How to Keep Women Running for Office When Trump Is Gone
Stephanie Schriock wants women to know they have all the tools they need to run for office
During her 25 years in politics, Stephanie Schriock has seen it all: David vs. Goliath matches, candidates breaking glass ceilings, elating electoral victories, and soul-crushing losses. As the president of EMILY’s List for the past 11 years, she’s played a major role in helping elect Democratic women who support abortion rights.
As she helped shepherd a record number of women candidates in the 2018 midterm elections, Schriock asked herself, “Why not make the basics available to any woman interested in running for office?” Enter Run to Win: Lessons in Leadership for Women Changing the World, out Tuesday, in which Schriock and her co-writer Christina Reynolds offer a how-to-guide that demystifies the logistics of political campaigns.
Schriock told GEN why she’d like to see gender parity in government, how Donald Trump’s election changed the pipeline of female candidates, and what’s next for her after she steps down from being the president of EMILY’s List this spring.
GEN: Why did you write Run to Win?
Schriock: In the last four years I have had a front-row seat to what I believe is a cultural change of women engaging in American politics, particularly through running for office. This book is for anybody who has had an inkling of getting engaged in politics, even if it’s not running for office. We want everyone who has any interest in making a change in their community through politics—whether it’s through the city council, parents joining the PTA, or other localized work. A huge obstacle for many decades has been getting women to raise their hands to run for office.
The book demystifies the process of running for office. You write in specific detail about the logistics of building a campaign, fundraising, and crafting messaging. When did you start thinking about wanting to put something like this out into the world?
In early 2018 we were recruiting and training amazing women running in historic numbers like we’ve never seen before. The process reminded us of the basics: Running for office is not going to the moon; this is not rocket science. There are pieces to the puzzle and you just have to put the pieces together. If you don’t have all the pieces, you can get them.
We realized many first-time candidates who were stepping up had amazing, powerful stories that hadn’t been lifted up before in the conversation of American politics: Women who had served in the military, former CIA agents, nurses, physicians. It just was one after another after another. We wanted to share these stories and keep on getting more and more women up and running.
You say you had a front-row seat to seeing a record number of women seeking elective office up and down the ballot. How did Trump’s election change the pipeline of women candidates? Now that he’s on his way out, do you think that there’s still going to be momentum?
Trump’s shocking election in 2016 was definitely the initial catalyst for thousands of women to step up and run for office, just as it was for millions of women to march in peaceful protest the day after his inauguration. But what was so cool is that it became less and less about Trump, and more and more about the power of women in the community getting things done.
We saw was women activists organizing to save the Affordable Care Act in the summer of 2017. When that succeeded, we saw a huge uptick in women signing up wanting to run for office. The next big uptick was when Democratic women, our EMILY’s List candidates, nearly took back the majority in the House of Delegates in Virginia in November 2017, which nobody thought was even in play. That was another inspirational moment where women across the country could think, “Not only are we finding our power, we’re winning.”
Winning and success was driving the energy now. It wasn’t about Trump, it was about women and their ability to make a change. They will continue to do this because I think this is a sea change, a cultural change, and once that little seed of “I might run for office” is planted, it does not go away. That’s been something that we’ve wanted to change at EMILY’s List for decades. And finally, it’s happening.
In the book, you write that you believe in equal governing representation by women and men, and how having this could change everything for the better. What does that equality look like for you? Is it a 50/50 split in elected office? Is it more women and gender non-conforming people elected, regardless of their party or their political leanings?
At a minimum, at a bare minimum, it is definitely more women. The government should look like the population. Right? But come on, let’s get real. We have to take down the white male patriarchy, which has had a death grip on our politics, our society, and our culture. To really make that change, we need to see even bigger numbers of women and particularly people of color in office, because we have to break down the systemic racism, the systemic sexism, and everything else that goes along with that.
There’s no magic number. I just always go back to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s quote when she was asked, “How many women are enough on the court?” And she says, “When there are nine.” But the truth is, right now we’re so far from even 50/50 and we have so much work to do.
Run to Win is filled with anecdotes about the women who ran and won in 2018, bringing us closer to gender parity in elected office. And as much as you write about their victories, you write about their losses, too. Why?
Sometimes you lose. And that’s life, right? It’s not just in an election. You could lose a job, you could lose a family member, you can lose a partner, in a variety of ways. Loss is part of human existence. And I think it’s important to just realize that it’s not the end. You learn a lot in the process, and I can guarantee you, you’re going to be a better candidate the second time around. And even when you win, and let’s say you serve a term. We had a couple of incumbents in the House who did not get reelected. That happens. There’s circumstances that drive that, typically political circumstances that make the electorate a different, harder electorate.
I think of someone like Kendra Horn in Oklahoma. She had an electorate that was bigger and more conservative in 2020 than it was in 2018, and she just couldn’t hold on. That being said, she’s an extraordinary candidate and a fabulous public servant. And I really hope that she continues to find a way either to come back and run again. You can always do that, or you can find another way to serve.
I mean, look at Stacey Abrams for God’s sake. She fought to win that governor’s race in 2018. We were devastated by the loss, but she didn’t slow down. She kept going, set up her organization Fair Fight, ensuring that more and more people had access to the vote. And look at what she’s done. I’m confident she’s going to run for governor again and have a really good shot at defeating Governor Kemp.
Once you’re in to make a change, you can do it in a lot of different ways. And it doesn’t mean you have to always run for office again. Stacey could continue doing what she’s doing now, and she could change the entire country’s voting system. It would be awesome. But personally, I think the people of Georgia deserve a much better governor, and she’d definitely be that, and it’d be phenomenal to see her in that role. But that’s the thing here. You learn from each one of those journeys that you take.
You’ve been a lifelong Democrat, and for the first time in a while, the party will hold the House, Senate, and presidency. What do you think should be their priorities? And how are you feeling about it, even though it’s been a hard week?
The Democrats having the Senate majority… even though it’s by the skin of our teeth, we’ll take it! It was a hard week, and yet I’m full of pride. After what happened with the infiltration of the Capitol, all of these incredible public servants in Congress and the Senate came back to the floor to certify the election results — especially the women. I just couldn’t be prouder of each and every one of them who must have been shaken to their core, and yet they got back up, marched onto the floor of their respective chambers, and they did their job. That’s who these women are.
We’ve got the most diverse Congress we’ve ever had in this nation, which means there will be more perspectives brought into every policy debate. And that’s what’s important. I expect that we will have an honest debate about the economic realities facing every community in this country, and a true conversation about what’s going on with our climate and our future. And it’s all tied together. Do I have a whole set of policies I want to see? Not necessarily. Stephanie Schriock isn’t going to have all the answers, I’ll tell you that. But this unbelievable diverse group of voices have a much better chance of getting to the right set of policies for every community in this nation than what we would have had 40 years ago before EMILY’s List started. That’s what this is about.
Speaking of EMILY’s List, you’re stepping down soon. What’s next for you? And what’s next for the organization?
I’m going to take a little break and see what’s next for me. These have been 11 absolutely fabulous years on the roller coaster. It’s been quite a ride. And I really could not be prouder of the work EMILY’s List has done. I stand on the shoulders of giants in this job, women who started this organization from scratch like Ellen Malcolm. I’m just honored to have been able to take this job and take EMILY’s List to the next level, and then to depart when I get to see Vice President Kamala Harris in office.
But I’ll tell you, EMILY’s List is as important, if not more important today than it’s been in the last 35 years of its existence because what can easily happen is that folks think this is easy. That, “Oh, if we just sit back, we’ll get women elected. We’ll get people of color elected. It’s no big deal.” That’s not true. It takes intentionality. It takes a commitment to ensure that women, women of color, and men of color as well, get the resources and the support to break through in the primaries and then ultimately win.
You mention women of color, who I believe face an additional set of challenges when seeking leadership positions. Would you like a woman of color to succeed you, particularly now that we’ve been having hard conversations about race and equity?
EMILY’s List is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The numbers have changed, and we have just much more diversity at the staff level, and at the board level. We now have our first African American chair of the board, Rebecca Haile, who is just phenomenal.
There will be a search for my replacement. The most important thing as the search committee looks for the right person is that they take EMILY’s List to the next level. I have no doubt that diversity will be a really important part of their conversation as they look for the right person because there’s a deep commitment across the board to this work. It’s critical.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.