Long before there was an August 3rd set of ballot issues for Pepper Pike, I’d been asked and accepted an invitation to be the inspirational call to action speaker at The White House Project’s training program done in conjunction with BlogHer10, a gathering of more than 2400 women bloggers organized by three of the most powerful people in new media. I adjusted travel plans to accommodate being at the conference and the training and this post recaps my speech intended to encourage female political bloggers to run for office.
Ironically, a reporter for Politico contacted me within the last couple of weeks (after two others whom he’d contacted had also contacted me about his inquiries) on the topic of political bloggers who run for office, and his research is in part in relation to this post I wrote last November about the rarity of both news stories on political bloggers who run for office and the rarity OF political bloggers running for office. The training collaboration between BlogHer and The White House Project will, I hope, make a dent in this lagging area of civic engagement for bloggers (going beyond blogging and running for office). As soon as the article is out, I’ll link to it.
Here is a Flickr set of photos taken by The White House Project from the training and, after the jump, you can read the text of the entire speech. I was only supposed to speak for 15 minutes, which I did, but then they were so pleased with that, that I took a few questions as well. I particularly love explaining to people why all the excuses they have for why they can’t or won’t run for office are surmountable. Go ahead try me!
You can also read a live-blog of the speech as well as the Q and A here.
The speech (copyright protected but may be linked to with attribution):
White House Project Training at BlogHer
Inspirational Call to Action Speech
Jill Miller Zimon
August 5, 2010
I’d like to thank Lisa and BlogHer, and Marie and the White House Project for putting this training program together. And for asking me to participate. I’m honored and flattered but most of all, I hope I’ll be as inspiring as I am inspired.
Now – today is very exciting to me not only because I get to encourage a room full of women who have already taken the step to be here, but because ever since my ten year old son first listened to this speech and four minutes into it he said, “What are you supposed to be talking about Mom,” I’ve been worried about whether I could in fact make that clear. So, today, I want to inspire – and impress – all of you. But secretly maybe? Even more so – I’m worried about making sure that my ten year old knows why we’re here!
Today, I’m going to highlight the three key elements that led me down the path from political blogger to political candidate. My strong hunch is that they’re all present in your stories too – and now is the time for you to act on them.
Listen to What Compels You
The first element is to listen to what compels you.
I first realized the role that compulsion has played in my move from blogger to candidate when my husband walked up to me one morning, while I stood, hands on my hips, in front of our coffee maker.
“Boy is that ever a smushed up look on your face!” he said in that coaxing kind of way I knew meant, “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
But all I did was curl my lips inward, tense my arm muscles and shake my head side to side.
I was smushing my face because I’d just finished reading a political column in The Plain Dealer, Cleveland’s main newspaper. Its content angered me and left me feeling fed up and thinking hard about what to do about feeling fed up. Usually I manage this feeling by wildly waving the newspaper in my husband’s face or emailing the article to a bunch of people, or maybe tweeting about it or sharing it on Facebook. If I’ve got time, I might even write a letter to the editor and then blog about it. But most of the time, practically speaking, there isn’t much I’m going to do about whatever it is that I’ve read that made me upset.
Anyone else recognize this pattern?
Well, a blog is like a sponge that can mop up all your compulsions, right? Blogs easily, quickly and willingly absorb all the frustration we feel compelled to express. And, for years, the voice of my blog, Writes Like She Talks, has pretty much reflected just that.
So, one of blogging’s most attractive qualities is this ability to help us dispose of a compulsion. But this satisfaction is transient. Because no sooner do you blog one frustration then you’re reading something else and feeling the same way.
Well, my story is really about recognizing this pattern in myself – a pattern of feeling compelled to act that would, inevitably, have to be turned it into something beyond blogging.
It’s very likely that you are here today in fact because you too feel compelled to go beyond blogging. And by the end of this afternoon, hopefully every single one of you will have ideas about how you are going to do that and, even more so, will make a commitment to do just that.
Identify and Build on the Methods to Your Madness
So, the first key element in moving from blogger to candidate is to listen to what compels you.
The second key element is identifying and then building on what I call the methods to your madness.
And, again, I’m going to use my husband as the springboard.
Early one school day morning, I have no idea what we were talking about, but at some point, he hurled at me an accusation no one had ever made before: he told me that I was whimsical.
Now, when I think of whimsy or being whimsical, I imagine a fairy floating in a light airy dress or a storybook with a theme like Where the Wild Things Are. And I remember very clearly standing there thinking, how on earth does whimsy apply to me?
What it turned out he was describing was how what I experienced as a compulsion to blog and research and explore and champion and pounce on topic after topic, amidst the unpredictable schedule of a home-based freelance writing career and taking care of our three kids, and what I had confidence in believing would lead to where I wanted to go (even if I couldn’t define that at any particular moment), to him? I looked like someone who fluttered and floated and never settled and focused. (Luckily I know my husband extremely well and this was not a stretch to understand.)
The point here is this: Even though you know you’re using blogging to express yourself, and engage in ideas and champion a cause through written communication, sometimes – to other people following what compels you is not going to look like a nice, neat path with a clearly identifiable end point.
But that doesn’t make any of the steps that you’re taking while moving along that path whimsical or wasted. While doing all that, you are continuously building skills and networks that you can easily leverage to go significantly beyond blogging.
My path is a perfect example of this.
I started blogging in July 2005 after a couple of writing friends started blogs to keep their pumps primed. It seemed like a great idea and I got connected to a Cleveland hub of bloggers. By late fall, I was regularly attending a civic forum, called Meet the Bloggers, that was created and hosted by people connected to this same blogging hub. At those gatherings, I sat next to, directly questioned, and then, via my blog, critiqued political figures like Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, US Senator Sherrod Brown and, someone who is a mentor and role model for women interested in political office, including me, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.
I continued to push the envelope with my blogging by seeking out the Media Bloggers Association. I was interested in being a sponsored blogger who would cover juvenile court, and the MBA was a group that got access for bloggers in venues – such as federal court and state legislatures – previously restricted to only the most rigidly defined specimens of journalist.
I also joined BlogHer and tried to keep up with their political dialogues but, honestly? I stayed a lurker because, as lame as it sounds, I couldn’t figure out that era of navigation around the site – and, frankly – I wasn’t yet compelled enough to try harder.
That changed when, just before the November 2006 elections, I read about Marie Wilson and the White House Project. In one 30 minute interview, the path of my life changed. How, as a female political blogger, could I not be blown away by the statistics and stark reality Marie describes about women and politics?
The year 2007 then became a watershed as a result of the connections I had been creating through blogging:
I went back to BlogHer and my renewed effort there resulted in BlogHer’s own Morra Aarons Mele referring me for an appearance on CNN (which then led to many other broadcast gigs). My local public radio station created a reporter’s roundtable and because they’d been reading and respected my blog, I became a regular. By the summer, I was in talks with a Plain Dealer editor whose reporters had been on the radio roundtable with me, and that led to a unique though short-lived political blogging-traditional media collaboration in which I was the only female.
Then, as a result of that interview with Marie months earlier? I joined the steering committee of the White House Project’s Ohio Go Run! program. I attended and also spoke on new and social media at their June 2008 training.
And then, at the beginning of 2009, all these efforts came together: a local newspaper named me most influential person in my city because I had blogged about an unconstitutional political yard sign ordinance that I pursued until it got overhauled. And I realized, at that moment? It was time to take my blogging, my compulsion to want to do something with all the skills and networks I’d been building, to the next level. That’s when I decided to run for city council.
Now, it might sound like what I’m plotting out for you proceeded logically and without any bumps, but that is not the impression I want you to get. There are kids, jobs, relationships, debts, sickness – any number of personal, professional and systemic obstacles to confront along the way. Although I believe that no matter your situation, there is always a next level you can go to with your passions, I know that I’ve been fortunate, even with the barriers I’ve scaled and that under no circumstances do each of us face all the same barriers or the same number of them.
The impression I want you to have is this: No matter the barriers, whatever it is that you are able to do with your blogging, and the skills and connections and networks you’re developing while blogging, you are – whether you realize it or not – crafting the shape that YOUR path around, through, over, or under those barriers can take. And know, just from looking around this room, that there are women with knowledge, experience, skills and networks who desire, and are willing and able to help you sort out the method to your madness that will lead you to a more political life.
And so I took all the writing, researching, organizing and networking tasks I’d been doing for years as a blogger and applied them to my run for council. I’m not talking just a campaign website, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter or Paypal. I’m talking about you knowing your way around a website and the Internet and online communicating better than most political candidates.
As bloggers, if there’s one thing we know how to do, it’s how to dig. And board of elections websites and databases will be your best friends because you can master all their historical data and you will be at ease tooling around their online and digital information. You have no idea how far ahead of so many other candidates this puts you, or how many other ways you can graft your blogging skills onto a run for office.
Throughout this afternoon, it’s going to become increasingly apparent just how much of what you need to run for office you already possess.
Accept that Resistance is Futile
The third critical element is to accept that resistance is futile.
Now – I know – the excuses to not run for office ran the gamut. You’re going to come up with all kinds of reasons that could keep you from following what compels you or leveraging the connections and skills and networks you’ve developed through blogging.
Sexism is probably one of the biggest whether, it’s from the media, potential constituents, other political candidates, or even people you think are supporters. The Women’s Media Center produced an outstanding video in 2008 that showed with painful clarity the pervasiveness of sexism in the media. While not running won’t make this sexim go away, when you do run, you get to frame you, and base your run on your qualities and abilities and on the issues, all while giving voice to a demographic that does not have adequate voice at so many levels of government.
What about privacy, you may be thinking. Whether you have kids, family or a non-political work life you want to keep. There’s no question that you will have to adjust to a different level of invasion, but I have to say that being a blogger fits this excuse well because chances are you’ve really refined your skills of drawing boundaries. And doing politics that are not politics as usual definitely involves redrawing and redefining boundaries all the time.
More excuses? Oh – Let’s see:
- You’re not sure if you’re qualified.
- You say the political demographics where you want to run are too stacked against you.
- You hate asking people for money.
- You have never run before – or you’ve run and lost.
- You just don’t have the time you’re going to need.
- You hate politicians.
- You’ve got something in your background no one will like.
- You can’t get your family to support you.
So many more, I’m sure, right?
Well, let’s get this out of the way now (and I feel confident saying this because I’ve been there and said all that – to Marie, and to any White House Project maven who would listen, and to all the political old hands I know):
Once you discover, once you realize, once you accept that you are so ready to go beyond blogging, and you so have the skills and the connections to do that, even you will get fed up with the excuses and realize that they can be overcome. This training is absolutely about all that – and I encourage you to try out your litany on the presenters – or on me! Go ahead – have them all ready and see what you’re told. There IS an answer for everything. Before you know it, it’s going to be you giving those answers to someone else.
First – listen to what compels you. It’s why you are here today. You feel the urge to go beyond blogging.
Second, identify and embrace the method to your madness. See that while you pursue your blogging, you are building the skills and networks that form the basis for a deeper dive into political life.
And finally, accept that resistance is futile. You’ll know that you’ve turned this corner when other women start giving you excuses for why they can’t run
Thank you and don’t get mad, get elected.