Schroeder delivered this speech to the National Women’s Political Caucus in Houston, Texas.
Senator Robert Kennedy once said of his brother, John, after the President’s assassination, “If there is a lesson from his life and death, it is that in this world of ours, we can no longer be satisfied with being mere spectators, critics on the sidelines.”
And surely that must be the continuing message for all of us here today. Women especially can no longer be mere spectators of the political process, critics on the sidelines; but active participants, playing an important and vital role out on the field.
By your presence here today, each of you is demonstrating her interest in the political process. Many of you have no doubt taken active roles in community and civic organizations, political activities and campaigns, or business and professional activities. You can do the job—but first, you have to get the job. For those of you, and I hope there are many, who may be contemplating a run for office—whether it be party, city, state, judicial, or federal—let me offer a few suggestions from my own experience.
First: Assess critically your own qualifications. It is probably fair to say—although certainly unfair in practice—that a woman running for public office should be “overqualified.” Having been chairman of your church’s women’s club may not carry the same clout as being program chairman of the local Rotary Club.
It is interesting to note that all five of this year’s new congresswomen are lawyers. Perhaps this is because, as lawyers, we have necessarily been thrust into an adverse, and often competitive, role with members of the male establishment. Furthermore, we have come into constant contact with many of the problems that face our communities, and worked on possible legislative solutions.
Second: Examine carefully the real base of your support. The support of one’s family, close friends, and associates is indispensable. But what contacts, or qualifications do you have that will enable you to gain the confidence and backing of other groups and allies? In my own case, an extensive labor law background was valuable in helping eventually obtain both organizational and financial support from many labor unions. Teaching contacts with three major colleges in Denver were also important. Finally, it is essential to take the pulse, and constantly stroke the brows of many of the key party leaders and workers in your area. Many of these veterans of the political wars often will make astute judgments about prospective candidates. Every candidate honestly believes he or she is in fact the best candidate. If none of the pros agree, best reexamine your position.
Third: Build credibility. Because you are a woman, you will constantly confront the attitude that you are not “a serious candidate.” At our County nominating convention it is customary for candidates to have booths, give away courtesy coffee, distribute literature, placard the walls with posters, etc. I had a basic feeling of aversion to that sort of thing; but we decided it was probably more important that I do some of the traditional things, simply because I was the untraditional candidate.
Because you are a woman you may have the ability to gain more than your fair share of press and media coverage, because you are the different candidate. But the other side of the coin is that you will often be more severely cross-examined on your views and statements by newspeople than is the average male candidate.
Fourth: Develop a strong “grassroots” organization. You will find that there are great reservoirs of dedicated, talented women who will really work for another woman. This is especially true of many older, retired women; and many younger gals, such as students and working girls.
You will probably have a very hard time raising money. My husband often said that the money “is controlled by male chauvinist pigs.” Organization and union money is controlled by men, and they will usually have little confidence in the chances of a woman candidate. Hence, the bigger and better volunteer group you can muster, the better chance you will have of putting your scarce dollars into essential items like printed materials and media time.
Fifth: Use innovative and hard-hitting media. Because a woman candidate is “different,” don’t be afraid to run a different kind of campaign, utilizing original and different media techniques and content. Let me give you one example: the standard political brochure. You know what I am talking about—the picture of the candidate with family, with coat over the shoulder, in front of the Capitol, etc. with the standard one-liners: “X is honest; X is against pollution; X is for fiscal responsibility.” We were able to achieve real impact—and also ruffle some feathers—with colorful mini posters.
And finally, Sixth: Be issue-oriented. Running for public office is too time-consuming and too expensive to embark on such a venture merely for the experience, or for the ego satisfaction. If you run, take a stand. Get out front on the issues that concern you, your family, your community, and the nation. The risk, of course, is great; but so are the rewards.
And again, being a woman has both its advantages and disadvantages. I think a woman can more easily take a strong position on the war, on gun control, or education, than perhaps can a man. Isn’t a mother going to be against wholesale bombing, for tougher gun control, for better schools? However, you must also guard against being pushed into unreasonable or irresponsible extreme positions by your erstwhile supporters. I was the only major candidate running in Denver last fall who would attend and speak at an abortion panel hearing held at a local college. But I was criticized by some women there when I tried to emphasize my support for birth control and family planning programs, rather than an “abortion on demand” policy. It is all too easy to become a “Kamikaze candidate”—crashing and burning on one or two emotionally packed issues.
So, it can be done. Women can run. And win. “You can do it!” I hope there will be questions later, and I look forward to talking with many of you individually later on today. Thank you.
From Gottheimer, Joshua, Mary Frances Berry, and Bill Clinton (Eds.). 2003. Ripples of Hope: Great American Civil Rights Speeches. New York, NY: Basic Books.