How These Two Co-Founders Are Helping More Women Get Elected
Monica Klein & Elana Leopold
Monica and Elana co-founded Seneca Strategies as New York's first women-owned consulting firm focused specifically on electing women. (Naturally, they named their company after Seneca Falls!)
Read on if you want their advice on:
1 - Deciding whether to vote on anti-establishment candidates
2 - Getting involved in politics with no political background (hint: RSVP to one of their trainings through The Broad Room)
3 - Building a business with progressive feminist values
After the 2016 election, Monica Klein and Elana Leopold felt a pull to help more women become activists and get elected to office. The two friends had been working alongside New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for seven years, but they wanted to leverage their experience to form a business that could get more people involved in politics.
Leopold says, "We really felt there was a need to bring in not only our friends whom we worked with side-by-side every day, but also our friends in other industries who hadn’t previously felt the need to be active."
First, Klein and Leopold launched The Broad Room, an activist training program, with their friend Anna Poe-Kest; shortly thereafter, Klein and Leopold cofounded Seneca Strategies as New York's first women-run political consulting firm focused on electing women. Below, they share their advice on starting your own business, campaigning for issues that matter to you and aligning your work with your values.
Stephanie Newman: What are some of the most frequent questions you get from entrepreneurial women who want to get more involved in politics but don't know how to start?
Elana Leopold: For young women who haven't been exposed to the political world, it can seem like there are so many barriers to entry that are insurmountable. I even remember starting out in college and thinking that politics meant all these old white men who are in DC, and then realizing that's not the case. Millennials in particular are going to play such an impactful role. They did in the last election, but I think leading up to the next election we're seeing that young people are really taking the lead.
For example, if you work in PR, there are so many skills that are transferable into politics. If you're a policy expert in any area, there's so much that you can bring to the table. There are so many skill sets that are used in our everyday lives that are an asset to political work.
Monica and I are always talking about the normal playbook not working anymore. That's obvious. We have Trump in the White House. So bringing new and fresh ideas to the table is going to be really important for the midterms and as we gear up for the next presidential election.
How does Seneca Strategies help progressive women get elected to office?
Monica Klein: The first client we brought on at Seneca was Liuba Grechen Shirley, who's running for Congress on Long Island against Pete King. She's one of only two women left running for Congress with kids under the age of two. A lot of what we've done with her campaign is emphasizing and focusing on challenges that are unique to being a mother with young children. We're also working with Jessica Ramos, who's running for State Senate in Queens.
Both of these candidates are anti-establishment. They don't have the backing of the Democratic apparatus, per se, but they're definitely more progressive. They're both mothers with young children, and they've been incredible to work with.
We're also working with groups like VoteProChoice, a national pro-choice organization, which tries to make sure that choice is front and center in the conversation in elections. We're helping them make sure that reproductive freedom is not sidelined.
With the 2018 midterm elections coming up, what would you encourage young women to keep in mind as they vote?
Leopold: I think a lot of people are concerned about the viability of certain candidates, which creates anxiety and fear that you need to support the establishment candidate. But I would say choose the candidate who you believe is expressing your values and work your heart out to support them.
Campaigning is incredibly difficult. You're going to burn out if you don't have the inspiration of caring for the candidate and believing in what they're doing. The Democratic establishment messaging hasn't worked for years. Just supporting the party line and whomever the New York Democratic Party puts forward often isn't actually what progressive and working class people in New York need.
The Working Families Party, one of our clients, is supporting really incredible progressive candidates, not all of whom are supported by the Democratic State Party. The Democratic Party in New York is supporting eight different State Senate candidates who caucused with the Republicans and helped block things like the Reproductive Health Act, single payer health care, and the end of No Cash Bail and so many other policies. Make sure you're not just voting because there's a D or an R or a WFP next to the name, but that they support the issues that you care about.
What advice would you give other women who want to start their own business embracing progressive feminist values?
Klein: Just do it. We're in a world where men start businesses all the time, but women who are five times as qualified don't feel they have the background. I think women should just try it. The worst thing that can happen is that you fail and can do something else. I think we're a lot more capable and competent than we give ourselves credit for. If you have the skills and the knowledge, you'll succeed.