Saturday, July 20th marked the graduation of the Emerge Wisconsin Class of 2013. With unparalleled confidence and eagerness, eight women of labor took an important step forward for their unions and the state of Wisconsin. As State Representative Melissa Sargent (EmergeWI, Class of 2012) embraced graduates, they were handed a formal Citation of Commendation ceremoniously marked with the great seal of the State of Wisconsin. In a flurry of hugs, words of recognition, and smiles, graduates were awarded certificates of completion and were proudly pinned with the Emerge insignia by former State Senator Jessica King (Class of 2007), Wendy Strout (Emerge WI, Executive Director), and Bethany Ordaz (Emerge WI, Board Chair).
Emerge Wisconsin is a training ground for Democratic women aspiring to run for political office. The intense seven month training unwraps the mysteries behind running a successful campaign with topics ranging from fundraising to messaging and everything in between. Emerge is much more than a curriculum, the program connects women with a cohort, increases their networking capacity, and ignites the confidence necessary to take that next step and run for office.
Our union sisters, who now act as role models and mentors for the current graduating class, are testimony to the effectiveness of this training. Mandy Wright (Class of 2012) stepped directly from the classroom into the Wisconsin State Assembly after defeating conservative talk show host and GOP candidate Patrick Snyder. Wright is now a strong advocate for the people in the 85th, as well as for women and education advocates statewide. Another 2012 graduate, Mary Arnold (WEAC, retired) has taken her place as the Columbus School Board Director. Arnold has fought tirelessly for public education and also campaigned on jobs, health care, and the environment in a 2012 run for Assembly.
As a nurse and public employee, Dane County Board Supervisor, Erika Hotchkiss is a strong member of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). Hotchkiss (Class of 2012) is a strong voice for all citizens, including working families, people with disabilities, veterans, seniors, and our homeless populations.
AFSCME members, Ellen Lindgren and Carol Beals have also been forces to reckon with; both women are Emerge Alumnae from the Class of 2010. Lindgren is now the Middleton Public Schools Director and Beals is a Grant County Board Supervisor. Beals is also Chair of the Grant County Democratic Party and President of Wisconsin State Employees Union Local 1622. Beals held her opponent’s feet to the fire when she ran for State Assembly in 2012.
These are tough acts to follow, but keep your eyes on the Emerge Class of 2013. Teachers Karen Vieth and Kati Walsh (MTI) both claim Representative Mandy Wright among their role models. As public education faces attacks, Walsh understands the increasing need for teachers to have a voice in the political arena, “I just finished my 5th year teaching and it breaks my heart to watch politicians make decisions for our students and teachers who really know nothing of what is best for them. It is essential that teachers start to have a real voice in education policy.”
Julie Allen (AFSCME) has been president of her local for eight years and has served on the Council 40 Executive Board for the past three years. Allen has also served as the King Town Treasurer for the past sixteen years. Allen will clearly put her ambition and the skills she gained at Emerge to good use in LincolnCounty.
Julie Jansch (AFSCME, retired) has been a union member for 31 years. During this time, she served as a Union Steward, Vice-President, President, Secretary, and an Executive Board Member. She was on every contract negotiation for 25 years and currently serves as the President of the Green Bay Area Retirees Union. Jansch understands the connection between the success of labor unions and having strong representation in public offices. She also understands the timeliness of electing more women to office.
With legislation on equal pay, reproductive rights, and domestic abuse, women are clearly a target of the current Republican agenda. Jansch states that it is nothing less than abusive, “It is about control. They need to control women in every way they can.” But for these Union Sisters, Emerge is an opportunity to fight back. “And what better person to run for office to help win the fight then a woman who has been putting fires out all along in her capacity as a Union member, Steward or Officer,” Jansch concludes.
All of the Emerge graduates have strong memories of the 2011 Wisconsin Uprising and each has risen to the challenge of the current political environment. Past and current history has shown union leaders and Emerge sisters that, “If you are not at the table, you are on the menu.” Emerge Wisconsin is helping women find that place at the table; they have trained over 100 Democratic women to run for public office at every level – village trustee, school board, city council, county board, and state legislature. In the words of Emerge Wisconsin Advisor, Senator Tammy Baldwin, “Politics is not a spectator sport; you must get involved in order to help make the change that you want to see.” The time to make that change is now.