2017 Emily’s List gala honors women in politics
Featured speakers stressed need for political engagement from all
More than twenty years ago, when current Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was a young mother in Texas trying to start her teaching career, she made her very first political contribution to Emily’s List.
Decades later, it was that same organization that first approached her to run for the U.S. Senate and stood by her when others repeatedly told her that a woman could not win the seat, Warren said in a keynote address at a recent Emily’s List gala. She ultimately won that election and credits the organization for giving her the support and encouragement she needed to find her voice in politics.
“I am a daughter of a janitor who became a Harvard Law School professor and a United States senator,” Warren said in her speech.
Emily’s List, a national organization dedicated to supporting and electing Democratic women in politics, held its annual conference and gala on May 3 at the Washington Hilton. The theme of the evening was “Resist, Run, Win,” and the speeches made by female leaders encouraged those frustrated with the current political climate to take action.
Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Maxine Waters of California were a few of the prominent speakers at the gala. Waters accepted the “We Are Emily Award” on behalf of several elected officials and local activists who are part of what the organization calls “women of the resistance.” Among the honorees was a familiar face: former AU Student Government President Sarah McBride, known for her advocacy work surrounding LGBT rights since graduating from the School of Public Affairs in 2013. Previous recipients of the award include Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.
Another major award of the night, the “Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award,” was given to Philadelphia City Councilwoman Helen Gym, the city’s first Asian-American woman to hold the position. In her acceptance speech, Gym spoke about being a daughter of immigrants, her journey of entering politics and the importance of embracing diversity, racial justice and equity and working to make change at the local level.
“The energy moving in our streets, politicizing and raising consciousness among a new generation, is multiracial,” Gym said. “It is feminist, it is queer and trans, it is immigrant, and it must drive our politics.”
Award recipients and nominees also offered advice for college students looking to get involved in the political process. In an interview with The Eagle before her speech, Gym spoke about how young people can start powerful conversations and create national and global movements, simply from being politically active on their college campuses and taking on issues they care about.
“It’s got to start with the belief that it’s not about holding office, it’s about being political in the spaces where you’re at,” Gym said. “It’s about creating movements and making change.”
Virginia State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, one of the nominees for the award, also spoke with The Eagle and said that college students interested in a career in politics can start off by taking advantage of every opportunity they get to volunteer on campaigns and meet and shadow elected officials. They should ultimately choose a career that they are most passionate about and one that will allow them to make the most difference, she said.
“You decide in your gut what is right for you,” McClellan said. “Where do you think you can make the biggest impact? And then, just do it.”
During her speech at the gala, Warren spoke about the 2016 election results, expressing disappointment about Clinton not winning the presidency and criticizing President Donald Trump for taking away opportunities from people across the nation, saying she is frustrated with Trump’s performance in office so far.
“The way that things are going, if the next three years and 261 days are like Donald Trump's first 100 days, I wonder if America will ever be ready for a male president again," Warren said.
Despite being dissatisfied with the state of domestic politics, Warren said she is optimistic about the power of people uniting, especially female leaders rising up, to propel the country towards progress.
“We will not back down, we will not play dead,” Warren said. “We will resist, we will persist, and we will win.”
Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock said that there has been an unprecedented level of interest from women wanting to run for office in the wake of Trump’s election, with over 12,000 women across the nation contacting the organization to express a desire to run since Election Day. Schriock also spoke about the importance of having many perspectives heard in politics and the need of greater diversity in the arena, during a press briefing prior to the gala.
“We want our government to look more like our country, and that means we want more women,” Schriock said. “But, we want more women who look like our country, and that’s got to be very purposeful work.”