We are at an inflection point in the history of our nation. At the time of this writing, our country is in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, thrusting families into a public health and economic crisis unlike any other we’ve seen in our lifetime. As businesses shutter across the country, millions of Americans who were already living paycheck to paycheck are now wondering how they are going to afford basic items like groceries. We are also grappling with the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others who have compelled us to protest and highlight the deep and systemic inequities that Black communities have faced in this country for far too long. Hate crimes against the Asian American community are on the rise as elected officials deliberately fan the flames of racism and use words meant to sow hate and division. The American dream—and our American democracy—is on the line like never before.
That is why we all have a responsibility and a role in fighting for a nation with equal treatment, collective purpose, and justice for all. We need economic justice, environmental justice, health care justice, and, yes, justice for women. And, frankly, we know that when we lift up women, we lift up our children, we lift up our families, and we lift up our economy. All of society benefits. Unfortunately, today, there are not enough women, particularly women of color, seated at the decision-making table to make that change happen.
Running for office is one of the most powerful steps you can take to speak your truth and influence the world around you. When I decided to run for district attorney of San Francisco over 15 years ago, it was because I saw so many problems that could be fixed and I believed that I could make the system work better for everyone, not just some. No one like me had served in the role before, but I was up for the challenge.
Running for office isn’t glamorous work. I used to go to grocery stores using my ironing board as a standing desk while asking for people’s vote. As people would carry their groceries to their car, I would listen to them. I learned what mattered to them, what kept them up at night, and what kind of America they envisioned. And I didn’t stop there; I met and spoke with anyone and everyone that I could, and a team of volunteers who became more like family helped me knock on doors and make calls around the clock. On Election Day, I won.
To be sure, a lot of people—including some friends—doubted I could win. I had people tell me that the odds were against me, that I didn’t fit into the typical mold of a D.A., and that I couldn’t beat an established incumbent. I’m not the first woman to hear that from the so-called experts. In fact, women across all fields hear the same doubts and questions about their qualifications and ability to lead. Those are the comments that make us consider what we know and the questions that make us wonder whether there will be support for our ideas. But here’s the thing: I didn’t listen.
If I had listened to what people told me was not possible, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to show little girls everywhere that someone like me could win, not only to become district attorney of a major city but to go on to become the first woman attorney general of California and only the second Black woman in history to serve as a U.S. senator and, as of this writing, the first Black and Indian American woman to be on a major party ticket. If the congresswomen who won in 2018 had listened to the naysayers, the power in the United States House of Representatives wouldn’t have switched hands. If legends like Shirley Chisholm, Geraldine Ferraro, and Hillary Clinton had listened to the negativity, they wouldn’t have followed the call to unapologetically crack the glass ceiling of putting a woman in the White House. It’s time for you, reader, to turn inward and realize the strength that is already within you to change the world for the better.
As I write this, I can’t help but think of the 2017 Women’s March. As I stood onstage and saw that inspiring sea of women, I marveled at our power. At what we can do when we come together to answer the question “Who are we?” with our values and our strength.
Many women decided to answer that call by running for office. In fact, in the first three or so years after Donald Trump’s election, more than 50,000 women reached out to Emily’s List for the first time, looking to run for office. Those women include members of Congress, state legislators, women still planning their first run. These women are changing the country, and as more of them get elected, they are changing their communities and the face of power in this country.
Becoming an elected official and advocating and raising awareness for issues important to you are some of the most difficult but rewarding challenges you can take on in life. And we all have a role—both little and big—that works toward the collective goal of changing our world for the better. Making change happen is not easy, but books like Run to Win give you a blueprint to start. After dedicating years in politics and the last decade to fighting the challenges women face every day, Stephanie Schriock is an expert in this area. I know you’ll enjoy the stories in the book, and I urge you to use the lessons. No matter your field, your passion, or your concern, you will find valuable insight on how to conquer common fears and obstacles that have held many back.
Learn these lessons and use them to help you find your own path. Take your own best practices from them. Do the work and prove the naysayers wrong. Because when they tell us we can’t win or we shouldn’t win, we know better.
As I always say, see and fight for what can be, unburdened by what has been. Run to win.
From Run to Win: Lessons in Leadership for Women Changing the World by Stephanie Schriock with Christina Reynolds; Foreword by Kamala Harris published today by Dutton, an imprint of The Penguin Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.
Copyright © 2021 by Stephanie Schriock. Foreword © 2021 by Kamala Harris.
Originally Appeared on Glamour