Stephanie Schriock is the President of EMILY’s List, a political action committee dedicated to funding and electing pro-choice women candidates (EMILY stands for “Early money is like yeast” – because it makes the dough rise). Schriock was appointed president of the powerful group at the beginning of 2010, the first post-boomer woman to run the organization. Schriock has been working in Democratic politics for over a decade, most notably in senior positions on campaigns for former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean and Senator Al Franken. Schriock knows her stuff, but she also – as you might expect from someone who used to work for a comedian-turned-candidate, and as you’ll see from this interview – has a wicked sense of humor.
EMILY’s list was founded in 1985, out of a sense of frustration that women weren’t being adequately represented in US politics, and the belief that the power of women voters could be harnessed to change government for the better. EMILY’s list would grow to become one of the largest political action committees in the country. They have backed some of the most noted and beloved women candidates in recent history: Barbara Mikulski, Nita Lowey, Ann Richards, Carolyn Moseley Braun, Tammy Baldwin and Nancy Pelosi to name just a few. Right now, they’re supporting half a dozen candidates at the national level and many many more at the state and local level – go check out their list and see if a candidate from your state or district is EMILY-approved. And, EMILY’s list has internships on offer for the Fall, and if you’re looking for a job in Democratic pro-choice politics, they have a job bank you should check out.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Stephanie Schriock.
Chloe Angyal: What made you want a career in politics?
Stephanie Schriock: I ran for Class President in high school. A number of times. And lost a number of times.
But that was before the highly targeted and sophisticated operation I carried off during my campaign for Student Body President. I focused my resources on freshmen and sophomores who had not yet aligned with any particular candidate and won a resounding victory.
I’ve really always been politically engaged. My mom and dad instilled a sense of service in all of us – through church, through school, through girl scouts. I just thought it was what I should do.
My first political memory was the union strike in the early 80s. The company shut down the mine in my hometown, Butte, Montana. The town just started to die. And I couldn’t understand why the big corporation was hurting families. Really it was that simple to me. So I started paying attention and I figured out I was a Democrat.
The first campaign I volunteered on was in high school, and my first paying gig was for EMILY’s List candidate Mary Reider just a year out of college. So you could say I never really stood a chance. This is what I was going to do with my life.
CA: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?
SS: I’ve always admired Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City.
I’m going with CJ Cregg, played by the masterful Allison Janney on West Wing. I am working every day to be as eloquent and confident as she is in front of a camera and a mic. There just aren’t enough women role models on the communication side of politics. We need more women spokespeople – in fiction and in real life.
I also want to take a sec to give another West Wing shout out to Dr. Abigail Bartlett – Stockard Channing’s role. Really every role Stockard Channing has ever played could be mentioned here, but Abbie is one of the most inspiring and human characters we’ve ever had on the small screen.
My real life heroine is my mother, who was not only completely supportive and told me I could do anything, she pushed me to get the tools I’d need to do it. She made me be compassionate and passionate. We were a Golden Rule house – Mom instilled it, and actually lived it.
I lost her not too long ago, and think about her every day. I often wonder what her take would be about what’s going on in this country, the Republican agenda, the news. I think she’d be very upset.
We all have different definitions of feminism – she saw motherhood as a means to change the world. She was a working mom raising three kids and she put in the time. I’m focused on winning elections, building a career, but being a parent is really tending to the core of society. It’s not just the physical needs of a child being cared for, it’s about instilling values, turning kids into aware and compassionate actors, sending them out, and bettering the world.
CA: What recent news story made you want to scream?
SS: It’s a sad testament to the world today that I had a hard time choosing this one. You may have noticed a Republican war on women recently. We certainly have over at EMILY’s List…
But if I absolutely must pick one, I’m going to go with a recent Nick Baumann article in Mother Jones. I’m sure your audience knows about the GOP attempt to redefine rape – they wrote “forcible” rape into a bill, so other kinds of rape (drugged, unconscious, statutory, drunk) could be excluded from exemptions in federal restrictions on abortion funding. And it had the particularly horrific side effect of creating tiers of rapes – some that were legally worse than others.
Well, women and men went rightfully nuts over this, many congresspeople were called, Jon Stewart did a number, the hashtag #DearJohn was born, and the Republicans caved and took it out of the bill.
Happy ending, right? Except Nick’s recent article showed that the distinction was still in the conference report, which gets filed right along with the bill. They do this just in case the law is ever challenged in court. One can look at the conference report to see what the lawmakers intended, and the court is supposed to take that into their ruling.
So Republicans never intended to drop their attempts to redefine it. They just snuck it in under the radar. These people control the House of Representatives right now, and if we don’t turn out for the 2012 elections, they could control the Senate. The stakes have literally never been higher for American women.
CA: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?
SS: There are not enough women running for office! Women’s rights and freedoms will only be protected and advanced when more women are in Washington and in governor’s mansions fighting against GOP attempts to roll back the clock.
I want to give everyone reading this a little homework. Think of your circle of friends. One of the vibrant, smart, strong women you call your buddies ought to run for office. You know who she is – maybe you’ve just never thought of her that way. The next time you see her, tell her. You might just be the first person to suggest it to her.
Women don’t wake up like men do and decide to campaign. Women need to be asked to run. Often several times. So start asking them. Ask yourself, too, while you’re at it.
CA: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?
SS: I’m assuming there’s water to be found on this island, so we’ll have to bring the wine. Maybe a white since I’m imagining it’ll be hot. No particular kind. You can’t really be picky on a desert island.
For the food I was thinking something with seeds, so it could be sustainable. But I’m not very patient and terrible with plants. Could I bring a cow? If I could butcher and store it, that could be really useful. And briefly, I’d have some added company. I don’t think I would last on a desert island. I’m just going to say steak. I’ll bring steak.
I’d want to bring a feminist who would be fun to drink the wine with. Immediately Rebecca Traister comes to mind, but she has a new baby, and it would be mean to take her away from that just to drink island wine with me.
I guess what I’d really like is a male feminist. If we’re really going the desert island route, it seems like having a guy with his heart and his head in the right place would be the best kind of company. So all I need is a male feminist who likes wine and steak. And Democratic politics, so we’d have at least one other topic of conversation besides feminism. Can’t think of anyone right now, but he’s gotta be out there. Actually, if you guys know anyone, tell him to email firstname.lastname@example.org.