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Posted under: Opinion Politics

How To Turn Community Activism Into Political Power

Just as Congressman John Lewis did throughout his life, we will work to create change.

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Laid to rest in at South-View Cemetery in Atlanta, the nation said its final goodbye to Congressman John Lewis. Called the conscience of the Congress, Representative Lewis saw and lived injustice, and set out on a life-long journey toward freedom. During his early civil rights activism and throughout his time representing Georgia’s fifth district, Congressman Lewis left the world a better place than it was at the time of his birth. And along the way, he inspired many others who approach changing the world with zeal and tenacity.

It is with that same spirit of continued change, that I am excited to announce the inaugural class of the EMILY’s List Ignite Change Fellowship. Over the course of nine weeks, these 30 leaders  from across the country will examine what it is like to run for office and how to turn their community activism into political transformation.

Electing leaders who represent the diversity of our country and have the ability to offer solutions based on their lived experiences is key to creating systemic change in this country.

EMILY’s List has begun virtual meetings with its inaugural class of Ignite Change Fellows. The fellowship is an initiative that supports and facilitates the leadership of those from historically under-resourced communities, including, by way of example, women of color, LGBTQ+ women and  non-binary people, individuals from rural communities and people with disabilities.

Our government works better when it looks like the people it represents, and for 35 years, EMILY’s List has worked to do just that by increasing the number of pro-choice Democratic women serving in elected office. The organization is proud of the role that Democratic elected officials have played in working hard to steer their communities through the crises of COVID-19 and racial injustice in this country. We want to continue to build a pipeline of effective change agents through motivating community leaders and advocates to run for office.

Furthermore, as activists around the country highlight the ways in which systemic racism has shown up in communities of color and seek profound political change, it becomes increasingly important to invest in the leadership of those who are members of these communities. Also, considering the role that government plays in our lives every single day, those who are in charge and work within it should always fight for what is in our best interest. Look at leaders like Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who grew up in Chicago’s infamous Cabrini-Green public housing community and now, as state’s attorney, her office has undertaken substantial criminal justice reforms focused on public safety and equity. She’s been able to create real change in the very place where she grew up, and is just another example to our fellows that solving problems can propel them into a rewarding trajectory of public service.

Our plans for the Ignite Change Fellowship are shaped by our goal to create a diverse candidate pipeline of pro-choice Democratic women trained to run and win their elections.  And we’ve chosen fellows who serve as organizational leaders and/or advocates in their community, have an eagerness to potentially run for office in the future and have no prior or current history of being a candidate or running for office.

There are many solutions to challenges we face as a country. We understand that running for office is not the only way to create systemic change and is not the end of our advocacy in addressing the issues we face. However, we believe that policy is important, and who we have in office deciding that policy matters. To that end, we want to use our resources and do what we can to support individuals who have the courage to run for office.

This moment is a turning point and women across the country are demanding change. And just as Congressman John Lewis did throughout his life, we will work to create this change. EMILY’s List is committed to developing, supporting and electing new leaders.

For more information on the Ignite Change Fellowship, visit emilyslist.org.

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Stefanie Brown James is an advisor to EMILY’s List.

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