Durham County

The rise of progressive young women in the age of Trump

Simone Allen, Colyn Martin and Akanke Mason-Hogans, all 16, are in Rise to Run, a progressive political organization.
Simone Allen, Colyn Martin and Akanke Mason-Hogans, all 16, are in Rise to Run, a progressive political organization. dvaughan@heraldsun.com

The girls are rising up. In small groups across the country, Rise to Run is getting teenage girls and college-age women to start thinking about running for office.

One of four pilot hubs in the U.S. is in Durham.

It’s just a few girls right now who gather Monday mornings at their school, J.D. Clement Early College High School, a Durham Public Schools magnet school on the N.C. Central University campus.

President Donald Trump comes up at meetings and just at school every day.

Akanke Mason-Hogans, 16: “It’s crazy he’s still pushing his wall. You think he’d drop it by now.”

Simone Allen, 16: “You know he always has something to say.”

Colyn Martin, 16: “Anything is better than Trump, than the government we have now.”

Rise to Run’s national board includes Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America; Carmen Perez and Bob Bland, co-chairs of the Womens March; U.S. Rep. Pramilia Jayapal (D-Washington), and educator and activist Brittany Packnett.

Packnett is a co-founder of Stay Woke and Campaign Zero. She also protested in Ferguson, Missouri, after the fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer in 2014, that galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Ferguson was a reminder, I think, to the entire world that young people have a voice and a necessary one,” Packnett said. She said Millennial women can use their talents and skills to pressure decision makers and “make sure people do not move on from this fight.”

Activist and Rise to Run advisory board member Brittany Packnett. Reginald Cunningham Pure Black Photos

Packnett back Hillary Clinton for president but says Clinton’s loss need not stall women in politics.

“There can be a thousand Hillarys at all levels of government,” she said. There are so many young progressive women, especially women of color who didn’t previously see themselves as part of the system, she said. Rise to Run is changing that.

“It took so long for women to see themselves in these positions – not just to run but to win, and not just to win but to govern well,” Packnett said.

In Durham, the city council is majority women, with four out of seven members. Of the four women, three are African-American and one is Latina. The Durham County Board of Commissioners is also majority women.

The next president

In less than two years, the teenagers in Rise to Run will be voters.

They remember Barack Obama’s presidency, but not much of George W. Bush, who left office when they were 7 years old.

As for Trump, the conversation at school goes back and forth between “it’s the end of the world” and “who’s the next president going to be?”

Mason-Hogans doesn’t think Trump will win a second term. “The question is how much damage can he do in the next few years,” she said.

They’re already thinking about who will be the next president and the qualifications those running should have..

The candidates should be able to show their community service experience, like “Have you ever just been a mayor somewhere?” Allen said. “I just hope Joe Biden comes back.”

Biden’s popularity comes from Instagram memes, she said. Allen and Mason-Hogans think Biden would have won the presidency if he hadn’t dropped out when his son died.

Mason-Hogans said she’s like to see U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters run for president.

“I want a female president,” Allen said.

Allen said she’s always wanted to be a lawyer, and as a lawyer she’d think about going into politics one day. She joined the Rise to Run club because she’s a bossy, assertive woman, she said.

Martin holds elected office now, in her school. She is the SGA president. What surprised her about the job is “how much work you have to put in and the work people don’t see,” Martin said.

Mason-Hogans is interested in science and doesn’t see herself running for office. But she’d work on a campaign and support policy changes on mass incarceration, immigration and other issues.

Who are we going to choose?

Simone Allen, 16, on the 2020 presidential election

Changing the culture

Durham’s Rise to Run was started by Kaaren Haldeman, who recently applied for the open Durham City Council seat. She didn’t get it, but she’s still working to get other women into elected office. Haldeman is a Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America community organizer, and Rise to Run’s national chair is the founder of Moms Demand.

For Haldeman, Rise to Run is about developing relationships to support women running for office. It’s also to change the idea of what politics could be, and changing the culture of politics.

“If there’s a silver lining to this presidency, it’s that it is making everyone active,” Haldeman said.

Monica Allen is on the Rise to Run Durham advisory board and the mother of Simone Allen.

“Simone has become more aware, and this group has encouraged her to become more outspoken,” Monica Allen said. “It’s an excitement. It’s ignited something I knew was there.”

This spring, Rise to Run Durham plans to start recruiting and forming a group of N.C. Central University students.

“I think the best way to get a woman to do something is to tell us there’s something we can’t do,” Packnett said. Rise to Run is a way people can not just pay more attention to what’s going on but contribute to making it better. That could be showing up to march, to volunteer, to work on a campaign or to run themselves.

Rise to Run wants a hub in each state by 2020. That’s the same year of the next presidential election.

Helen Brosnan, director of Rise to Run, is based in Washington, D.C. and said there’s a new generation that wants to get off the sidelines, but doesn’t know exactly what that means.

“We’re unusual in that we’re not hoping for electoral wins right away,” she said. “The ultimate goal is we have these girls in the pipeline [to run] five years from now, 10 years from now.”

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan