If you’ve ever had dreams of running for public office, many of the Black women who have been elected will likely tell you the same thing: “Just do it.” According to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), Black women are the most reliable voters.
“Black women voted at higher rates than all other voters. In 2012, 83% of registered Black women turned out, compared to 73% for all other women, a ten-point difference,” AFL-CIO explained in a report titled, Black Girl Magic: The Power of Black Women in Elections. ‘Black women turned out at a higher rate than other women in 2014 as well. Fifty-five percent of registered black women turned out in 2014, compared to 53% for all other women.”
Despite our high participation rates, we are still rather underrepresented in political landscapes. And while there are a plethora of reasons for this disparity, including systemic racism, we also need to get out of our own way.
“A lot of times as women, especially as Black women, we’re like, ‘Oh, no I don’t think I’m ready yet or I don’t think I know enough. I don’t have enough experience,'” Ashley Davis, First Ward City Councilwoman for the City of Plainfield, told MadameNoire. “And it and it’s just like okay well look around at everybody else that ran. How much experience did they have? How qualified were they?”
But before you take the leap and hop onto the ballot in your next local election, here are five things you should know about being a public servant.
You have to believe in yourself
“When you think about what the qualifications are for you to run for office, it’s really simple. Most of the time, you just have to be 18, a registered voter, and you have to just live in that area. So it’s really a matter of soul searching,” Councilwoman Davis explained. “Believing that you can do it and making sure that you’re in the right frame of mind to do it. After that, just run. Even if you think that you’re unqualified, know that the people who are actually running are probably less qualified. You’re probably, you’re probably more qualified than them, especially if you think that they’re doing a bad job.”
Mentorship is essential
“Ready to Run is a program that is extremely helpful. It is a non-partisan program that works to prepare women to run for office. Just seeking out that type of formal training or if you don’t have that training where you live, speaking to other women in office, or even men. Connect with people who are already in office and see how they can help you and give you advice,” adds Davis.
Humility and a willingness to learn will get you far
While learning to navigate the election process and running for public office is a journey in itself, it’s important to understand that getting elected is not an arrival. Once you’re in office, that’s when the work truly begins.
“You have to be open to learning every day,” said Davis. ‘You have to gain an understanding of how the game works and that’s so that you can learn to work strategically.”
You’ll need thick skin
“You gotta have the skin to do this. The Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey, Lieutenant Governor Oliver, I remember talking to her and she said listen, ‘You gotta have alligator-thick skin.’ Alligator skin is so thick that when they throw arrows at it, it just bounces off their skin.’ If you want to be in this game, you got to have that type of thick skin,” shared Davis. “While not all elections and political landscapes are nasty, they can be, and can you handle that nastiness to get to make real change? You might get discouraged and you may ask yourself, ‘Is it really worth it?’ But anything that’s worth having is gonna be hard.”
You have to be committed to the work
“While it was not hard getting on the ballot, it’s hard work once you get here. It’s not as glamorous as people think. Many people think that being an elected official somehow comes with money. There are some positions such as being on a school board, for example, you’re not getting paid for that,” Davis explained. “So you’re giving of your time, you’re giving of your brain power, you’re giving of your resources to run for this office that you’re not getting paid for that people may not thank you for.”
And when the position does come with attractive perks, it’s important to know that it will also come with tremendous responsibility.
“Don’t get me wrong if you’re like the governor oh, it’s lit being the governor,” Davis joked. “You got a staff. You don’t have to drive anymore. It’s so many perks but then you’re responsible for a whole state now.”