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Praising civil rights icon Rosa Parks and suffragist Alice Paul, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) told a Forum audience Friday that it was women like these who helped open the door for her to become Michigan’s first female senator. She warned them, however, that this past work wasn’t enough.
“I’ve always said it’s great to be a first, but when you’re the only one, you’re a token,” she said. “The challenge is to make sure there’s a second, then a third, then a fourth, then a time when we no longer have to count.”
Stabenow visited the Kennedy School to help kick off “Harvard Square to the Oval Office,” a program sponsored by the Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP) that trains female students from the Kennedy School to run for political office.
When asked by a student to name the biggest obstacle for women interested in running for elected office, Stabenow didn’t hesitate: self confidence.
“It starts inside. The first thing is to believe in yourself and put yourself out there,” she said. “Women tend to wait to be asked to run. Have confidence in yourself and be willing to lose. Be willing to take a risk.”
After the election, she said, women still have to stay one step ahead. “When I first ran for state representative, I had a couple of male colleagues who were also running,” she said. “They were dubbed ‘young and upcoming.’ I was dubbed ‘young.’ There’s a very subtle difference.”
In addition to addressing the issue of women in politics, Stabenow also spoke on the need for fair trade, the collapse of the manufacturing sector in the United States, and the lack of health care for all Americans — the latter issue being that one that inspired her political career.
“Healthcare is a crazy, crazy thing that is totally fixable,” she said. “This is my driving force.”