A San Francisco-based partisan organization that trains female Democratic leaders has the most diverse class in 2021 since the group’s launch in 2002.
Melanie V. Ramil, executive director of Emerge California, said women are underrepresented in politics. Her group exists to change that, and it is intentionally targeting those who have been traditionally under-recruited — including Black, Muslim American, Pacific Islander, Indigenous and LGBTQ+ women.
Last year, for example, the organization had the highest number of Indigenous female applicants in its history.
“One of the things that we know and we see is it is hard running for office, and being a woman is even harder,” said Ramil. “Our training gives women candidates the tools to run a successful campaign, and our alumni win over 60% when they run for office.”
Ramil said the 2020 election was monumental because it represented change in whom the public typically sees running for office. U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is an alumna of the program and helped in its founding.
“The 2020 election was a historic year for the organization, which saw 121 alumni on the ballot in California, the most the organization has ever had,” Ramil said.
From field and media messaging to help on the campaign trail, Emerge essentially wraps a blanket of support around the candidate.
One member of the Emerge California class of 2021 is Mia Livas Porter, a gun violence prevention advocate who is considering running for public office in Los Angeles.
Porter said she wasn’t interested in being a politician, but that changed when Donald Trump took office and, as an Asian American, she felt the color of her skin for the first time.
“I realized that if I’m not happy with the existing definition of a politician, I have the power to change it, to redefine it,” she said.
Porter said she hopes the Emerge California program will provide her with the skills to be a successful candidate while creating a sisterhood.
“I think women — in every industry — now see the power of standing together, of lifting each other up,” she said.
Another member of the 2021 Emerge California class is Morning Star Gali, who belongs to the Pit River Tribe located in parts of Shasta, Lassen, Modoc and Siskiyou counties in northeast California. During the Democratic National Convention in 2020, Gali was asked to serve as a delegate for Bernie Sanders on the platform committee with Congresswoman Deb Haaland, D-NM, who in a few days will be the first Native American in a Cabinet secretary role in U.S. history. Gali pushed successfully to include tribal issues in the platform.
“I wanted there to be representation and there to be the visibility of Indigenous peoples, as it’s an everyday battle for us to be seen for who we are and that we still exist on our tribal lands,” Gali said.
One mission for Gali is to make clear current day realities for California tribes, as well as help provide historical context.
“We have massacres that took place during the Gold Rush, it’s still very fresh and we still see the effects of that, but people are not aware of the [California] genocide,” she said. “It is intentional that the information has been suppressed.”
As she considers her first electoral run, Gali is looking at available seats in her community, including seats at school boards.
The 69 Emerge program members of the Class of 2021 hail from all over the state, from Chico to San Diego, and bring a diverse set of professions and passions. They are civil rights attorneys, small business owners, educators, nurses, homemakers, nonprofit leaders and graphic designers.
The future of the program relies on the impact of each class. The unprecedented diversity in the 2021 cohort augurs well for future recruitment efforts.
“As we see more Emerge California women who truly reflect their communities, train with us and then run for office, we know this means that they will be opening the doors for other women to follow in their footsteps,” said Ramil. “This is how we will continue to change the face of power in California.”