Within a few days of the 2016 presidential election, Erin Forrest, executive director at Emerge Wisconsin, witnessed applications for the program skyrocket as women around the state were faced with the future of a Donald Trump presidency.
Nearly a year later, Emerge Wisconsin announced it will be adding a 2017 class during the fall — the first-ever fall program the organization has offered.
Emerge Wisconsin, a cohort for Democratic women who want to run for office, has trained more than 250 women, with more than 70 of those women currently serving in elected office, Forrest said.
Forrest said the program’s training is designed as both a comprehensive campaign training and a resource to help women build their networks of support.
“We do a lot of things to help the women get to know each other and really bond them together as a support system and as another place to go for help,” Forrest said.
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Typically, each Emerge Wisconsin class consists of 20 to 25 women, but the most recent class featured 50, Forrest said. Seven women from the most recent class already ran, with five of them winning positions in public office, Forrest said.
“We’re going to try really hard to keep [the upcoming class] to 25 women and really gear [the class] toward women who are planning to run in 2018,” Forrest said.
University of Wisconsin alumna Claire Steven, who recently graduated from the Emerge program, said the thought of running for office never really crossed her mind, despite working in and around politics all of her college career.
She applied for the Emerge program after the results of the most recent presidential election and now feels like she has the training to both run a campaign and be a candidate herself one day.
“Emerge felt like a tangible action I can take to start a career for political office,” Steven said.
As a woman and a first-generation college student, Steven said her identity has shaped the career she wants to pursue in politics because a lot of issues, such as college affordability and minimum wage, personally affect her.
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Forrest attributed part of the increased interest to the way the Trump Administration is handling certain policies, such as health care. Recently, the Senate put together a committee on revamping the healthcare system of entirely men, Forrest said.
“There’s no excuse for a committee dedicated to rewriting health care legislation to not have any women on it,” Forrest said. “You see that play out over and over again in other policy areas where women are being excluded, in this administration particularly, and it’s not OK.”
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During her first week at the Emerge Wisconsin program, Dane County Sup. Hayley Young, District 5, remembered hearing how, in general, women are asked an average of seven times to run for office before they eventually decide to.
After giving it some thought, she realized this wasn’t far off from her reality of running for County Board.
Young said working to break down patriarchal institutions is not just about politics — it’s about all facets of leadership. The Emerge program is unique, she said, because it talks about the problems women face when they’re running for office, setting it apart from any other program offered in Wisconsin.
In the program, both Young and Steven encouraged women who have thought about pursuing a career in politics — whether it be at the local or state level — to consider applying for the Emerge program. Through Emerge, Young said she has found a community of people who want to come together to make the state better.
“The program has impacted women, not just who went on to run for office, but who went on to make change in their community in so many different ways,” Young said.