On a Saturday morning in November, about 75 women of all ages squeezed into a DU lecture hall, chatting with their neighbors while pulling out notepads and pens. Some wanted to assist—or even launch—a political campaign; others were just curious. "Do you have any idea what this is about?" said one college student to the woman next to her.
On the agenda that day were stories and advice from women who had gone through the presidential delegate selection process—a somewhat mystifying procedure that requires delegate hopefuls to attend a variety of events, make political contacts, and essentially run a small campaign. The training, called Delegate University, was cosponsored by a local group called the Latina Initiative and by the White House Project, a national organization dedicated to getting women more involved in politics.
On stage, Julia Hicks, an African-American woman flamboyantly dressed in red, white, and blue, said she's been attending political conventions since 1968, when she showed up in Chicago to protest the Vietnam War. Rebecca McClellan, a blonde soccer mom, passed out stickers and breakfast burritos to show how she wins over candidates at a district caucus. She went to her first one in 2004 just to check it out, and left as a newly elected delegate.
Delegates attend the national convention and vote for the party's candidate—though these days the actual vote is more of a show, since the candidate has already been decided by convention time. Delegates get to interact one-on-one with party officers and elected officials, and make connections that could help them eventually run for office.
The White House Project (WHP) grew out of the organizers' realization that many women are reluctant to get involved in politics because they don't know where to start and they lack role models. The WHP offers training programs to inspire women to run for office by giving them political skills and fund-raising savvy. It also is establishing a network of women who help each other break into the old boys' club on Capitol Hill by fostering connections among themselves and other politicians, and by sharing their experiences in running for office. Our political system needs more women, says Marie Wilson, founder and president of the WHP, because "our brains work differently. When you have women sitting down alongside men, you find new solutions to serious problems."
When women started calling up the WHP's Colorado Field Office last year, asking how they might attend the Democratic National Convention in Denver, the group saw a chance to take advantage of the buzz by setting up the delegate training program. "Being a delegate, you have a lot of power, even if it's not specifically about who is going to be the candidate," says Faith Winter, the WHP's national field director.
Belinda Butler-Veytia, one of the November attendees, grew up in a politically active family in Pueblo but drifted away from it during her young adulthood. Now the 30-year-old Westminster chemical engineer wants to get back into the game. "I've always said I wanted to be more involved, but I've not made time for it," she says. "With the convention being here I told myself, either buck up or quit."
In mid-November, Butler-Veytia announced her candidacy for delegate at the Adams County precinct meeting. She says the WHP training inspired her to take the delegate plunge, with an eye toward possibly running for office someday, by minimizing the intimidation factor. "People in politics don't care if you don't know everything [about running for a delegate position]," she says. "As long as you have energy and are willing to listen, you can learn a lot."