By Aurelia Chaudhury, Lynsey Gaudioso, and Claire Simonich
This past June, 81 passionate, driven, diverse, smart and impressive women sat together in one room, for one week, and learned how to run for political office. Thanks to a generous Yale Law Women scholarship, we were lucky enough to join that amazing group.
Each year, the Women’s Campaign School at Yale brings together women from across the United States and around the world for a weeklong, non-partisan, issue-neutral leadership program. The mission of the program is “to increase the number and influence of women in elected and appointed office in the United States and around the globe.”
Structured like a boot camp, the program teaches participants the ins and outs of running a political campaign. From 8 am to 8 pm each day we sat in a room together and learned from experts. We learned how to find our vote count number—the number of votes needed to win an election. We learned how to structure a fundraising call and developed a draft list of individuals we would likely call on to donate to our current or imagined future campaigns. We developed and presented five-minute speeches before a professional speech coach, practiced methods meant to “magnify our magnificence,” and spoke with an image consultant. We learned about media appearances, polling, ethics, message and paid media, digital campaigns, networking, grassroots organizing, and get out the vote efforts, among tens of other hard and soft skills.
At night, we met in small groups to apply what we had learned. Tasked with developing our own campaign strategies for one of the two women in the New Hampshire Senate race—Kelly Ayotte (R) or Maggie Hassan (D)—we stayed up into the early hours of the morning crunching vote count numbers, developing media videos, putting together slide decks, and drafting invitations to fundraisers. On Friday, each team presented its campaign strategy to a panel of expert judges. The winning campaign strategies for both campaigns were mailed to Kelly Ayotte and Maggie Hassan’s campaign staff in New Hampshire.
The lessons and skills we learned that week were invaluable. But the best part of the week was the people.
Our teachers—almost all women—included elected officials like Representative Stacey Abrams (D), the House Minority Leader for the Georgia General Assembly and a fellow Yale Law School alumna, who shared her own story, gave advice on how to hire and manage staff, talked about how to maintain a healthy work-life balance, and discussed her 10-year plan to turn Georgia blue. It included women like Lisa Spies (R) and Stephanie Berger (D), who started their own political consulting firms focused on fundraising—two of the few women-led firms in the political world. And it included coaches like Deb Sofield (R), Carol Vernon and Joel Silberman (D) who have worked with politicians across the country to improve their stage presence and public speaking skills.
Our classmates also taught us incredible lessons. Throughout the week, each of us laughed, cried, worked with, and learned from the other 80 amazing women in that room. We came from many different states, countries, political orientations, and backgrounds. We ranged in ages, careers and experience in politics. But we shared a commitment to supporting each other through a grueling week and beyond. We worked together late into the night with good humor and resilience. We shared our personal stories during learning sessions. And we promised to support one another beyond the walls of the Women’s Campaign School. At one point, a fellow participant stood up and vowed to donate to every single one of our campaigns. Declarations from other participants (and teachers) followed until every single woman in the room was standing, vowing to support each other in our political ambitions regardless of party differences.
Since the campaign school ended, we’ve used an online platform and continued to support one another. One classmate recently posted about another’s official announcement for office, which led to an outpouring of donations. Another reposted a classmate’s op-ed. Others now serve as classmates’ campaign managers.
Something magical happened in Room 127 of Yale Law School in June. In one week, a group of 80 women came to know and love and support one another. And in doing so, we crossed political lines—lines that will stay crossed for the remainder of our careers.
Our week at the Women’s Campaign School was transformative. We made friendships that will last a lifetime. We developed the skills needed to run a successful campaign. And we forged the confidence to one day run on our own. Years from now we will point back to this week at the Women’s Campaign School as one that changed our lives. Thank you, Yale Law Women, for helping to make it possible.
Aurelia Chaudhury and Claire Simonich are members of the Yale Law School class of 2016. Lynsey Gaudioso is a member of the Yale Law School and Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies Classes of 2017. All three attended the Women’s Campaign School at Yale in June 2016 on full scholarships. Ms. Gaudioso and Ms. Simonich received scholarships from Yale Law Women, funded by generous Yale Law School alumnae.
Ms. Chaudhury is currently clerking on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals; Ms. Simonich is clerking on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals; and Ms. Gaudioso hopes to pursue a public interest fellowship following graduation.