When Ellen Malcolm founded EMILY’s List, an organization dedicated to electing women to political office, she worried that people would think the name was silly.
She saw her beloved US Senate candidate lose in part because she ran out of money. So Malcolm coined the acronym Early Money Like Yeast to reflect the belief that seeding fledgling candidates with support would keep the dollars flowing.
(Yeast helps raise the dough, okay?)
Malcolm didn’t need to worry. From the start, as a group of like-minded women gathered in her basement, the EMILY roster has grown into a political center that campaigns and channels millions of dollars in every election to hundreds of pro-choice Democrats in races from the City Council to the White House.
Since its founding in 1985, the group has had three leaders: Malcolm; Stephanie Sriock, veteran campaign manager, and Lafonza Butler, longtime trade union organizer and political strategist from California, took office in September.
As a black woman, Butler is the first woman of color to lead the organization, so from the start, she brings a different image and perspective to the group that some may more readily associate with white suburban women in puffy jackets marching with lattes in hand, against … Donald Trump.
“I think I bring with me the ability to connect with every woman from all walks of life and do it from a very authentic place,” Butler said, naming some of the black, Hispanic and Asian American women the group has helped. go up to the office. “I think I went through my unique journey to get to this point.”
Butler, 42, was born in the small town of Magnolia, Mississippi, which is also the birthplace of Britney Spears’ mom, to a family that knew the hardships by name. After a series of heart attacks, Butler’s father died when she was 16, leaving her mother to work three jobs at once to support her three children.
At Jackson University, a black history college, Butler’s faculty included several civil rights veterans who instilled in her a pro-active and social justice propensity. “What are you doing for freedom? It was always a question, ”Butler said. “What are you doing today for freedom?”
As a union organizer, she has worked with nurses in Baltimore and Milwaukee, cleaners in Philadelphia, and hospital workers in New Haven, Connecticut. In 2009, Butler moved to California, where she organized home caregivers and home nurses.
In 2013, she took over the leadership of the state’s largest union, the International Union of Service Workers, where Butler has been involved in a number of campaigns and legislative battles, including efforts to raise the California minimum wage and raise income taxes for its wealthiest residents.
Butler left the union in 2018 to join one of the state’s top political consulting firms and played a central role in Kamala Harris’s 2020 presidential race; she is still friends with the vice president, whom Butler first met in 2010, when Harris was leading the difficult, ultimately successful bid for attorney general.
On Emily’s list, Butler’s main goal is obviously to elect more women to the position in line with her core mission. But she also hopes that more women will be elected to the position.
There are obstacles that Butler hopes to destroy, or at least make them less intimidating for candidates of color. One of them is to raise enough money for the campaign.
Take, for example, a teacher, nurse, or some other politician who cannot afford to self-fund the campaign. She probably doesn’t have a large circle of wealthy business colleagues or wealthy acquaintances to lean on. Thus, the challenge is to demonstrate sufficient viability at an early stage to motivate a large number of donors to contribute.
Black women are reluctant to ask others for money, Butler said. She quoted her mother who worked all of these jobs and did not accept handouts.
“As a black woman who was raised by a proud black woman, I know what that characteristic is. I have, ”Butler said with a deep laugh as rain flooded Washington’s sidewalks and marble monuments.
Hiding in a restaurant booth in a downtown hotel, Butler continued. “EMILY’s List’s job is to [boost] candidate confidence, “she told them,” What you are asking for in your campaign is an investment that generates income in terms of how you are going to express yourself and manage. “
Butler’s organizational experience taught her perseverance – through tough campaigns, fierce opposition, backtracking, and slow, inch-by-inch progress.
Butler and his fellow Democrats will surely need it. The challenging electoral cycle is potentially even more disastrous after the party lost Tuesday’s gubernatorial race in Virginia and nearly stepped down as governor in New Jersey – the states that overwhelmingly voted for Joe Biden in 2020.
Butler talked about candidates who fled and lost, got punched in the nose, then got up and eventually won. She told stories of janitors, nurses, and others who had to fight for recognition before seeking power.
“Just look at our domestic health workers,” Butler said. “These women fought for this union for 12 years before it was recognized. And then they had to turn it into something that really improved their wages and working conditions.
“So, I think the labor movement helped me prepare, it was both the patience to play the long game and the ability to achieve victories along the way.”
Which, given the bleak prospects of the Democrats, is not at all stupid.