On Wednesday, November 15, Run Women Run hosted a panel on women’s issues with the CWSL Women’s Law Caucus in downtown San Diego.
Panelists included: retired Encinitas Deputy Mayor Dr. Lisa Shaffer; attorney and military Veteran of Afghanistan Christina Prejean; and Elizabeth Warren, candidate for California State Assembly, District 76 (Carlsbad, Vista, Encinitas, Oceanside, and Camp Pendleton.)
Meet the Panelists
Each panelist brought her own history and experience to the conversation, and the group talked about their individual paths from activists to community leaders.
Dr. Shaffer started her career in Washington DC, including positions at NASA and NOAA, whe she used her background in international relations and public policy to develop international cooperation related to environmental issues. She eventually made her way to San Diego, where she was Director of International Relations at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the founding executive director of a campus-wide UCSD Sustainability Solutions Institute, and taught ethics and environmental strategy at the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego.
Despite her overwhelming qualifications on environmental issues, she was turned down to have a place on the environmental committee three times and felt she had no voice and no access. After being asked to run for office by an incumbent council member who was unable to continue in office for health reasons, Lisa decided to take the chance and run for a council seat. After winning more votes than anyone else in the history of the town, she didn’t just represent her area, she also started a weekly newsletter to keep residents informed of decisions happening in their own backyard.
Christina Prejean is an attorney, military Veteran who served in Afghanistan, native San Diegan, and President of the National Women’s Political Caucus of San Diego. Prejean was sitting in class at Vista High School when she saw the horrors of 9/11 on television, and soon thereafter, made the decision to serve her country and do what she could to ensure we would never have an attack like 9/11 again. She was selected for the prestigious Air Force ROTC scholarship in college and upon graduating, entered Active Duty as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. In her nearly six years in the Air Force, Prejean reached the rank of Captain, deployed for one year as a Convoy Mission Commander to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, where she commanded 208 convoy missions, providing secure protection and transportation of 183 Department of Defense VIPs, including the Secretary of Defense and the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan. While in Afghanistan, Christina saw the desperate need for women’s rights through humanitarian missions she led to women’s shelters, orphanages, and refugee camps. As one of only four females in her unit of over 50 troops and often the only woman on the convoy missions she led, she found that many Afghan women would approach her, as they aren’t allowed to speak to males outside of their families. She was a Victim Advocate for Sexual Assault victims while deployed, and saw firsthand the inept system that enables perpetrators and provides little to no aid to victims.
After deciding to leave the military in pursuit of her childhood dream of becoming an attorney, Prejean returned to San Diego and graduated from the University of San Diego School of Law, with concentrations in both International Law and Civil Litigation. While in law school, she worked at the San Diego Domestic Violence clinic, providing Spanish and English legal services to victims of domestic violence. She also worked for federal judge Gonzalo Curiel and federal magistrate judge Karen Crawford.
Currently, Christina is a civil litigation attorney in San Diego, representing clients in both English and Spanish. She and her husband, who met in law school, also work pro-bono cases for Protect our Defenders, representing military Veterans who are victims of sexual assault; and Casa Cornelia, representing clients seeking asylum. She is also the Veteran Coordinator on the Veterans Treatment Court, advocating for veterans currently in the criminal system. Christina is a 2017 Fellow of the New Leaders Council of Los Angeles, which trains the next generation of progressive leaders. In addition to being a board member of Run Women Run, Christina was recently selected as a 2018 Fellow of Emerge California.
Elizabeth Warren was born in New York, grew up in the Midwest, and graduated from Indiana University. She began her career as a newspaper reporter and has worked as a publicist, columnist, magazine writer, and communications director for a national nonprofit organization. Most recently, she’s been editing digital communications for progressive civic action groups. She is a wife, and mother to three grown children. When Elizabeth moved here more than 20 years ago (her husband Todd is a sixth generation Californian) she felt she’d finally “come home,” as many of her core values are reflected in California’s public policy.
Like many families, the Warrens were hit hard by the financial crisis. Determined to understand what happened, Elizabeth dusted off her reporter’s hat. What she learned made her furious, and an activist was born. She trained with MoveOn.org and began organizing, first in her community, and then regionally, supporting grassroots leaders in multiple states. In 2013, she led a national three-year effort to stop a dangerous “free trade” deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Increased public awareness made the TPP an election year issue, and Elizabeth was invited to serve on a standing committee at the Democratic National Convention. The experience taught her that everyday people, working together, can affect real change. That realization, and the encouragement of grassroots community leaders, inspired her to run for State Assembly.
Advice for Anyone Running for Office
Each panelist was asked to give advice for anyone running for office.
Dr. Shaffer stressed that having a “compelling reason” to run is the foundation of everything you do. And, even if you don’t win, understand that “you can affect your community just by running.” She also advised potential candidates to check for skeletons in their closets to see whether there is anything in their past that might become a campaign issue, and to ensure that their support network, including partners, kids, employers, and friends, understand and support a decision to run as it will impact them all and the candidate will need them all.
Prejean advised those in the audience to “solve problems that you care about.” She also referenced Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” and reminded the young women in attendance that they don’t need to wait to be in their 40s and 50s to begin a run for office. “You are qualified, just as you are. Know that you are,” she said. She reminded the audience that as young women, they are mostly affected by policies and legislation created by mainly older white men. “You and I are directly impacted by the gender wage gap,” causing women to miss out on millions of dollars in our lifetime; “by unaffordable childcare,” forcing many women to have to choose between starting a family and continuing in their careers; “and by affordable healthcare providing contraceptives to women.” She encouraged them to get involved, to focus on issues they are passionate about, and gain experience in working on those issues. She also encouraged them to stay positive and uplifted by “people who love and support you, and will build you up.”
Warren, who’s in the middle of a campaign herself, had several pieces of advice, including:
• Watch an election all the way through, to learn from the process.
• Start planning at least a year before you announce.
• Hire a professional Treasurer to make sure your campaign complies with state reporting requirements. It’s not sexy, but it’s crucial.
• Hire a finance director and create a fundraising plan.
• Make fundraising calls. Then make more fundraising calls.
• Develop a calendar; announce your candidacy as early as possible.
• Get out of your comfort zone and talk with every constituency that you can.
• “Go for coffee.” Whenever you can, meet one on one with community leaders, elected officials, and other women who can become supporters and advocates.
Systemic Challenges Women Face When Running for Office
Each panelist was asked what systemic challenges women face that interfere with running for office.
“We tend to wait to be asked,” said Dr. Shaffer. “You have every right to run for office.” She also talked about women being judged by different standards or that we aren’t as assertive as we should be. “Women aren’t always taught to be leaders when we are young girls,” said Prejean. “When we exert our leadership skills as young women, we’re told not to be bossy; whereas our male counterparts are encouraged and praised for the same actions.” She stressed the importance of women supporting other women, along with bringing up the next generation of women. “Women historically have not been seen in political leadership roles and we need our communities to change that mindset and realize that, ‘this is what a candidate looks like,” pointing to the women in the audience.
“Have your own moral compass,” said Warren. “Find your own true north, and don’t let anyone, anywhere, cause you to deviate.” She also talked about the importance of having a sense of humor. “Take the issues seriously–but not yourself. Listen to constructive criticism; but don’t let hostile critics get to you. Haters lose their power when you laugh at them.”
Harassment, Election 2020, Power
To round out the night, the panel was asked questions from the audience.
With sexual harassment in the forefront of the news, the panelists were asked their opinions on sexual harassment and new policies of prevention.
Dr. Shaffer has had a lifetime of working in male-dominated industries. She used humor to educate men, for example, creating a picture dictionary of sexist terms like “babe,” (photo of an infant) “dish,” (photo of a bowl) and “sweetie,” (photo of candy) and gave it to a male peer to understand what not to call her. Even today, she’s correcting language, like men calling women “girls” who work for them. She also recommends a “F You Fund,” so you have enough money to walk away from a bad situation or job if you can’t fix the problems.
Prejean, who has worked in male dominated career fields, in both the military and now as an attorney, as the only woman attorney at her firm’s San Diego office, shared about the importance of using your voice, and believing and supporting other women who share their stories of being victims of sexual harassment. “There is power in numbers,” she said, reminding everyone of the importance of speaking out in support of each other.
Warren agreed with having a backup fund, and added that women tend to absorb all the shame for untoward behavior, when it was not caused by us.
Regarding which issues they’d focus on the most in a 2020 election, Prejean talked about national security. “When we only have one voice and perspective of wealthy, older white men running our nation, as high ranking generals and heads of state, our national security is hindered.” Women are still some of the most vulnerable in our society, due to the fact that we are not equally represented economically, socially, and politically; and this is a great challenge to our economy and our democracy.
Warren sees income inequality and the need for universal healthcare as top priorities. “It’s hard to build political power when you don’t have access to the basic tools for survival.”
When asked about how women can gain more power, panelists offered a variety of answers. Some included:
• Affordable childcare. It’s 2017 and women still feel like they must choose between career and family.
• Women leadership in all industries. Women-run businesses can create the type of business environment we want to see.
• Equal pay for equal work. Without financial power, choices are limited.
• Speak out. Share your views on social media. Write Letters to the Editor or Op-Eds; run for office. Have a voice and use it.
• “There’s power in numbers.” Collective bargaining is the key to change. Women have the vote today because so many of us stood together–in the face of violent opposition–more than a century ago. A sisterhood of many different women’s voices, all singing in concert, can produce a symphony of change.
Run Women Run would like to thank CWSL Women’s Law Caucus for inviting us to speak, and for each panelist for providing insight and advice about creating change. For more information on upcoming Run Women Run events, check out our events page. For the latest updates please follow us on Facebook and twitter. If you would like to take part in such events, sign up for membership online.
Run Women Run is a non-partisan organization that inspires, recruits, and trains pro-choice women running for office in San Diego County. To learn more about the organization and sign up for membership, click here.
Jennifer Cuellar is a managing editor and writer based out of San Diego, California. When she’s not writing about political issues (among other things), you can find her at an archery class or watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Published November 30, 2017