Debbie Walsh wants women to run. Not from something, but for office — for Congress, for the Senate, for mayor, for council, for any office where their voices can shape public policy.
Our policies reflect our lives, Walsh says. People who make policies address the human needs they see around them, like needs for housing, education, and employment. Women tend to be more tuned in to their communities than men, and they are more committed to making government transparent. That’s why their voices are needed. Women are good at collaboration, and that’s why we need them on both sides of the political aisle, Walsh says.
Walsh, who directs Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), a unit of the Eagleton Institute, Rutgers University, will speak at an upcoming luncheon organized by Women in Business, a committee of the Mid Jersey Chamber of Commerce.
Titled “Women Leaders Matter: Using Your Leadership Skills to Grow Your Business and Your Community,” the event takes place Tuesday, March 25, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at NJHA Conference Center, 760 Alexander Road, Princeton. Tickets: $50; $35, members. Register online at midjerseychamber.org or call 609-689-9960. Men and women are invited.
Among the topics Walsh will discuss is CAWP’s “Ready to Run,” a non-partisan training program that demystifies the process of running for elective office and prepares women to run or get involved in public life in other ways. The next program takes place Friday and Saturday, March 21 and 22, at the Douglass Campus Center, Rutgers University. On the web: cawp.rutgers.edu/education_training/ReadytoRun.
Although the chamber luncheon will take place after the event at Douglass, there will be other related events over the next few months, and a new program will start next year. The programs cover a variety of topics including fundraising, media skills, advice from elected officials and experts, positioning yourself for public leadership, the need for diversity, party politics, and Internet strategies for political campaigns.
While Walsh’s talk will focus on public office as a platform for leadership, participants will also discuss ways women can lead as business professionals. The luncheon’s co-chair, Valerie Buickerood, a staff member at Trenton’s Isles, attended one of the CAWP’s programs and says the leadership training and resources it offers can be useful for women in any profession.
CAWP’s programs are based on more than 40 years of research covering several areas of gender and politics. Based on the research results, CAWP publishes fact sheets and reports that can be accessed from the Center’s website: cawp.rutgers.edu/research/index.php. “Research is a core part of our mission,” Walsh says. “It is used by students, journalists, and activists.”
For example, a report from a series titled “The Impact of Women in Public Office” includes these conclusions:
Democratic women are particularly active in reshaping policy agenda, but Republican women are more active than men of either party.
Younger men, liberal men, and men who call themselves feminists are joining women in reshaping policy agenda.
Women are more likely to opt for government in public view rather than government behind closed doors.
In addition to the published reports and fact sheets, the research acts as guides for the programs CAWP develops, such as “Ready to Run.” Another program the Center offers is “New Leadership,” which focuses on education and networks for college students. But you can’t be too young to learn. CAWP has recently launched the program “Teach a Girl to Lead,” focusing on middle school students. In this program, CAWP is collaborating with the White House and the U.S. Department of Education.
Walsh, who introduced “Teach A Girl to Lead” to educators in Utah earlier this month, relates to this program on a personal level. She grew up in New York City to politically active parents. Although they did not hold office, they participated in democracy as citizens and brought young Walsh with them to marches and debates. Politics was a regular topic at the dinner table.
Thanks to her parents, Walsh as a pre-teen appreciated that citizens could participate in democracy by voting and supporting causes. But the day she discovered Bella Abzug, her life changed. While watching a debate between Abzug and her opponent for a seat in Congress, Walsh gained a new perspective. “That’s when I realized that women could be on the inside,” Walsh said. “Battling Bella,” as she was nicknamed, wasn’t rooting for the candidate, she was the candidate. Running on the slogan, “A women’s place is in the house … the House of Representatives,” Abzug went on to win her place in the House in 1970, defeating Barry Farber.
It was only natural that Walsh would go on to study political science. She earned her bachelor’s degree from SUNY Binghamton and her M.A. from Rutgers, where she was an Eagleton Fellow. Now as the CAWP’s director, she oversees its research, education, and public service programs. She is a board member of the National Council for Research on Women and a member of the Circle of Advisors to Rachel’s Network.
Walsh lives in Highland Park with her husband, a faculty member at Rutgers. They have two grown daughters who have yet to express an interest in running for office but keep politically informed and take voting seriously, says Walsh.
Walsh is excited about New Jersey’s upcoming congressional race. After Rep. Rush Holt’s announcement not to run, to date, five women have filed for the June 3 primary, including three from District 12: Linda Greenstein (D); Bonnie Watson Coleman (D); and Alieta Eck (R).
Some people worry that women running against each other could be a problem for the cause. But Walsh has no such worries. Her perspective: “The more women running for office, the better.”