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Courage to Run Founder on Why There's Still a Long Road to Travel

by Ann Dermody, FiscalNote

A Q&A with Frieda Edgette on why groups encouraging women to run for election are far from obsolete

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Why run an event like this again now that the midterm elections are over and America experienced a record-breaking number of women running and winning elected office?

Despite historic successes, women remain significantly underrepresented. They make-up 23.7 percent of federal legislators, 27.6 percent of statewide executives, 28.8 percent of state legislatures and only 25 mayorships of the nation’s 100 largest cities - far below parity and under the 30 percent threshold cited as impacting the decision-making process and policy outcomes that lead to healthier communities. We are building on the momentum of 2018 and committed to breaking new records for women in the years ahead. In 2020, we want to see more women running, more women leading and supporting campaigns, and more women winning. After all, democracy is like a marathon - and training for 2020 starts today.

What’s the end goal of your organization? When does it become obsolete?

Courage to Run seeks to change the political game. Our mission is simple: 1) celebrate women getting civically active and running for office by creating a space that encourages each other on to finish strong; 2) be healthy to lead effectively; 3) run courageously; and 4) champion democracy. To truly change politics as usual, we strive for women in leadership running (pun intended) all parts of the political ecosystem: elected bodies, governing institutions, legislative offices, campaigns, government affairs and advocacy organizations.

A nation in progress, we seek to become a “more perfect union”. Women need to be part of that process from all angles. There is much work to do.

Devil’s advocate question: Shouldn’t the best person for the job, rather than a woman, be elected to Congress?

How do we know we’re getting the best person for the job when the majority of candidates don’t yet resemble their constituents? Women’s voices in politics expands the pool of possible policy solutions through unique knowledge, lived experience, perspective taking and skills. Reports show that businesses with more gender and culturally diverse senior management are up to 30 percent more profitable and outperform less diverse companies. When it comes to the policy-making process, women sponsor more legislation, pass more laws and send more money to their districts. Talk about winning.

There are so many groups in D.C. and beyond, supporting women running for office. What makes yours different?

Building a sustainable pipeline is like a relay race. Each group has its niche mission and is equally important to the whole: some train in “outer game” campaign tactics, while others network and focus on policy. We’re bringing the groups that support women running for office together and forming a powerful community that celebrates our successes and holistically trains for the road ahead.

Running with the running metaphor, there is an “inner game” needed to be successful that strikingly resembles that of an elite athlete: mindset, resilience, vision, courage and care. Courage to Run elevates the numerous, exceptional organizations that build the outer game. and compliments them with exercises and community that strengthen the politico’s inner game. A strong inner game empowers leaders to reduce stress, sharpen vision, improve communications and relationships, connect across divides and lead through uncertainty. With the complex issues and past-paced changes of today, the need for an enhanced set of skills is needed now more than ever. We need support and resources for both.

What are the barriers to women’s representation at this point?

Systems barriers remain. The media covers women differently than their male counterparts. Additionally, there are biased barriers in fundraising for women. It is encouraging to see more and more women-led organizations forming to raise money and pound the pavement for women candidates, like Congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s new E-PAC and VoteMama. Organize and mobilize, women.

Why did you get involved in this?

The road to parity is a long one. Like a marathon or other endurance training, it is essential to mark milestones along the way. At the beginning of last year, like the nation, I was watching the number of women filing to run for office going up and up. It was a really big deal, and the need to do something celebratory, unifying and empowering was clear.

Anyone who has completed a race knows there is a feeling of accomplishment and possibility when you cross the finish line. Whether running a 5K or toward Election Day, we need a focused mindset, physical resilience, heartfelt vision, courage and community. Let’s organize a 5K. What better way to cheer those women on to finish strong in 2018? In 2019, what better way to power us up for the road ahead than to run together and flex our strength as women?

What’s your day job?

I’m a former government affairs specialist and public health consultant turned internationally certified executive coach, resilient leadership teacher and civic-minded organizational strategist. Translation: I help civic leaders lead big changes that will benefit society. We boost their performance and well-being while at it.

Any plans to expand this to state level to help stack local government so enough women are constantly coming up?

Funny you should ask. In addition to the Courage to Run 5K on Capitol Hill, women elected officials, candidates and supporters are running or organizing “run togethers” in more than 20 states across the country. Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan (PA-6), a participant in the inaugural Courage to Run last year, and Pennsylvania State Representative Kristine Howard are honorary co-hosting a run in Chester County, Pennsylvania. In Oakland, California, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton and Alameda City Councilmember Malia Vella are kicking off the East Bay event. Teton County Commissioner Natalia Duncan Macker organized ten Democrat and Republican women electeds in Jackson, Wyoming, to run together to demonstrate what healthy leadership looked like in 2018. Her team of Wyoming Women is now partnering with GAP! (Girls Actively Participating) to role model careers in public service to young women and girls. 

Young people are taking the lead in organizing Courage to Runs, too - like girl scouts in Louisiana - and colleges in Florida and California, teaching the students about political organizing in the process. Coming off the heels of its election, which will vote in a woman mayor of color, organizers in Chicago, Illinois, are coalition building between local women’s groups and law students. Aspiring candidates in the Midwest and East Coast are participating, and community runs are taking shape throughout the summer to continue positive momentum. We are network weaving. We are pipeline building. Training for 2020 states today - at all levels of government.

What do you hope for Courage to Run for the future?

Courage to Run is creating an empowering space for women to flex their literal and figurative muscle. In the immediate future, we’re equipping people with easy exercises that improve health and make them more politically effective. We’re continuing to build the regional events and also releasing an app this summer that helps people build that strong “inner game” for politics. For 2020, our goal is to have women running in all 50 states - literally and figuratively.

You can get involved and learn more at

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