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Congresswoman Cheri Bustos on How To Get More Women in Politics

American flag waving in the wind

Photo by Jonathan Simcoe on Unsplash


Despite the fact that we’re far from having equal representation in government—women make up just 20% of Congress, and we haven’t had a  female Commander in Chief to date—we have a record number of women running for office in 2018. Having a government that more accurately reflects the population will help push legislation forward to better reflect our wants and needs, from supporting equal pay to advocating for mandatory parental leave to greater protection against sexual harassment.
In the Girls’ Lounge at Advertising Week, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (Illinois) shared what she has learned as she navigated the male-dominated arena that is the American political system. Here are her top insights on how we can activate change, together.

Listen to the People Around You

To get to the heart of the real issues, never underestimate the power of listening. Bustos is the type of politician who wanders the isles at grocery stores to talk to people, and says, “I work very hard to listen a lot more than I talk.” This quality allows her to feel that she is truly representing the people around her, and is in touch with the issues that are important to her constituents.
“They want to make sure their families have a chance to move ahead, they want to make sure they can afford healthcare, the corruption that is out of control in Washington? They want to see a stop to that.”

Include All Perspectives

Though it is evident that we need more female representation in Congress, Bustos does not exclude all the other ways in which diversity should be reflected.
“We ought to have representation in Congress that better reflects our nation. That comes from an age perspective, an occupational perspective, gender perspective, ethnic perspective, etc.”
“If we in congress better reflected America, think about what a better nation we would be. Because that also requires that half of the House and Senate would be women.”

Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-IL) talks women in politics with Stephanie Ruhle, anchor for MSNBC Live and correspondent for NBC News, in the Girls' Lounge at Advertising Week.

Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-IL) talks women in politics with Stephanie Ruhle, anchor for MSNBC Live and correspondent for NBC News, in the Girls’ Lounge at Advertising Week.

Let The Truth Be Your Guiding Light

When Bustos speaks with people, she says their most common sentiment is, ‘Can you just get something done; and can you just try to work together?’
She says, “…so many issues divide, in areas like mine…you want to find the issues that unite.”
Bustos uses the example of the Kavanaugh hearing: “…it was thought that the democrats should do everything to raise up Dr. Blasey Ford, and on the other side there was a feeling to do everything to tear her down.” She takes the focus away from the division, and says, “It ought to be the desire to get to the truth, that should be what the guiding light is.”

Mobilize Your Community

Bustos started a political outreach program called Build The Bench. It consists of free, all-day bootcamps that teach candidates running at all levels of government the tools and information they need to run a successful campaign. “The fundamentals of how to run, and how to win…they walk away and they’ve learnt the fundamentals of grassroots organizing, messaging, social media and fundraising.”
She says, “I recruit women, young people, and people of color primarily because those are all areas where we are underrepresented.”
As Bustos says, “as much as everybody hates money and politics…now you’ve got to have your resources together in order to win.” Build The Bench has an incredible success rate: 71%  of those who have participated in the bootcamps ran for office and won.
For more on how to overcome obstacles and be a change agent, check out:
Why We Need More Women in Politics: Advice from US Congresswomen
Women Rising: How To Succeed in Male-Dominated Industries
What If: The Students of Parkland on How We Can Create Change, Together