By Lauren Hirsch
The California Public Leadership Pipeline Project is a collaboration between Emerge CA, The New American Leaders Project (NALP), Progressive Majority, and Wellstone Action to develop and support progressive public leadership in Orange County. The Project works closely with local community organizations and partners to recruit and train potential candidates from diverse backgrounds including women, people of color, immigrants, and the differently abled community.
The Project has several goals, said Project Manager Asma Men. “We want to identify future public leaders from communities of color, from minority groups including women, who need support resources and assistance to help them get cultivated and groomed to enter public office. [We want to] create a base of politically progressive individuals within Orange County…In the course of speaking with people, we also encountered people who wanted campaign experience, so our founder organizations try to help get them grassroots organizing experience in case later they are interested in becoming either future elected leaders or campaign managers.”
The going has been tough, but the Project has seen real progress. “The biggest challenge,” Asma noted, is that “people who speak with me ask, ‘how can someone like me get elected?’ The leadership in Orange County all comes from one demographic, and the people we speak with aren’t used to seeing a leadership whose backgrounds reflect their own communities. It’s a real cultural shift to believe that someone like yourself can get elected.” (Latinos, for example, constitute 34.2% of the population in Orange County, but there are no Latinos on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.)
Asma, who grew up in Orange County, turned both to local community organizations and her own network to find people who might be interested in public leadership roles. “The initial phase of searching for people was really difficult because the same few names came up as referrals from everyone I talked to. It just showcases that there are prospective leaders who are being overlooked…I really had to reach out by asking every single person I met with to refer me to several more people.”
Once Asma has identified people who are interested, each of the Project’s four collaborating organizations can bring its unique resources and knowledge to bear. NALP hosts weekend-long trainings for potential candidates, while Wellstone Action has trained campaign operatives. Progressive Majority offers campaign advising and technical services, and Emerge CA runs a 7-month leadership training program for progressive women candidates.
Currently, Orange County is widely seen as a conservative stronghold, with 41.8% of voters registered as Republican, compared to 31.7% Democrat, as of 2012. (22% decline to state.) Yet the interest in new leadership is there. “Turnout is one of our biggest successes,” said Asma. “The first training session I organized, I set a goal of getting 30 people to come and worried whether we would meet it. We ended up with about double that. Turnout has always exceeded our expectations.”
Interested parties who wish to support the Pipeline Project can reach out to Gloria Totten at firstname.lastname@example.org.