We want YOU to run for office! That encouraging message, along with campaigning advice, stories from the trail and hopes for civic activism among students were the focal points of conversations during Campaigning 101, a panel hosted by Northwestern College Democrats on Tuesday night.
The panel included Cook County Circuit Court Judge Sanjay Tailor, Illinois State Representative Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, Illinois State Senator Laura Fine, Chicago Alderman David Moore and Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering.
The group of elected officials, some of whom are currently running for reelection or seeking higher office, spoke with NU students about how they got involved in politics and answered questions from attendees.
“We needed a stop sign near my street … so I marched down to city hall,” said Rotering, who also teaches a course — Women in Political Leadership — at the University.
Shocked by the lack of female representation on Highland Park’s city council, Rotering decided to run herself, only for party officials to tell her that it wasn’t her turn. Rotering ran for city council in 2009 and mayor in 2011, winning both times.
Like Rotering, Moore is familiar with being told to wait his turn.
“There are people who will focus on the haves and the have-nots,” he said. “‘Do you have the money? Do you have the name? Is it your turn?’ When you’re doing right, it’s always your turn. Don’t let anybody tell you it’s not your turn.”
One student asked panelists how the recent Supreme Court leak suggesting the court will overturn Roe v. Wade has affected their races and roles in public office.
“I am profoundly shattered by the idea that my right to make decisions over my own body would not be protected by the Constitution,” Gong-Gershowitz said.
Each panelist agreed that getting involved in the governmental process is the best way to make change on any issue – including women’s rights – and that it’s never too soon to join the fight for an important cause.
“Don’t wait until you get angry about something, because half the time, it may be too late,” Moore said.
For Gong-Gershowitz, young people’s political involvement has never been more consequential.
“We are in the fight of your generation,” Gong-Gershowitz said in reference to the leaked SCOTUS decision. “[Young people] will define the future of the nation because the most fundamental questions that you can ask in human history are on the ballot. This is a very pivotal time.”
The event concluded after an hour of discussion, but panelists lingered in Lunt Hall to speak with students about internship opportunities and distribute informational materials (and campaign-approved stress balls).
Medill third-year Ben Chasen, College Democrats’ director of public relations, said the event was a no-brainer for the group to facilitate because of how politically involved many Northwestern students are.
“The rising wave is, ‘Run for state office, run for local office, if you actually care about something,’” Chasen said. “We felt like it was important to give [students] an opportunity to hear from people who are in the process of doing it and have them understand what it’s like.”
Whether it’s local, state or national office, Gong-Gershowitz said the stakes are too high for students to sit on the sidelines.
“People who didn’t show up for Hillary Clinton because they didn’t like her should terrify this generation,” Gong-Gershowitz said. “There is no such thing as an election that does not matter.”
Thumbnail photo by Brennan Leach.