By Dorothy Mills-Gregg
One of Northern California’s top female labor leaders has a new mission: Helping Democratic women run for political offices around the state.
“There’s an old saying in labor, ‘If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu,’” says Maimuna Syed. “I want to make sure these people (women, minorities, people of lower socio-economic backgrounds) have a seat at the table.”
After eight years working in labor, Syed took over as head of Emerge California on Feb. 1. Emerge California is a non-profit that trains and supports women who want to be politicians.
Women are historically underrepresented in public offices, from school boards to the state Senate. While women make up more than half of the state’s population, they hold only 30 percent of state legislative positions.
Now, Syed will focus on putting women in positions of power where they can have influence over issues that affect working families.
Since 2002, Emerge California has prepared almost 400 women to run for office. The five-month, intensive program teaches Democratic women about fundraising, election filing, campaign strategy and other things so they can successfully run for office.
Nearly 70 percent of the program’s alumnae who run for an elected position have won.
Prior to joining Emerge, Syed served as the Northern California Field Director at the California Labor Federation, where she managed political, organizing and legislative efforts.
Before that, Syed worked for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Pennsylvania and the American Federation of Teachers in New Mexico. Syed also worked on the 2016 Hillary Clinton Presidential campaign in Pennsylvania.
“I think the world stopped at least a day and half after the election,” Syed said.
And for that day and a half, she said, she wondered how to fix it.
“I really think Emerge California is the solution,” she said. “Emerge’s vision is that any Democratic woman who wants to run for office need only call upon Emerge to not only run, but to win.”
For the class of 2017, program participants were broken into two groups of 20 to 35 people, one for Northern California and another for Southern California. They will attend training sessions once a month, from December to May. They are also required to raise at least $1,000 for Emerge California, which they can accomplish through ticket sales to receptions, house parties and an annual spring event.
Participants receive training from campaign consultants, advisors, and those with backgrounds in fundraising, press management, and field strategy, among many others.
Past and present trainers have included political directors or organizers from SEIU Local 1000, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the United Food and Commercial Workers.
In addition to the five-month program, Emerge California is offering boot camps this summer. Its boot camps will be the first step to involving people in politics, Syed said, whether it is connecting with their local political parties or joining a union.
Syed said the goal of the trainings is to help women envision themselves as political leaders.
“Whether it’s a contract negotiation or political negotiation, we (all of us collectively) need to have a seat,” Syed said. “If we are going to beat back negative policies, (or) policies negative to people, everyone needs to join together.”
Syed said that increasingly, local roles like city councils and boards will play a vital role to set positive policies to counterbalance expected changes at the federal level.
“During the next four years, we’re going to have minimal control over policies passed nationally,” she said. “What we have access to is how policies are implemented at the local level.”
Emerge California trains women to run for local offices such as the school board, water board, or city council so they will have “the ability to impact what’s happening at the local level,” Syed said.
Emerge California is an affiliate of Emerge America. It operates in 17 states, including Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, and several states east of the Mississippi. Nationally, the organization has trained over 2,000 women to run for office, and similar to the California affiliate, 70 percent of those who ran for office won.
The application process for the next session opens in June and the organization is hosting informational sessions about the program across the state this summer.
Applicants will pay an application fee, and there are tuition costs that include material fees and cover mandatory overnight stays. Partial financial aid can be awarded.
“We are a resource available to everyone,” Syed said. “The labor movement is only getting stronger. Working class issues are vital to the country.”
Visit emergeca.org for additional information about Emerge California.