As recently as a few weeks ago, none of the country’s 15 most populous cities was led by a woman. In diverse cities across the country, all but three of the mayors were white. That changed last week when San Francisco swore in London Breed as its mayor.
For only the second time in our city’s history, the mayor is a woman. And for the first time, the mayor is a woman of color. Finally, that glass ceiling has been broken.
Breed embodies the future of this country — the rising American electorate made up of people of color, unmarried women and Millennials. This group makes up a majority of Americans eligible to vote, so it was only a matter of time until more elected officials were representative of this voting bloc. Now, with the election of Malia Cohen as president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, two African American women are leading the city.
Mayor Breed’s election is just part of a broader political force that’s sweeping this country. Hardworking, fierce women, particularly women of color, are harnessing their political power on the ballots and at the polls. Just look at the record number of black women running for office in Alabama this year and the 11 women who flipped seats from white, Republican men in the Virginia House of Delegates last year. This movement is happening everywhere, and many of those wins are owed to work that started right here in San Francisco more than 15 years ago.
I started Emerge California in 2002 with a few friends to recruit and train Democratic women in the Bay Area to run for office after I became acutely aware of how difficult it was for women to learn how to run. A brilliant friend of mine, whom I had been encouraging to run for office, showed up at my door one day and told me that she had decided to run for district attorney of San Francisco. She wasn’t sure where to start and wanted my help. I realized that if this incredible woman was having trouble finding information on how to run for office, then other women were probably encountering an information gap that was keeping them off the ballot.
Fast-forward to 2018, and hundreds of women trained later — there are Emerge California alums across the Bay Area leading in the highest levels of local governments. Breed graduated from the program in 2008. Cohen in 2005. And, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf graduated in 2009. The women all share a vision for the future where all people no matter their background have the chance to succeed and access basic human rights like affordable housing, basic health care and a quality education.
Luckily, my friend, the “inspiration” for the Emerge California program, also wasn’t discouraged. She ran a successful campaign for San Francisco district attorney, went on to become California’s attorney general and today is California’s junior U.S. senator. Her name is Kamala Harris.
Change like this doesn’t happen overnight — it happens through years of work. It happens when women ask that incredible friend to run for office over and over and through hard-fought campaigns by women who have been diligently trained. After all, when she was San Francisco district attorney, Harris mentored and recruited Breed to take the Emerge California program.
Emerge America, which I founded in 2005 to replicate the Emerge California program across the country, is dedicated to building the pipeline of Democratic women so that it’ll be easier for the future female senators, mayors and board presidents to run for office. There are 75 Emerge California alumnae and more than 730 Emerge America alums in 29 states running for office this year.
Women who were on the sidelines are realizing that inaction is no longer an option. They’ve been spurred to run for office and serve their communities. These women need training and support. And Emerge is here to provide them with the tools they’ll need to run — and win.
Last Wednesday, Breed broke up the old boys’ club that led our country’s largest cities. In doing so, she strengthened the new girls’ network, which has the power to change the very nature of politics in America.
This isn’t a pink wave that will crash and die out — it’s a powerful movement; one that we’ve been building and nurturing for more than 15 years. I can’t wait to see how the new girls’ network leads San Francisco.