“2017 is the year of the woman,” says Patricia Russo. Russo is the executive director of the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University, a program that trains women who want to run for public office. It’s been in existence for over twenty years, but Russo says this year is different. There is an unprecedented level of interest in the training sessions.
On March 31, Russo was one of the speakers at the Women’s Leadership Conference at the University of New Haven. The conference, in its third year, brings women, and a few men, together around a theme – with the hope that young women can make connections and find role models. This year’s theme was Women, Media and the Gender Lens.
Russo sprang to the stage early in the day to her theme song, “This Girl is on Fire.” She encouraged attendees to get out of their comfort zones and step up in new ways. Russo, who handled a heavy speaking schedule in the month of March, is impressed by the activism she sees in the women she has met with recently. “I have seen since the global women’s march in January this incredible uprising of activism among women of all ages, more than ever before in my thirty-plus years of being active in the women’s movement.”
Russo says the Women’s Campaign School had six hundred emails after the women’s march. “The day after the march, the phones at the Women’s Campaign School were flooded like never before. Women called us and said, ‘Hi, I marched, I’m mad, I want to run for office, and when is your next session?’”
The Campaign School maintains a non-partisan curriculum, and several of their graduates sit across the aisle from each other in state legislatures. But all the attendees are looking for practical ways to influence the political process. Usually about one hundred women have applied for the training program at this time of year. Right now they have five hundred. Russo says they’re thinking of adding more training to meet the need.
A panel discussion at the Women’s Leadership Conference ranged across topics such as how women are portrayed in the media, battles for respect in the workplace, and the need for women to support each other in public life. One message that came through from the panelists was the need to get tough and to speak up. Russo might argue that it’s already happening.