ALLY SPOTLIGHT: Emerge California

By Kim Huynh

It used to be anaxiom of the national culture: California sets the trends, breaks the mold, embraces change.  And if the women of Emerge California have their way, that will be true again, at least where politics and government are concerned.

Founded in 2002 by a passionate group of Bay Area women, Emerge California aims to speed up the rate at which women are running for and winning elective office. By training women, exposing them to the real world of partisan competition and party operations, Emerge gives its graduates a road map to run, win and seek higher office.

“Emerge California isn’t just another training program,” said Kimberly Ellis, president. “Our alumnae are running for office, winning, sitting at decision-making tables, and championing progressive policy.”


The numbers speak for themselves—of more than 250 Emerge California graduates, half are currently running for, appointed to or serving in elected office, and of those who have run, almost 70% have won. More than 100 program participants have been appointed to local and state boards and commissions.

Participants in the seven-month Emerge program engage in over 70 hours of in-depth candidate training, mastering subjects such as public speaking and communication, fundraising, media and messaging, networking, campaign strategy, field operations, technology and new media, diversity, cultural competency and ethical leadership through intensive, cohort-based learning. Training includes sessions on the Democratic Party platform and labor issues, and graduates emerge, excuse the pun—or not—“ready-to-run” for office.

The organization’s progressive efforts could not have come at a more pivotal moment, as the number of elected Democratic women in office remains flat or even declines. Fewer than 30% of California state legislators are women, and the Golden State has yet to elect a female governor. Emerge California has been so successful that it is now part of a national organization working in 14 states that has, collectively, trained more than 1,000 women.

To recruit the Class of 2014, Emerge California embarked on an extensive “Tour de Emerge” providing webinars and in-person information sessions across the state through September.

Note: Applications for the Class of 2015 are due October 3, 2014.

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By Kim Huynh

Women union members are among the most active and forward-thinking members of the larger progressive movement. “We register voters and we encourage women to seek political office so that diversity is reflected in our representation,” said Nikki Linnerman, president, of the Central California chapter.

The Coalition of Labor Union Women, or CLUW, aims to strengthen and unify female presence within unions, as well as increase the involvement of women in the democratic process.


So what has the chapter—incidentally one of CLUW’s most progressive, with over two dozen male members—been up to?
central CA CLUW

Helping Women:
*Central CA CLUW has helped support such nonprofits as New Haven in Modesto and W.E.A.V.E. in Sacramento by collecting items for survivors of domestic violence, and has assisted with outreach to female veterans in Fresno County to help them transition to civilian life.

Encouraging Political Engagement:
* The chapter is partnering with Mi Familia Vota, a national Arizona-based nonprofit to help turn out the Latina and Latino vote.
* In 2012, Central CA CLUW coordinated successful non-partisan voter registration drives across 11 counties, handing out more than 1,000 voter registration forms.

Empowering Women to Run:
* Union leaders know that women run for political office because they are asked. And though women are 50% less likely than men to seriously consider it, less likely to actually run, significantly less likely to run for higher office—when women do run, they are just as likely to win. Central CA CLUW provides nonpartisan support and resources to potential female candidates. Last year, two of its members ran for the State Senate,  one for re-election as mayor, and four ran for their local Democratic Central Committees.  Members were also elected national delegates to their unions, and President Yvonne Walker of SEIU Local 1000, California’s largest state employee union, became VP of the California Labor Federation, which counts more than 1,200 AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions among its members.

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