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Nevertheless, she ran

Sally’s List looks to close the gender gap in Oklahoma’s legislature

Shay White, candidate for House District 77 in Tulsa

Greg Bollinger

In Oklahoma, 51 percent of the population is female, yet a disproportionately low 14 percent of Oklahoma’s legislative body is comprised of women. This disparity is also present nationally, with women making up only 20 percent of Congress. Research from Brenda Major, a social psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, suggests that this isn’t because women run and lose, but because of the societal barriers women face that prevent them from running at all. Major’s research also suggests that women, no matter how successful, have a tendency to question their abilities and judge themselves more harshly than men do.

Oklahoma organization Sally’s List works to close this legislative gender gap by recruiting, empowering, and training women to run for office. Named after Oklahoma activist and trailblazer Sally Rae Merkle Mock, who passed away in 2009, Sally’s List is run by two women, Founder and Executive Director Sara Jane Rose and Programs Manager Alyssa Fisher.

Sally’s List finds eligible candidates through word of mouth, community organizations, and social media. Women interested in running are encouraged to contact the organization. Currently, nine women recruited and trained by Sally’s List are running for office in 2018—seven for the state legislature, one for county commissioner, and one for U.S. Congress.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunities right now for women and people in general to learn how to run for office, but when it actually comes to the process of getting ready to run it can all feel really overwhelming,” Fisher said. “So, what we are here to do is to help people realize exactly what it is they need, who they need to talk to, what they need to do, and basically help set them on a trajectory that’s going to ensure they have a successful campaign.”

During the beginning stages of the training process, Rose and Fisher work to pinpoint critical events in the candidate’s life that set them on the path to candidacy. Identifying these key moments helps the candidate solidify their purpose for running and use real-life experiences to relate to their constituents on a personal level.

“We spend a couple of hours going through a timeline of their life to identify the moments, from as early as they can remember to present, that might have set their desire to be a candidate,” Rose said. “Sometimes they don’t think those moments are there, but they’re there, and we find them.”

Once the candidates complete all the preliminary tasks required to start a campaign and are ready to start raising money, Sally’s List steps back, offering only advice and moral support, unable to do anything that would be seen as working for the candidate.

“Once they are ready to get a consultant, which is usually when they start their campaign, we kinda kick them out of the nest, and they all seem to fly quite well,” said Rose.

Activist, social worker, and therapist Shay White is running for Oklahoma House District 77 in Tulsa in 2018 and if she wins will be the first person of color to fill the seat. White hopes to replace Democrat Eric Proctor, who has held the seat since 2007 and will reach his term limit this year.

“Sally’s List helped me develop my story, to learn more about myself and how to paint a picture of the issues that could help get a voter to vote for you,” Shay said. “They really helped me to think more on my feet when talking to voters, especially [when] dealing with irate or racist people.”

Sally’s List operates entirely on donations and does not charge the candidates for its services. Organizations similar to Sally’s List exist in other states, but many of them charge, and the majority identify as Democratic and pro-choice. Sally’s List is nonpartisan, centering on such issues as access to healthcare, quality education, diversification of the economy, and criminal justice reform.

“Choice is an important issue to us and our supporters—but it’s not the only issue, and it doesn’t stand alone,” Rose said.

“We have a lot of really incredible women we are working with who are stepping up and are really successful at what they’re doing. We’re proud of them,” Fisher said.

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