our communities can breathe safe, clean air.
“I got involved with local politics organizing to protect hundreds of schoolchildren, including my daughter, from a toxic cleanup site across from two schools in the South Street Seaport. This work gave me a lens into housing, climate resiliency, and education, which led to organizing work throughout my district. I am running for State Assembly because I want to help make government work to improve the lives of the people of my district. I want to use my skills and perspective as a business owner, former finance executive, mother, and activist to fight for my community in Albany."
Politics is You.
Grace shared why she believes now it's more important than ever to get the vote out. "At a time when women’s rights are under attack, working families are struggling to make ends meet, and election deniers are threatening our democracy - now is not the time to sit out an election. Even in New York, the polls are tightening and races could be closer than originally expected. Every vote will count on November 8th and this is your opportunity to make your voice heard."
To which, Dawn Smalls added "Democracy only works if everyone participates in it. You don’t have to run for office (though if you have any inclination to do so, you should!), but make sure to vote, find a candidate to support, and make it known that this upcoming election is important to you. It matters!"
Early voting starts in many states this week; get out and vote! And, reach out to these Wie Suite leaders if you are interested in running in your own campaign. We all win when more women are actively involved in politics.