Photo Credit: Sarah Butcher
HomeFront Rising promised to be a ground-breaking seminar introducing military spouses to a crash-course in politics and campaigning, and last Tuesday, it delivered.
The powerhouse event, co-conceived by InGear and MSJDN, was attended by close to seventy military spouses at the Reserve Officers Association in the heart of DC. With the number of panels, speakers and valuable knowledge and insight presented by the speakers, the event could have easily spanned a week, but instead, the turn arounds were fast and speakers often ushered from the panel or podium to make way for other equally impressive names, fitting the seminar nicely, if a bit hurriedly, into an 8:30am-5pm day.
In case you missed the star-studded lineup of political heavy weights and DC insiders, here are some highlights of the day and the major takeaways the day’s speakers and panelists.
Congresswoman Niki Tsongas: “Women can’t win if women don’t run”
The representative from Massachusetts set the tone for the day by starting out strong. Encouraging spouses to run, she fielded a question from the audience asking how military spouses can go from ground zero to running for political office given the transient nature of military life. Her response: “No matter what we’re doing at the policy level, we can make an extraordinary difference on the ground.”
Crafting Your Pitch Panel: Joel Silberman, Democracy Partners
Mr. Silberman, a media trainer and message strategist, encouraged military spouses to remember that values unite, while issues divide. Regardless of your resume, as a military spouse, you can connect to voters through the values you all share, he adds. Use the issue to build your sixty second “elevator pitch” that explains who you are and what you stand for, and build relationships everywhere you go.
Message from Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina:
Via recorded message, Governor Haley spoke to HomeFront Rising attendees and urged spouses to run. “There is a place for you (in politics),” she said, “the best thing you can do to get involved is believe in yourself and trust your gut.”
Building a Public Image panel: Kelly Landis, Joel Silberman, Gabriela Domenzain
Gabriela Domenzain, leading expert on Hispanic media and National Spokesperson from the 2012 Obama reelection campaign, succinctly reminded attendees that “you are an issue expert-only you know what it’s like to be a military spouse”. Though the message resonated throughout the day, Kelly Landis and Joel Silberman furthered the point by reminding us that third party validation (social media) helps spread our message, and that authenticity creates credibility. Takeaway: the perspective of a military spouse is unique and underrepresented, and being true to the values you deem important fosters trust.
Money-What it Takes to Win panel: Robert Amakis, Stephanie Salvgano, Nicole Eynard
Get comfortable asking for money, because that’s what it takes to win. The insight from this panel boiled it down to three major points: 1) know the cost of the race, 2) be prepared to invest in your own campaign, and understand that private finances are no longer private once you’ve begun your campaign, 3) Create a fundraising network now as transient spouses by volunteering or working with local organizations that have a national presence.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard:
The representative from Hawaii spoke during lunch to an awe-struck crowd. The youngest to have been elected to the Hawaiian State Legislature (at age 21), Congresswoman Gabbard was elected to Congress after two tours in Iraq. Having grown up with a deep sense of service, she was inspired to run for state office and started her campaign with nothing more than black and white flyers and a bundle of nerves as she went door to door to ask for support. “If I can do it,” she says, “so can you.”
Church Hutton, aide to Senator John McCain:
“You have identified a need for servicemen and women that does not exist,” he encouraged attendees, “and this will change the way the DoD will do business”.
Kathleen Shanahan, former Chief of Staff to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
With amazing stories of her long career in politics, Kathleen Shanahan proved that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Starting out operating the elevator to the Senate floor, Ms. Shanahan has worked with everyone from Colin Powell to Dick Cheney. She ended her panel by reminding the audience “I wouldn’t mind helping anyone out that has the military spouse community in their corner.”
The Old Boys Club vs. Modern Politics: Tom Manastos, Lorelie Masters, Kate Farrar, Margaret Kimbrell
The knowledge and experience of this panel was vast, and the questions from the moderator provided enough material for several day’s worth of information. Primarily, it came down to this:
Lori Masters: “You can always leverage time spend with people; it’s like investing in yourself. Contacts you make follow you everywhere.”
Kate Farrar: “Diverse teams create better outcomes.”
Margaret Kimbrell: “A small group of people can have just as powerful an impact-it’s all about persistence.”
Tom Manastos: “In every networking opportunity, try to ask for another person to talk to so you keep building your network and building contacts.”
Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth
The representative from Illinois was met with thunderous applause. The congresswoman, a double amputee and one of the first women to fly combat missions, wheeled herself to the podium and then stood to speak, announcing that she had just arrived from the vote in the House to repeal COLA. The room erupted and then quickly hushed, each spouse hanging on the congresswoman’s every word. Her plea to run came in the form of these words:
“We have a responsibility to do more. I’m here to tell you to run, I want to work with you-if you’re a republican, I’ll double down, I need you even more. I need someone I can work with across the aisle. We need you there; we need your perspective and your voice. When someone came to save my life in the helicopter, I didn’t ask if they were a republican or a democrat, if they were straight or gay, black or white. I didn’t care; I was just so grateful that they were going to save my life. We have an obligation to do more for those that didn’t make it home. We need you. Run.”
She left to a standing ovation.
The day was short on time and long on politicians and insiders looking for military spouses to run, to work with them, to work for them, and to present a perspective that, as was mentioned in almost every panel and by every speaker, is underrepresented.
The takeaway: You, military spouse, can offer something that other candidates cannot. You can offer insight into the military life. You can protect what you value. You can be a force for change.
You can run.