Courses could be a pathway for those who seek the skills that will help them become leaders.
Leadership growth? Check. Messaging and public speaking? Check. Networking? Check.
If this sounds like the curriculum of a professional development workshop, you’re partly right. Those are some of the topics included at political training, delivered in Seattle and around the state by several non- or multi-partisan organizations. And on second look, these courses offer broad, career-boosting benefits, even if running for office or organizing a campaign isn’t on your current list of goals.
Groups like Amplify, the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington (NWPC-WA) and Wellstone Action hold their training sessions with the goal of building a more diverse candidate pool for all levels of government. But as the need for greater diversity extends to the business and nonprofit sectors, political action training can be a pathway for those who seek the skills that will help them ascend to a leadership role.
The courses cover the nuts and bolts of how to engage in the political process. However, the skills that come into play are integral to driving change in any setting, “whether that’s political, or your place of business, or as a student — wherever you lead and do your work,” says NWPC-WA president Maggie Humphreys.
Jessie Ulibarri, Wellstone’s vice president for impact and external Affairs, explains it like this: “Almost everyone [at Camp Wellstone] explores the reasons why they’re interested in doing community change work. As leaders, that’s an essential aspect, regardless of the profession you choose — asking the big question like what informs your world view? What do you believe and what kind of change do you want to make?”
Camp Wellstone’s three tracks — grassroots organizing, campaign management and candidacy — vary in content, but there, too, the skills taught are transferable. Among the topics Ulibarri lists are fundraising, budgeting, values-based communication and turning an idea into a real work plan.
Underlying it all is something even bigger, though. “People go through a personal transformation where they’re able to articulate their core beliefs,” says Ulibarri. “They set themselves on a path to be able to achieve that world view.”
The opportunity to create networks with other emerging leaders and with the trainers is another key aspect of the experience. Davíd Reyes, community organizer at the nonprofit organization Statewide Poverty Action Network, attended a session held by Amplify in 2016. He says it helped him shake up traditional practices and gain myriad perspectives on how to approach routine tasks with fresh creativity. “It’s good to be in a room full of people where, it’s like, ‘Here’s the issue I have, what do you all think?’”
Through its membership model, the NWPC-WA has a built-in mechanism for facilitating network growth, notes Humphreys. It does this with events throughout the year, including miniature salons on topics like public speaking and confidence, or running for boards and commissions, plus gatherings to celebrate its endorsed women candidates. “We have an environment of women supporting other women,” Humphreys says.
As a person of color, Reyes also drew inspiration from having a trainer who could relate to his background, referring to Amplify’s leader, EJ Juárez. “It’s so hard to find executive directors from communities of color who are working in communities of color. That’s something that’s really special for me, in particular, and EJ’s one of my mentors.”
Finally, in case you have been pondering politics as a future career path, but aren’t quite sure, Renton City Councilor Ruth Pérez has some advice: “Even if you think you don’t have it in you to be an elected official, just go to the training. You will see how eye-opening it is.”
Pérez laughs as she recounts the terror she felt the day she attended her first NWPC-WA class, but says it doesn’t have to be that way. “When you go, you will start realizing, ‘OK, this is the plan I have to follow, and I’ve done this before in other areas of my life.’ ” Which is to say, the best kind of training is the one that shows you the leader that already exists within.