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More women of color prompted to seek office

Russell Contreras
Associated Press

Albuquerque, N.M. — As Samia Assed watched election returns come in with her children and another Muslim family, she panicked when it became clear that Donald Trump would win the presidency. The Palestinian-American woman wondered if they would have to register as Muslims, as Trump said during his campaign. Would she be barred from wearing her hijab in public?

“Honestly, I was scared,” the 51-year-old Albuquerque resident said. “I didn’t even want to take my daughter to school the next day.”

Assed has turned her fears into action, joining what advocacy groups say are hundreds, possibly thousands of women of color, who are exploring making a run for public office. Across the country, women are gathering signatures, attending workshops, and signing up for fundraising and public speaking classes as they set their eyes on school board seats, city councils, state offices, and even Congress.

Just how many women of color will actually seek office is anyone’s guess. Advocacy groups say it’s too early to determine how many women will formally file papers, but they believe the number could triple. Some are deciding on what position to seek, while others are waiting for 2018 or 2019, advocates said.

VoteRunLead director Erin Vilardi said the group has seen a jump in the number of women interested in politics. The Duluth, Minnesota-based group typically draws 50 to 100 participants for webinars like “From Protester to Politician.” But since November, the webinars have attracted more than 1,000 participants each time, Vilardi said. And about half of those signing up are women of color.

“From our inboxes to our social media sites, we can’t keep up with the fire hose,” Vilardi said.

In interviews with the Associated Press, some say Trump’s win and his past comments on minorities and women sparked them to jump into politics. Others, like Monic Behnken, 44, cite the divisiveness of the presidential campaign or Democrat Hillary Clinton’s defeat among the motivating factors.

Behnken, a criminal justice professor at Iowa State University, is seeking a seat on the Ames School Board.

“Seeing how this ugliness was filtering into my children’s lives was probably the thing that motivated me the most,” said Behnken, who is black. “I knew I had to do something to step up to make the world as safe for them as I could.”

Kathleen Daniel, 46, said she decided to run for New York’s City Council the day after Trump’s election. Her 12-year-old son refused to wear his coat that day even though it was cold. He didn’t want to be seen in a hoodie, believing Trump would bring back “stop and frisk,” said Daniel, who is black.

“I couldn’t face my kids,” said Daniel, a mother of two who lives in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. “So right then and there I decided to jump in.”