By Laila Kearney |
NEW YORK (Reuters) – After she spends Saturday marching in Washington among an expected 200,000 women protesting the presidency of Donald Trump on his first full day in office, Amy Davis-Comstock plans to take her first steps toward her own possible run for office.
The 50-year-old resident of Saginaw, Michigan, is part of a sharp increase in U.S. women signing up for courses run by political activist groups aimed at helping them mount campaigns for mostly low-level political offices.
Groups including Emily’s List, which supports Democratic women candidates, and nonpartisan VoteRunLead and Ignite report that online and in-person classes that typically see a few dozen participants are now attracting hundreds of women newly interested in politics.
“This election really made me realize that we need to have really good candidates,” Davis-Comstock said in a phone interview.
Davis-Comstock, who works in Saginaw’s unemployment office and is the mother of a teenaged daughter, said she was considering running for her local school board or county commission.
On Sunday, she plans to attend a class in Washington by Emerge America, which recruits and trains Democratic women interested in seeking office.
Trump’s victory in the Nov. 8 election proved particularly galvanizing for women for a number of reasons, activists said.
The Republican New York businessman defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the first woman nominated for the White House by a major political party.
He also aroused controversy during the campaign with demeaning comments about women, including remarks in a leaked video in which he could be heard bragging about groping women and making unwanted sexual advances.
Trump also spoke out against abortion rights and pledged to defund reproductive healthcare provider Planned Parenthood.
Despite the backlash over those comments, Trump won 53 percent of the vote among white women.
The Trump transition team did not respond to requests by Reuters for comment about the women’s march.
Trump has denied that he is anti-woman in campaign comments in which he said he would be “really good for women.” He also apologized for the leaked video remarks and categorized them simply as “locker room talk.”
‘MAD AS HELL’
Women, who account for almost 51 percent of the U.S. population, are sharply underrepresented in public office across the country, particularly at the state and national levels. There are only five female governors among the 50 states and women make up about 20 percent of the U.S. Congress.
“Women run for office when they want to fix something or when they’re mad as hell,” said Alexandra De Luca, a spokeswoman for Emily’s List.
That group is holding a political training session for 500 women marchers on Sunday, a larger version of an event that has typically attracted 30 to 40 women over the past 20 years.
A monthly online course offered by VoteRunLead for women called: “This is How You Run for Office” swelled to 1,103 participants in December and 1,151 in January from an average of about 50 in the months before the election, said founder Erin Vilardi.
On Sunday, the group is hosting an event with Planned Parenthood, one of the sponsors of the women’s march, to entice women who “aren’t already thinking about running for public office,” Vilardi said.
California-based Ignite, which trains teenagers and young women with political aspirations, reported that 100 high school teachers from across the country had asked about purchasing the organization’s curriculum, according to the group’s chief program officer, Sara Guillermo.
That was up sharply from the 10 teachers who expressed interest in the six months before the election.
The groups focus on women running for local offices as the natural stepping-off point for political careers.
The surge in interest has not been limited to Democratic women.
Maggie’s List, which supports conservative female candidates, has also seen an increase in interest from donors and aspiring women politicians since the election, said National Executive Director Missy Shorey.
“This election was a huge wake-up call for people,” Shorey said, adding the group had been approached by conservative Trump supporters and opponents.
“Sitting it out means that you’re leaving it in other people’s hands,” she said.