Women have come a long way from not having equal rights and opportunities to leading different government offices. While many barriers still exist that hinder women’s participation in government and political processes, we are seeing an increase in women elected leaders globally.
March is Women’s Month and this week we are focusing on women and politics. We speak with Jael Currie, born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, who is running for Common Council for District 16. She currently works with YWCA Madison. Our hope is to bring to consciousness how much we need more women in politics, the fact that women seeking public office need to be supported, and that we need to create an environment that enables women to run for politics.
Motivation to Run for Office
Jael Currie completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work. She got into the field to serve people and naturally gravitated towards direct service, being a case manager on the ground and working with people for the last ten years.
Jael’s painful realization that she can’t just stay in her microbubble got her to start delving into the macra-systems. And because she is working in the field, she saw how policies impact her and her colleagues’ work. In particular, she became aware of how these policies govern a lot of what they do and how they can do it, such as how funding is allocated.
Her experience working with YWCA, currently being the housing director, propelled and pushed her to situations where she found herself in front of the council’s executive committee or the finance committee defending proposals and applications. She felt she was almost pleading for funding to meet some of the needs within their community.
Jael pointed out, “my experience in legislative realms made me realize that people that look like me or people who are experiencing the same issues and topics that we are talking about are not represented in the room.”
And so, for the last two and a half years, she has been intentionally putting herself in professional development environments to learn and increase her knowledge in policy and legislation. She grew her network within the community and planned on volunteering on somebody else’s campaign. But as fate would have it, the current elected official in district 16 chose not to seek re-election. Though a bit anxious, she decided to take the opportunity to serve a bigger audience.
Reconsidering Public Service
Jael had not really thought about politics or running for the government. Raised as Jehova’s Witness, government and voting was not greatly discussed in her family. She confessed, “I didn’t necessarily grow up going to the polls with my parents; elections didn’t mean a lot to me. When I got older and decided to exercise my civic right, I started voting and getting information about who the candidates were.”
The experience of voting made her feel empowered that her voice did count. However, looking around the room, she noticed that just like in elementary school; she would sometimes be the only black kid in the entire grade, let alone class.
She notes that there’s more diversity now in Madison than when she was younger but still not in leadership, especially in politics and the local government. Not seeing identities that may represent her community and not seeing the community’s interests represented made her reconsider entering public service.
Having a Supportive and Helpful Community
In running for public service, Jael gets her strength from the community who have been a helpful resource in her political journey. “The network that I have from work or communities that I’ve been in because my children have been involved in sports and other activities are helpful,” she reflected.
People in the community came through and offered their support in many different ways. Offering tips and support on technical issues such as economic development issues to personal dilemmas like offering advice on balancing full-time working parent and an elected official. “It has honestly been the people that keep me going, the overwhelming support outpours as soon as I decided to run,” she said.
Even though she is an introvert, she manages to build a network by appreciating interpersonal connections. She forges authentic relationships with the people in the community. She enjoys that people of color and black women create relationships and networks not only for political agenda but also as a way of life – to have a village to raise children, nurture, and take care of the families.
“My confidence and leadership have soared over the past five years because I have such an inspirational and supportive supervisor. A supervisor who’s not just leading a whole organization but making sure that she is putting on for other black women to come behind her in leadership,” she added.
Struggles and Challenges
She became aware of the struggle that she has to face in the campaign as a woman and person of color. “ because of our history and experiences, there aren’t a lot of us who are involved in politics,” she stated. Jael notes it is also a challenge to be in a vulnerable situation as a campaign. It is a challenge to be opening your life, having to constantly prove why you’re supposed to be in that position and why people should vote for you.
Sometimes, there’s even a struggle to maintain an identity, as strategists may tell you this and that, but they don’t have your same identity. It is crucial for Jael to have her inner circle, people who will keep her grounded, remind her of who she is and why she is running. She learned the lesson of being vulnerable and humble enough to know when she needed to ask for help.
A common issue for those seeking office is proving oneself, especially if you’re still young. It’s a good thing that Jael is not the only one involved in public service. Her parents have been involved in the community long before she seeks government office. She may be young, but her background and experience working in the community started in her teens.
Being a Woman and Mom
Jael has two kids who have been her giving her great encouragement. Though her older child is already 16, she still feels the guilt every mom would feel. “I have the guilt like every mom does when you start focusing on something for yourself, or you’re a little bit removed from your responsibilities at home; there’s guilt that naturally follows,” she said.
But in their little ways, her children comfort, encourage and cheer her up. She’s lucky to have a support system at home where she can trust that home is being taken care of so she can take care of what she needs to in the campaign. And her family understands that this campaign is for and about them too.
Public service may be too scary, intimidating, and discouraging at times. But as what we have learned from Jael, we have to look beyond our comfort zone, build a strong foundation and relationship with the community, and most of all, believe in ourselves.
Jael’s words for young women thinking about running for elected office, “If you’re thinking about it, it’s already yours. Do it.”