Emily Spangler is a 15-year-old high school student and one of RH Reality Check‘s youth voices.
If someone would have told me five years ago that I’d be co-directing a website with a state representative, connecting with progressive women leaders from around the country, and going to conferences to speak on young women in politics in 2014, I would have started laughing hysterically. But this is my life today.
Some people are born into politics, but not me. I never grew up sitting around the television with my family watching poll numbers roll in, going door-to-door during hot summer days, or making hundreds of phone calls to help elect candidates. I had to create my own path.
I’ve decided to share how I got here to support my fellow young ladies who want to change the world, but might have no idea where to start. It can seem especially daunting for young women, in particular, since we have fewer role models. For example, women hold less than one in five congressional seats.
Follow my example
by taking these three steps to start getting involved in politics. They are networking, “staying in the game,” and the most important step: helping other women.
Here is my story: I started developing a passion for helping others when I was 4 years old. I believed that the best way to help others was through public service. I’m a go-big-or-go-home kind of gal, so I set my eyes on running for the most important office in our country: president of the United States. I believe my passion came from my generation being molded by events that happened during my childhood, including 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. People needed to step up to the plate to address deep issues underlying those events, and I wanted to be a part of that. I started learning more about leaders of our country, how our government was run, and the history of our country. I was especially fascinated by presidents who fought against injustice. Eventually, my passion for history developed into a love for politics.
But, liking things and being able to do things are not the same. There was a problem with my ambitious goal to help move this country forward: I had no idea how.
I eventually came to the conclusion that the best place to begin is to start networking. Now, this isn’t just meeting politicians at events and sucking up to them. Making connections is so much bigger than that. It’s about meeting candidates, politicians, and activists who care about the same issues you do, working alongside with them, and forming a relationship based on similar passions. Go out and meet candidates or politicians who care about immigration reform, or email your member of Congress about a new education bill that was introduced. These simple acts make creating connections easier.
Also, don’t overlook social media as a networking tool. For example, Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman and I met on Twitter, later connected on Facebook, and now we are close friends who co-direct a website together called ProgressWomen.com, which promotes progressive politics and feminism,
while empowering women to get involved. Fun fact about the relationship between Rep. Newman and me: We’ve only met once in person. Yes, you read that right. Everything we’ve accomplished together has happened through social media platforms, our cell phones, and the Internet.
Networking is only the first step, and it must go beyond the first time you meet someone. What you must do is “stay in the game” and put your connections to use. First, a note about business cards. They are basically screaming “stay in touch with me” from the high mountain tops of the Himalayas. OK, not really. But, if someone gives you their card, you should save the contact information and stay in contact. Once in a while, text or email the person to keep up to date with what they’re doing. Are they in session in the state legislature? Are they introducing any legislation? Also, can you be of help in any way?
Staying in the game also means getting out there. There are an endless number of events you can attend. Go the next step by offering to volunteer and intern for campaigns or elected officials you care about. (These are ways to make even more connections.) And don’t just get out there in person; get out there online. From tweeting to posting on Facebook, share your experiences. Share what you’re learning and how it affects your life, as well as the lives of others around you. Staying in the game and not giving up on the goals you set for yourself
are important. You have a voice, and you can make it heard.
Finally, give back. Once I realized that I was starting to meet a lot of people, I quickly realized that other women were helping
me get to where I am today. Shouldn’t I do the same and give back? To do my part, I decided to create a private networking group specifically aimed at connecting a couple hundred women I have met online who are involved in politics. Not only that, I occasionally suggest other young women write articles for ProgressWomen.com on issues dealing with progressive politics, feminism, women political candidates, and more. Just because I’m 15 years old doesn’t mean I’m exempt from giving back. As a young woman willing to change the world, I should assist other young women in changing the world too.
Basically, there is a cycle to getting involved in politics: When in doubt about something, ask another trusted woman for advice. She’ll help you, just like my mentor has done for me. I, in turn, then give back to other women who come to me for advice. And I hope they will do the same.
Getting involved in politics is something you can do. Anything is possible when you set your mind to it. Ladies, you’ve got this. Email that state senator you’ve been admiring for years, go help that campaign you started thinking about last summer, and help another young woman who looks to you for advice. There is nothing to be afraid of. I need you, we need you, and this country needs you.