Episode 101: She's Running
Published July 14, 2017.
Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.
Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.
Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. So this episode is, I mean I would do an agenda but once again the only thing on the agenda is how to get more women elected in office in America.
Aminatou: [Howls] Okay.
Ann: Oh my god, howl at that moon. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Hey girl!
Ann: Hey. How's it going?
Aminatou: Oh, god, let's not get even into that.
Ann: Oh my god.
Aminatou: [Laughs] It's going. It's going. Well, you know, we're having a couple very exciting live shows this weekend.
Ann: I think that's why we're both like oh my god, it's going. Like that feeling of time is progressing too fast or something. I don't know.
Aminatou: It's too fast. It was literally just January and today it's July like something.
Ann: I know.
Aminatou: But this is your last, last, last, last chance to buy tickets to come see us in New York and Philly and we're so excited.
Ann: Oh my god. This weekend it's happening. We haven't done some live shows in a while. Ann, I'm excited.
Aminatou: I am so pumped. Brooklyn, see you in Williamsburg. Philly, see you at the Trocadero. Tickets are on callyourgirlfriend.com/events.
Aminatou: Yeah, I'm super-excited about this episode. We talked to three different women who are running for office. And, you know, different types of offices but also women who have various degrees of experience with politics which I was super excited about to see women who were like pissed off about the election and saying like "This is my turn. I can do this. If this bozo can be president, how hard can it really be?" Really just throw their hat in the ring and do it.
Ann: Ugh, for sure. We've gotten so many incredible recommendations through the #CYGruns hashtag and just in emails that listeners have sent us about incredible candidates that are running in all different types of races around the country. If you don't get The Bleed, well, first of all get The Bleed, our monthly email newsletter. But if you don't you might have missed a really incredible story about a woman who ran for the first time in 2016 for the state legislature in Kansas and some of the incredible change she was able to make in a really short time. And so you can find that on our archive on our website so I won't spoiler alert it, but for future reference get The Bleed. Lots of great stories have come from that hashtag and from your emails and we are super pumped about all these women running.
Aminatou: Yeah. So stay tuned also for some announcements about how we can keep supporting people who are running. Keep using the #CYGruns hashtag. Like I'm super excited about this.
Ann: Yeah. We're in this for the long haul, for sure, so this is kind of a follow-up I would say to an episode we did last month, right? God, was that last month? [Laughs]
Aminatou: God . . .
Ann: Yeah, about some of the interest that people are showing in running for office for the first time and some of the organizations that are really working to diversify the pipeline of candidates at all levels. This week we've got some stories of women who are doing it.
Aminatou: That's right. Who was the first person that we interviewed, Ann?
Ann: We together talked to Laura Moser who at the time we chatted with her was in Brooklyn for an event getting the word out about her campaign but is running for Congress in the 7th District of Texas which is basically Houston, correct?
Aminatou: It is Houston. It's also my adopted district now. Also I think you're failing to mention the event we saw Laura at was her first-ever political event.
Ann: Oh my god, yeah. So it was amazing to see in action what it looks like when someone who is very engaged politically as a citizen starts to make the transition to becoming a politician. It was amazing.
Aminatou: It was. It was really cool to hear somebody who knows their shit but also is not a snake oil peddler, who is just a regular person, sounds like your friends, be really honest about what they know and what they don't know and what their ambition is. You know, but also care enough about where they're from to leave where they currently live and go home to change where they're from.
Ann: Yeah. And I was really struck listening to her at that event but also in our interview about how there is a contrived folksiness that a lot of politicians have when let's be real they've been running for office since they were 12. And they're like "Well, I don't know. I'm just an outsider," at a certain point when they try to pitch themselves. But what I love about her story is she's like "No, I'm a really competent professional. I'm really engaged in politics. I'm not some wide-eyed outsider. But also this is a new skill set for me. It's like a new type of job."
Aminatou: Yeah. And so listen to our interview with Laura right now.
Laura: My name is Laura Moser. I'm a candidate for Congress in the Texas 7th. I just arrived from Brooklyn this afternoon. I went to Atlantic Avenue for a shawarma and tried to take a nap.
Aminatou: Oh, thank you so much for giving us your time. Can you tell me a little bit more about the Texas district that you're running in? Like what's special about it? What are kind of the challenges? And what makes you the person to run in this district?
Laura: Sure. That's a lot. That's a lot of post-nap questions. The Texas 7th is the district where I grew up and went to school, where my grandfather arrived as a refugee from Nazi Germany in 1942, and we've been there ever since. It is George H.W. Bush's congressional district that he represented in 1966 and it has never been held by a Democrat since then. However it is also the district that swung the widest from 2012 to 2016 in that Romney carried it by 20 points and Hillary won it in 2016. So it's a very vulnerable district for Republicans, however much they've tried to protect it. I think I'm the best person to represent it because after the election I started this activism organization called Daily Action and I just think our country needs more kind of citizens to take charge. And basically Daily Action is a text message service that every day sends people one short action they can take in 160 characters or less, usually a phone call to Congress or to another entity like Customs and Border Protection. I think that's what people find really intimidating about activism. They think "Oh my god, I have to take three days off. I have to take a bus to Washington and march all day." But actually you can make a difference in three minutes.
I have a record of getting things done. I love the district. I love Houston. As we've discussed it's the most diverse city in the country. People don't know that who don't live there but there's actually a lot of really cool people all over Houston who are not on the Trump train. I am one of them, both cool and not pro-Trump.
Aminatou: Do you know -- you know, as people set or make plans to run, do you know who your competition is? And how that kind of informs the kind of campaign that you want to run?
Laura: Because Hillary won this district there's a lot of Democrats kind of circling and there are so far seven primary candidates, two of whom went to the same school that I did. And I know -- I met one last night. One I've known for a long time. And I think they're all great people and I think it's just a really good sign of what's happening in Texas and elsewhere that there are seven good Democrats in a congressional race that was considered completely off the table six months ago. It's never been seriously contested before.
Aminatou: This makes me really happy as somebody who loves Houston and loves a lot of people in Houston. Texas Democrats is its own weird world but definitely I think that it's great that there are so many people who are interested. One other question that I have for you is about fundraising specifically. You seem like somebody who's been around activism. You don't come across as a shy woman. You're somebody who takes a lot of action. But I think that fundraising, it's kind of its own skill set and in a lot of the conversations that we've had about running for office it's kind of one of the first flags people have about "Can I do this? Like with my own ability." Or just general feelings of achiness about asking people for money. Do you have a different perspective on that?
Laura: It's definitely an achy experience. We've fundraised for Daily Action. I mean it's been completely funded by members, which I'm no longer involved in Daily Action, but I kind of got used to thinking -- so so far, yes, I've been calling people that I haven't spoken to in 20 years and asking for money. And I have found it to be not so terrible because it's not like I'm going to buy a Maserati with the money. I'm using it to pay for this campaign and run a really competitive campaign because there will be a lot of money coming in from the right, from the private prison industry say. So I feel it would be different if I were asking for money for myself, but I'm not, so so far, so good.
And I've also had -- I was told it's going to be so horrible. You just make a spreadsheet of everyone you've ever met and write down how much you think they will give you and then divide it by half and maybe you'll get that. But I have found that that is true but there have also been a lot of people coming out from the woodwork, people I haven't even asked who I haven't talked to since college, who have given me money because we're in a crisis and people recognize it.
So yeah, I haven't actually done the thing a woman who's supporting me told me today that one of the candidates -- that she saw his name on the caller ID. And she said "Well, I didn't answer but I wanted you to know that he called me." And I have not gone to the kind of calling random people I've never met, because I've known this woman, she's my friend. So we'll see how that shakes out when I have to just -- apparently you get binders full of names that you just call, cold call random people. I have luckily raised a lot of money without having to do that yet. We'll see how I feel about fundraising when I'm calling strangers in California while they're playing tennis to ask them for money. We'll see how that goes. Not there yet.
Aminatou: Well I'm excited to give you money and help give you money. What are specific ways we can support your campaign? Obviously there's giving money. There's the Twitter and Facebook thing. Is that like -- how do we sustain a long drum beat? Because it's a long time. Probably to you it doesn't feel like a long time but to me as a citizen it feels like a very long time until we get there.
Laura: It does feel like -- and people always say "When is the election?" and I say "Well it's the midterm. It's November." I say next November. "This November?" "No, next November." And that is . . . yeah, it's kind of a long time from now. I think doing shows like this is great, Twitter, Facebook, little infusions of money from random people over time. Eventually, I don't know, you love Houston, you have a lot of friends that come down and knock on doors. I mean that's really how this -- the thing about Texas is it's not a Republican state; it's a non-voting state, and no one's cracked the nut of getting Texans to vote like say Californians. And that's another reason I'm excited about the primary because every single person in this Democratic primary is going to be registering voters and kind of informing voters of what the stakes are. So if all seven of us are doing that, that'll get more voters, and maybe enough of those people will vote that Ted Cruz will never be mentioned on CNN ever again. So helping with the grassroots stuff is always great. I know that's improbable, but all you Texan listeners come on down and help us knock on doors because that's where it's won.
Ann: Is this something that you would've envisioned yourself doing two years ago? Three years ago? Five years ago? And how, if you couldn't, did you get to a place where you were like "I'm going to do this and run?"
Laura: Not two years ago. Not three years ago. Not five years ago. Not six months ago. Probably not three months ago. I didn't really start thinking about it until I was at this Planned Parenthood luncheon in February and I had already been doing Daily Action so I had a sort of -- not just an activism profile, but a sense of how to kind of pull the levers of power. And then when you're actually sitting in a room with a bunch of women from Texas whose rights have been eroded aggressively year after year after year you think hey, maybe I should do something about it and maybe I'm in a position where I can. So that was kind of my Oprah a-ha moment.
Because people had been asking me, even after I started Daily Action, would I run for office? And I would say without hesitation "No, why would I?" But then all of a sudden I thought hey, why don't I? Because I think women are conditioned to think that that's an appropriate . . . it just wasn't on my radar as a thing I could do, and my husband's been very involved in politics for ten years and it was just not -- no. So no, I would never have thought of it and I'm just kind of tired of what's happening in Washington and thought that I could change it. So here we are.
Ann: And what would you say to women who are listening to this who are maybe the you from six months ago, two years ago, who are maybe active, interested, even possibly in close proximity to people who know a lot about politics but have never put themselves in that role? What's the pep talk you would give them to get themselves where you are?
Laura: Oh, that's interesting. I don't know. I mean I hope it takes something besides Donald Trump becoming president. Shannon Watts who founded Moms Demand Action started an organization that she launched called Rise to Run and it's priming high school and college-age progressive women to run for office. I'm on the trailblazer board for that and I'm really excited to see how that plays out.
But I think . . . I don't know. So I don't know. I think it would be effective and helpful if that started earlier because I don't know why it never occurred to me, and it still seems really weird and improbable every day. Start marching and start making your phone calls and start writing editorials and letters to the editor and kind of articulating your worldview. I've been a journalist for a long time but I never really wrote about politics because it seemed like something that concerned other people. But it becomes very personal in this era that we're living in.
Ann: Ugh, love her.
Aminatou: The best. Can't wait to see her kick Culberson's ass and win the 7th Congressional District of Texas. It's going to be great. You should sign up for updates at moserforcongrses.com.
Ann: That's M-O-S-E-R is how you spell her last name.
Aminatou: That's right. Find out when the Democratic primary is because she's going to wipe the floor with all of the people running and then keep following along until the midterm.
Ann: Okay, hit me: who else did you talk to?
Aminatou: I talked to this amazing, amazing, smart woman named Molly Sheehan who is running in Pennsylvania's 7th District which is essentially the Philly suburbs. Her website is mollysheehan.org. So here is the deal with Molly: she's an honest-to-god award-winning scientist, so she's already more qualified than like anybody in Congress to make decisions about your healthcare. She has a PhD in biochemistry and biophysics. She has worked within the university system for a long time and she really knows her way around the insurance markets because she's part of the committees that decide how to get insurance for everybody in the university system. But also she just deeply cares. She cares about social justice. She really cares about fighting for economic justice as well. I was so struck talking to her when she said -- she said to me that part of the reason that she's running is she can afford to, and she means mostly emotionally and privilege-wise.
Aminatou: She can do that. And that really knocked me back because I think, you know, there's still a lot of tension around the election and white women's role in electing Trump. And to see somebody really acknowledge their privilege there?
Aminatou: And the fact that they can do something about it. And I think Laura also talked about this, right? None of them are setting out to have these very -- to lead public lives. Like they're doing it at the risk of their own families and kind of their own comfort levels. But it's so important that they're able to step up because they already know how levers of power work. So yeah, Molly's like born and raised in southeast Pennsylvania. She knows that district better than everyone and she also is super, super, super qualified to win. So listen to our interview.
Aminatou: Hi, Molly. Thanks so much for being on Call Your Girlfriend.
Molly: Thanks for having me.
Aminatou: I'm super excited to talk to you because quite a few of our listeners actually wrote in about you. I think it's probably because it's not every day that you have a biophysicist that runs for office.
Molly: Yeah, I think people are excited about new people.
Aminatou: Yeah. Well, so can you tell me what the process was like for you to decide to run and how all of that works? I feel like in the abstract I know what it is but really it feels daunting and terrifying sometimes.
Molly: Yeah. I mean it is daunting and terrifying sometimes. Yeah, so I was really upset like everybody else ab out the last election and everything that went into it, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the disrespect for facts and information. Everything I do at work with science and also thinking about how can I bring that into the political system? Because what I do is I try to see structural problems or systemic problems and come up with creative solutions to solve them. What can my role be in the political sphere? How can we improve these structural problems with our political system? And the more I started working on tech projects related to it the more I realized I really need to run myself. The rational, evidence-based voices, voices of compassion, young mothers, people with biracial families. These voices aren't out there, and because I have the privilege of running, that I have a really supportive family and I have a lot of grandparents that live nearby who are retired, I really felt like a calling and a duty to run because I'm one of the few people in my situation with the privilege to be able to run.
Aminatou: Yeah, that's so interesting. When I was looking up your bio I was so struck by how accomplished you are. You've won many awards for your medical research. You have a PhD in biochemistry and biophysics. You are working to advance cancer research. So all signs point to Congress kind of doesn't deserve someone like you. We've talked about this for so long, just having people who are really smart and people who are informed and people who are compassionate but also people who have a vested interest in just telling the truth and furthering the progressive environmental agenda. It was just something that so many of our listeners are so stressed out about and we think is so, so, so important. What do you think some of your challenges are going to be?
Molly: Yeah. I think that being a scientist translates really well into being a congresswoman. What we do is we synthesize huge amounts of information into something usable for an actionable item. I think actually the scientific way of approaching problems, where Congress is very lawyerly because it's filled with lawyers where two sides come in with like "What do I want?" and then they try to negotiate from there. But scientists start with what's the problem? And you have to agree on the same problem first and then work together towards a solution even if you're coming at it from different angles, slightly different desires and outcomes. I think that's really useful. I think it's really hard with campaigning because politics is so transactional and science is so goal-oriented. So I'm learning to be more transactional.
Aminatou: I don't know. I'm just so impressed. And like all of these things are making me sweat. What are kind of the big issues in your district right now? What is the platform that you're running on?
Molly: Yeah. I think people are really worried about what their town is going to look like in two years. What's the future hold for them short-term? And long-term, but they really want to know what's in for them and their neighbors? My campaign is really focusing on healthcare. That's where I have the most expertise. I served on an insurance buying board for all of the University of Pennsylvania students which is thousands of people while I was a PhD student. And I did it through the ACA rollout so I'm probably one of the few people in Congress who has actually read the ACA. I understand the complicated nature of it and that people have different concerns and not everyone wants the same thing or needs the same thing.
And I think the people are really concerned about healthcare right now. I've been in it as a researcher. My husband's a physician. I've been on an insurance-buyer board. I'm a consumer. My mom and my mother-in-law are both on the ACA exchange plans. So I understand what it's like from a lot of different places and I think that selling also healthcare as a vehicle for better jobs and better job mobility will be really useful. I think a lot of people feel really stuck in their jobs and really shackled to the 40-hour workweek or shackled to a specific position because of their benefits.
Molly: And I think that's across the political spectrum. People feel really stuck and they want solutions. I think using healthcare and using other plans to really make it easier for people to get into a better career, make it easier for people to return to school, make it easier for people to be an entrepreneur or have a small business are really the issues people care about. Like how do you get not just a job but a good job that can support a family, and how do you provide healthcare for your whole family?
Aminatou: I want to back up a little bit.
Aminatou: When you decided that you wanted to run were you clear on what the process was like? And did you feel like you had enough support? Like were there organizations you could tap into? Or did you kind of go at it completely on your own?
Molly: I was not completely on my own. So I started out with reaching out to this group called 314 Action that's also based in Pennsylvania and they help STEM candidates get elected.
Aminatou: Yeah. We talked about them a couple weeks ago.
Molly: Yeah, so they were really helpful in teaching me what the process is, so they made sure I got the best consultant pitches and they have resume banks. I didn't even know where to start finding people to help me. And then once you start getting plugged in it gets easier because everyone knows everyone else. But if that's not the world you've been living in it's pretty hard to get connected into and be taken seriously.
Aminatou: One of the big things that is discouraging to people about running for office, particularly women, is fundraising.
Aminatou: And also feeling that their personal lives will be on display. I think women have different safety considerations than male candidates for example. Is that something that you thought about a lot? Or like for you you were pretty dead set and you were like my life can accommodate whatever the Game of Thrones of the Pennsylvania 7th District turns out to be?
Molly: Yeah, it's definitely something I thought about. I think I like many women don't love being in the public eye and I definitely had a lot of doubts before I got into this on how I'd be perceived as an non-politician and would people attack my family? And actually that aspect of it people have not been . . . like I haven't had a single person tell me I'm not qualified to be a congresswoman and people seem really positive in my family.
I'm nervous about my daughter being exposed. I think if she was older I'd be more concerned, but she's only two and so she's not even going to look like herself in five or ten years and so I'm less concerned because she's a toddler than I think I would be if she was a little bit older. Yeah, I do get the Twitter creep messages, romantic messages from people you don't know.
Molly: I hadn't really expected that, but, you know, you have to say "Have a good day," and then don't engage again.
Aminatou: That's true. What about in terms of fundraising? Is that something that was hard for you or did you have to build a muscle for it? Like asking for money constantly is -- some people don't flinch, and for other people it's the worst thing in the world.
Molly: I definitely thought it was going to be easier for me than it would be. When I call someone, it's I'm rearranging my entire life for something that's important so if they could just give a little it would really help.
Molly: Actually I don't have a hard time asking somebody for say however much you spend on dinner without thinking about it, because that's not a huge sacrifice. It's just like can you open your wallet a little bit? The general rule about this is you should really be trying to max people out and getting as much out of them as possible and that's much more uncomfortable. I know you're supposed to start with your own network, and a lot of my friends aren't super-rich. A lot of us are just getting out of student loan debt. And so fundraising is hard, and even more than that it's just a lot of time calling people you don't know asking them for money. This becomes just a full-time job of calling people.
Aminatou: Yeah. What's your advice for somebody who is thinking about maybe doing this? Like what's a thing that you could say to them that would encourage them to just take the plunge?
Molly: Well, if anything's holding them back about personal self-doubt or that they're not qualified, that's probably just total bull. Because I have a lot of those doubts like most women and none of that has panned out. And I'd advise them to just sit down and block out their schedule. I was able to block out a lot more time when I sat down with a calendar than I thought I would've been able to kind of abstractly. And so just really sit down and tell yourself "Well how many hours can I actually dedicate to fundraising and doing campaign work?" And then pick the right position. If I thought I could achieve what I want to achieve at the state level I would run for state office, not federal office, because it's less of a gigantic task. So I don't know, pick your right office and reach out to groups like She Should Run. They have an incubator that's really fantastic and has a lot of advice and helps you craft your message and figure out if it's right for you also.
Aminatou: That's cool. So who's your competition right now?
Molly: Yeah, so I have the incumbent. His name is Pat Meehan.
Aminatou: Ugh. Very familiar. [Laughs]
Molly: Yeah? Yeah, he's one of the so-called moderates they're trying to court with this healthcare vote. He sold himself as a moderate for a long time but he is no longer moderate. I think he's voting with Trump 92% of the time now, and so he's increasingly unpopular. It's a pretty moderate district and so he's getting pretty unpopular especially with healthcare and some of these environmental regulations. He voted for all these bills that would handicap the EPA. So he's not doing it very much for the environment. He puts his name on all these ridiculous bills that have no teeth, but when it comes to the real bills he votes for them.
Aminatou: That's incredibly frustrating. Okay, so what can we do to support you?
Molly: I mean the unfortunate reality of campaigning right now is that it's mostly fundraising, but also sharing the word on social media. People can visit my website at mollysheehan.org. I think one of the things people don't do usually, especially people our age, is get involved in primaries. I think there's this attitude of we need to wait for the general. I'm just going to sit back and whoever's in the general, when it's someone okay versus someone awful, I'll get really involved. So I think people need to really engage in the primaries because a lot of great candidates live and die in the primary.
Aminatou: That's a really good point. I think so many of us are guilty of that. Well we'll keep an eye out for you, keeping fingers and toes crossed that you crush everybody in the competition.
Molly: Thank you.
Aminatou: And yeah, keep us posted. Thanks so much, Molly.
Molly: Thanks, yeah. Have a great day.
Ann: I love that she is in the center of our Venn of more scientists and more science-oriented people running and more women running. She's the best.
Aminatou: Oh, everything. Just checks off all of the boxes. Also I don't think she said this but she has an interracial family which, you know, is such a threat to so many people in this country who don't realize that that's actually the future of America is people who just get it. To see what she's doing for her community and how her family, they're already there? They're at that finish line of what everybody is so scared of? I don't know, that's kind of cool to me.
Ann: Ugh, the best. To support her you can go to mollysheehan.org. That's mollysheehan.org.
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Aminatou: And who did you talk to, Ann?
Ann: Oh, okay, so looking a little bit more locally I interviewed the incredible Erica Mauter who is running for city council in Minneapolis, Ward 11. I met Erica, oh god, almost ten years ago, a long time ago, via friend-of-the-podcast [0:34:36] when we were at South by Southwest. And so Erica is part of this sort of extended social group that we have some friends in common. And so I had seen online that she was running for city council, and you know when you see something like that and you're just like thank god? Like this is exactly who we should be electing. I was so excited to talk to her and find out more about her choice to run and why especially she chose the local level.
Ann: Hey, Erica. Thanks so much for being on the podcast.
Erica: Hey, Ann. Happy to be here.
Ann: So we're doing a show all about why you should maybe think about trying to someday, might right away, run for office. And maybe you can tell us about your own decision-making process. What got you from I'm a smart, engaged person in the world to I want to be an elected official?
Erica: Yeah! There were a few things, and I will cop to a tiny part of it was me just saying screw it, somebody's got to do it. Fine, I'll do it. Which frankly is a sort of common thing for black women in general to do, but look, guys, somebody's got to do this. Fine, I'll do it. So that's a little piece of it. Not my main motivating factor, but the main thing is for me everybody is feeling some kind of way about the political environment right now. I've been sort of involved in city politics for the last four or five years, and you know, I wanted something better than what we have. I thought about what do I want? I'm running for city council in Minneapolis. I thought what do I want out of a council member? And as I thought about that I thought well, I could do that.
I also thought about . . . like I didn't necessarily have ambitions to run for office someday, but as I thought about where is a place for me to get involved and continue to contribute and make a difference in my own community, city-level politics felt like a really effective place to go. I really believe that to change a system you have to work it from the inside and outside. There's a lot of great organizations here doing work from the outside and I wanted to be that strong partner on the inside.
Ann: And so after you decided that this was something that you wanted to do how did you go about getting the really practical knowledge of okay, how do I register as a candidate? How much money am I going to need? How did you start answering some of those questions?
Erica: Kind of once you show up once to volunteer for a political anything people remember that and they have you on their lists. And so I mean the good thing is having volunteered for other campaigns in the past I knew who to ask. I didn't know what to do, but I knew I could ask someone who would tell me what to do. So I did that, asked around, asked some friends who aren't necessarily political but just very supportive of me to say hey, can you help me kind of kick this thing off? I have a kitchen cabinet -- like that is really a thing. Every candidate I know starts with their kitchen cabinet which is a mix of people who are supportive of me, who have good connections, who know what they're doing. And we just all sat down together and said "Look, here's what we have to do. When should we start? What are the technical? Who has what role? Who's doing what?" You know, some messaging stuff. All those things.
Also there are existing and also some new resources locally in Minnesota and nationally I know in other places that can answer all these questions for you. So I've done some things in the past with a Minnesota organization called Women Winning. They support pro-choice candidates running for office at all levels in Minnesota. You know, the first step really was this is a thing I want to do and I don't know what to do so let me be brave enough to ask for help and help came out of the woodwork.
Ann: I love that. Just being like oh, wow, I was sitting on this huge reservoir of resources about this and I didn't even realize it. Or maybe you did. Maybe you did kind of realize it. So talk to me about what is the timeline and how deep into it are you and what has been both pleasantly surprising and harder than you thought it would be about running?
Erica: Wow, yeah. I will say it has been everything I expected and nothing I expected. So city council elections in Minneapolis are in November of this year so I announced my candidacy formally and filed paperwork in December of 2016 and so there's kind of three as I see it major parts to this campaign. So December was all about let me just get my name out there so I can raise money, because there's a thing called campaign finance limits and they apply based on a calendar year. So we announced in December and the main thing was just get our name out there and raise as much money as we can in a few short weeks before the limits reset.
The second part is what we're in the thick of right now, and I'm a Democrat and the Minnesota Democratic Party is the Democratic Farmer Labor Party so I am competing for the DFL endorsement. So we're working on that right now, and that is if anyone's ever heard of or been to a caucus before that's the kind of thing that we are trying to turn people out to now to see if I can earn that party endorsement.
So that is kind of all the usual campaign things. It's calling people on the phone. It's knocking on their doors. But it's really aimed at turning people out to those caucuses so that they can participate in that party endorsement process. And then from there until the general election in November it's just about talking to as many people as we can. That's phase three of the campaign.
We have ranked choice voting in Minneapolis for local elections, which I love, and so the democracy in elections nerd in me is really excited about how you talk about your candidacy relative to other people. With ranked choice voting basically we don't have a primary. So the ballot in November is not just one person per party; it's basically everyone who wants to be on that ballot. So I am running. I'm asking people for my first choice vote and it is just really about talking to as many people as I can because as my kitchen cabinet helped me determine I have a lot of things to offer and I think there really is an appetite in our ward for something new and different.
Ann: I love that. And tell me about you said it's both been what you expected and super surprising. Maybe you can talk about that a little bit more?
Erica: Yeah. So I mean I expected some things like particular issues that people in my particular part of town are concerned about. I expected the occasional kooky person who feels really strongly about one really arcane issue. I expected that kind of party politics and the power structure within the party would be a thing, but actually experiencing it has been a little different. Like oh, they're not kidding, they really are paying politics here so let me be ready for that.
I had a friend give me a little talking to right before we launched the campaign and said "You're about to become a quasi-public figure. Probably what you won't expect and what really could happen and you should be ready for it is some random person who really doesn't like you is going to come from left field with something really racist or really homophobic or just strange and you have to be ready to handle that."
And I was like I don't know how you know if you're ready to handle that above and beyond what I already experienced as a woman of color, as a queer person. So, you know, some of the like okay, this is how the process works I expected and it's working that way. But some of the aspects of being recognized by strangers is weird. I'm not used to that yet. Being reminded that someone might recognize me and so when I'm out of my house I need to always be prepared for that and kind of always be on.
And I've done some work as far as -- I'm really an introvert. I'm intensely introverted. And so what it takes to be ready to be on whenever I leave the house is some work that I'm doing as well. Like how do I put on my candidate hat, put on my candidate robe, and kind of be ready to be that person when I have to be?
Ann: Wow. And has it come to pass that you've had to deal with any extreme negativity about your identity essentially rather than your policy positions?
Erica: Not yet fortunately. I'm also still dealing with a relatively small kind of universe of people that I'm intentionally contacting. But even if it doesn't shake out that way in the campaign I would fully expect it. I mean it is Minneapolis, we're a lefty city, so I'm not in the state legislature or anything like that where you're encountering more people who are ideologically opposed. But to be honest I've had it happen to me before in kind of random places where something weird happened that I didn't expect. And so even if it doesn't happen as part of the campaign I'm kind of always in the back of my head prepared for -- especially if I get elected -- it could happen.
Ann: And then tell me a little bit about like . . . I mean if you were going to cut a presidential election style TV ad, what are your top talking points? And then, oh my god, I also totally want to hear you do the like "This is who I am and I want to be your . . ." [Laughs] No pressure or anything now that your candidate hat is on.
Erica: Yeah. You know, my main issue is Minneapolis needs to be accessible and affordable for everyone who lives here. And what I love about it, I didn't grow up here, I grew up in Detroit, but I moved here after college for a job and I've been here ever since. And what I love about living here and why I'm still here is it has all the amenities of bigger cities and it's so much more accessible. It's cheaper. It's easier to get to. It doesn't take as long. It's just easier to do everything here. But we also know that it's becoming more and more unaffordable for people and we're leaving a lot of people behind. And for as well as Minneapolis and the Twin Cities region does on a lot of metrics we also have the worst gaps between white people and people of color in the country. So we are leaving people behind and we need to take really bold aggressive action to get at that.
Part of why I'm running, especially considering all that, is I think that representation matters. The population of Minneapolis is diversifying and I think that our leadership needs to reflect that. And that's not what I see in representation from my work currently. I think given the current political environment we just gave control of our state legislature back to Republicans. You know, the country elected Donald Trump and everybody is like "Whoa, about that?" And we're expecting at the city level antagonism from the state and the federal government. So even if we were okay with the representation we had before, what we need right now is something really different. The future of Minneapolis looks like me. It doesn't look like the incumbent.
Ann: Yeah, I love that. And so tell me in a really specific way what are you focused on? I know you were talking about trying to get the party endorsement and you mentioned briefly you were a little bit surprised or having your eyes opened about the party structure. What is sort of the mini challenge you're taking on right now as part of the big challenge?
Erica: Yeah, you know, the thing that's abundantly clear, and I kind of knew it in my head but now I'm really sort of feeling it in my gut, is this is all about relationships. My goal is to just talk to as many people as possible because when you just talk to them about what's going on and what their problems are and what they want fixed and what they want for themselves and what they want for the city, people are really sort of knowledgeable and very deeply invested in those things.
The thing about the party is that's a structure that people have chosen to engage in, which is good, but that means it's a system that people are already sort of bound up in and attached to. So when anything you do kind of violates how they're participating in that sometimes there's a pushback. So the best thing that I can do and have to offer is really just to talk to people. The folks that I've talked to have been really responsive, have been really very candid about what is working well for them and what is not, very aware that maybe these three things are going really well in our part of the city but we know in other parts of the city that they're not and those people should actually be a priority over us and would you please do something about that? Yeah, it is really all about -- politics is people. It's all about talking to people.
Ann: And what would you tell a woman who's listening to this who might be considering taking those first steps to run for a city or local office like you are? What do you wish someone had said to you, or what do you wish you'd known?
Erica: You're not going to know everything you need to know before you do it but you need to trust that you can find someone who will or who will help you out. Is this podcast PG-13?
Ann: I don't think we've had a single episode that hasn't been labeled explicit so you can say whatever you want. [Laughs]
Erica: I used -- oh, there's a bit from a really old David Sedaris story, but this is . . . "Reach into your fuck-it bucket and have a piece of candy."
Erica: Like just do it. You've got to take a leap. I'm the sort of person who likes to know as much as I can about something before I make a decision and it's just not possible to get there so I really for me took a big leap of faith and actually said out loud to people that this is a thing that I was thinking about doing. So don't underestimate the power of your network and of your friends and family to support what you're doing. Just put it out there and the help will come.
Ann: Ugh, I love that. And for listeners who are in Minneapolis or maybe further afield and want to know more about you and more about your campaign give me the full name and where they can find you and all of that.
Erica: Yeah, my name is Erica Mauter. I'm running for the city council of Minneapolis in Ward 11 and you can find everything you want to know about me at ericamauter.org. That's ericamauter.org.
Ann: Thank you so much. This is just like perfect. [Laughs]
Erica: Thank you, yeah.
Ann: It's going to be really important to have your voice as someone who's experienced this thing we're telling people that they should try, you know what I mean? You're doing it. I love that.
Erica: Yeah, yeah. I already have one friend who she's very politically engaged herself but kind of watching me go through these first few months she's decided to run for mayor in her Philly suburb.
Ann: Oh yeah!
Erica: So I'm like oh my god, do it. Go for it.
Ann: Oh, I love that. I love the idea of there being, as networked women get into this, there being a viral effect and being like "Oh, she did it. I can do it."
Erica: Exactly. Yep.
Aminatou: What a badass. That's amazing. I'm ready. I am ready to follow all of her campaign updates.
Ann: Yeah. And this election, the municipal election in Minneapolis, is happening this November, 2017, and you can find out more about her campaign at ericamauter.org. Ericamauter.org. And we'll link to her site and Laura and Molly's as well in the show notes and on our website so you can find these women and support them with your dollars or your encouraging words or your tweets or whatever.
Aminatou: This just . . . this made me really happy. I like people who are all about action.
Ann: Who are doing it, right? Like actually doing it.
Aminatou: Right! We went through a traumatic election. We've all cried about it and now we're like fucking running for office.
Ann: Yeah, I mean and there are so many more people like these women who are running and getting involved. And one thing that's been so helpful for me is when I start to feel total despair about everything that's happening, especially at the federal level, refocusing myself. Even if it's like I can't donate that particular week but learning about people who are running to actively try to change this and learning about the people who are getting in the system in a real way has been actually really personally important for me too.
Aminatou: 100%. The other thing too, right, that I think is so important, is just realizing that even if you don't live in these districts or these cities or whatever you should deeply care about them. Especially for those of us who live in coastal, liberal areas. And really thinking about how who gets elected in Philly or Texas or even the Minneapolis City Council, like how that has repercussions on how we all live our lives. I really challenge myself to adopt a district and really just go for it, like this is the district that I'm going to care about. It is nowhere near me but has people I love in it, and I will go knock on doors there and really just get involved like it's my own city. And just pay more attention down the line, because the truth is we need more women in Congress but we need more women in city councils. We need more women at every level of elected office.
Ann: Yeah. So look at your own elected officials and say -- like I'm sure somewhere, whether it's city council or Congress or anywhere in-between, maybe a state office, there is a Laura Moser or a Molly Sheehan or an Erica Mauter who is running and how can you also support them in your own backyard? I bet there is, not everywhere, but I bet there's someone pretty close to you that you could really get behind.
Aminatou: We also got an incredible piece of mail about one way that you can just get really involved at your state legislative district.
Ann: Ooh, tell me.
Aminatou: Just how easy, but also how important it is. I will read some of this note. "Last weekend when I was traveling I caught up with episode 96, See You on the Ballot, and I wanted to share with y'all a way to be more civically-engaged that's a little bit more than just generally being aware of local elections but a little less effort than actually running yourself. After the election I found out that all the Democrats in each state legislative district in my state get together for a monthly meeting. Lots of different stuff goes on there. Sometimes it's party business; sometimes it's partnering with local organizations to do volunteer projects; sometimes we get briefings from local experts about how different federal and state policies will affect our community, i.e. a great talk by a local immigration lawyer when the travel ban stuff was going on; and sometimes we get presentations by activists pushing for a particular proposition to get on the ballot and by candidates running for local races. That last one has been my favorite part of these meetings so far because I get the hot gossip on who is going to be running for what way before all my friends do."
"The primary mission of these legislative district groups and these local branches of the party more generally is getting Democrats elected to public office and getting our neighbors out to vote for Democrats. The main way they do this is by mobilizing precinct committee people. The official terminology is actually committee men, but hashtag #fuckagender and hashtag #fuckyourrules. Also a precinct committee person is the lowest-rung level of the Democratic Party. It's technically an elected official but at the neighborhood level and you don't even have to wait for an election year to come around and then mount a neighborhood campaign. You can become appointed by talking to your local Democratic Party and filling out some forms."
"In election years you need to have a ridiculous minimum like three to five votes, people voting for you. So it's not really a race or a campaign but you still get to have your name on a ballot which is kind of neat." I love how like -- I love this person so much. This email is making me happy.
Ann: Oh my god, I know. Keep going.
Aminatou: "As a precinct committee person you have access to things like lists of who are registered Democrats in your neighborhood so you can actually go meet the people you're living with and talk to them about why civic engagement matters and why you believe the Democrats are the best people to do this. Or maybe you think the Democratic Party needs to change a lot. You should also become a precinct committee because the party won't change unless people who are actually invested in the organization demand those changes from the bottom up. You're also the point of contact for your neighborhood Democrats about Democratic Party issues which I feel like could be really helpful in combatting all the garbage information that's spread about the party and particular candidates. Anyway, after about four months of badgering from the other folks at my legislative district meeting I finally submitted paperwork to become a precinct committee person in May." Woo!
Aminatou: "And I was reluctant to do it at first because I'm finishing up my PhD thesis so I won't necessarily be a part of this community much longer and obviously I don't have a ton of time to give. What convinced me was some of the charming old folks and long-term hardcore progressives in my area tell me that, one, the more registered precinct committee people a neighborhood has the more resources that neighborhood can ask for from the county-level party office which can help with things like voter outreach and mobilization and the like. Two, I can actually contribute as much or as little as I want. Point two will obviously vary from state-to-state and county-to-county but chances are you won't be the only one in your neighborhood unless your Democratic local party isn't very robust but that's all the more reason to get involved. So maybe that means I'll knock on a couple doors one weekend and get to know some neighbors, and maybe the next two weekends I'm bogged down with thesis stuff and I won't do crap. If you decide it's worth telling your other listeners about this you should encourage them to just Google their state legislative district plus Democratic Party and it'll pull up all of the right resources, or Google your county-level Democratic office and give them a call. Unfortunately since this is all at the local level there isn't one site that has resources for everyone. Happy resisting."
Ann: I teared up a little bit during that. That is incredible.
Aminatou: Mary Caitlyn, thank you so much for this incredible, incredible, incredible email and you're right. This is such an easy way to get involved and be a little bit more on top of it than everyone else.
Ann: Like I also love the framing of a step above just being an engaged voter but a step below running for office yourself. Like so, so helpful.
Aminatou: Right. And then you get to know how kind of your party structure works. I feel like we've had a variation on this conversation in so many ways. Like this is how power works, right? On a very basic level it's just people knowing your name and how to get shit done.
Ann: I can't wait for our how power works episode.
Aminatou: [Laughs] Well we'll just have to give Mary Caitlyn a call to fix it.
Ann: Our power correspondent. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Exactly. Our PhD power correspondent, please tell us how to make this work.
Ann: I feel better about the world in general after hearing from every single one of these women. I don't know about you.
Aminatou: I feel so much better. Cannot wait. Cannot wait. It's funny, it's like I know that Erica's race is in 2017. Molly and Laura's races are the midterm. Laura has to win a Democratic primary first. And all of it seems kind of far away but it's actually not. That also makes me feel good. It's like oh, it is in reach to un-fuck up a lot of this stuff quicker than I anticipated.
Ann: Totally. And also I take a lot of comfort in the fact that our nerdish sensibilities are so well-suited to this challenge. It's like all right, hit me with the procedure and the long game and we will make a difference. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Cannot wait. [Music] You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com, download it anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts, or on Apple Podcasts where we would love it if you left us a review. You can tweet at us at @callyrgf or email us at email@example.com. You can also find us on Facebook -- look that up yourself -- or on Instagram at callyrgf. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn. All other music you heard today was composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs and this podcast is produced by the beautiful Gina Delvac. See you on the ballot, boo-boo.
Ann: See you on the ballot.