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Galvanized by Trump’s win, Massachusetts women plan political campaigns

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Megan Beyer always planned to run for office someday. Having just finished law school and passed the bar exam, she was anticipating a campaign in the next five or 10 years.

Then along came Donald Trump and his election’s accompanying parade of indignities.

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There was the mockery of a female politician’s face, of a former Miss Universe’s weight gain, of a female journalist’s tough questions. There were the vulgar boasts about groping women, and the nation’s willingness to overlook all those factors in electing Trump over his opponent, the first woman ever nominated for president by a major political party.

“The Trump election really was the deciding point for me. I decided I couldn’t wait,” said Beyer, who is 25.

The sputtering outrage that ignited massive Women’s Marches and political demonstrations around the world on Jan. 21 has now sparked a more pointed and purposeful movement: Political campaigns. Shocked by the lessons of the presidential election, women who were previously content being dinner party firebrands are thrusting themselves into the center of political action and learning how to launch candidacies of their own.

The candidate training program Beyer is now attending, Emerge Massachusetts, saw a surge of applications in the days following the election, and doubled in size to accommodate twice the usual number of women — 48 — this year. And that was just in Massachusetts.

The organization, which works in 17 states to boost the number of Democratic women in office, saw applications spike 87 percent this year over last, with most of the interest coming after the election, said Emerge America communications director Allison Abney.

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A social media campaign that Emerge launched in September, using video clips of women already in office encouraging others to learn how to run, drew interest from 35 women in the six weeks before the election.

Since the election, another 640 signed up, expressing interest in learning how to run for office.

Throughout it all is a sense of urgency. Beyer is typical: “I know I’m on the younger end of the political scale, and I really wasn’t planning on running until 30 to 35,” she said. “But he’s not stopping, so neither should we.”

Dispiriting as the election was to many women, some found it emboldening. Manisha Bewtra, 36, a Melrose mother and city planner, said she suddenly can’t come up with a good reason to wait; she hasn’t yet claimed a candidacy, but is training to be ready.

Karen Foster said she is no longer as afraid of opening up herself and her family to scrutiny through a campaign; in the next year or so, she plans to launch a campaign for municipal office in Western Massachusetts. Already, she has seen a boost of confidence and assertiveness in her work and she has begun selling herself better, speaking out.

Celia Segel, foreground, and Julie Flowers, center, listened to feedback from a "voter."

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Celia Segel, foreground, and Julie Flowers, center, listened to feedback from a “voter.”

“On Nov. 9, I got it,” Foster said. “I’m 38 years old. I’ve spent 38 years old being relatively diplomatic, quiet and polite. Look where that got me.”

In a different way, Tayla Andre said Trump motivated her to run for office.

“If that man could be president, then I could definitely affect change in my community,” said Andre, 33, a Roxbury mother and radio host who works as a real estate agent. “I never felt qualified. I never thought I spoke eloquently enough. But when he got elected? It doesn’t matter. Anybody can run at this point.”

That said, she acknowledges she has a lot to learn, and she is trying to build her confidence through the training.

On a recent Sunday, in a downtown office hallway, she and other candidates-in-waiting learned the delicate art of door-knocking. Trainers waited down hallways or behind closed doors, playing the role of voters who were by turn noncommittal, overly agreeable, or downright hostile.

When Andre approached trainer Jordan Berg Powers, he answered the door with a gruff, “Yeah, what do you want? I’m not buying anything.”

“Well I’m not selling,” said Andre.

When Powers said he hated politicians, Andre agreed with him.

“That’s exactly why I’m running,” she said. “Because I’m just like you. I’m sick and tired of all the lies, all the BS. I can’t stand any of them. They don’t fight for anything I believe in.”

“Great. I agree. Is that it?” he said, eager to end the interaction.

She protested, wavered, but she couldn’t summon the words Powers was waiting to hear: “Can I count on your vote?”

That quickly, she had lost him and her head was hanging low.

“I don’t take well to rejection, Jordan,” she said, breaking role.

Stephanie Martins, a real estate agent from Everett, got a different lesson when she approached a “voter” who had plenty to say — about her dog, her nice neighbor, her daughter who was devastated by the “soul-crushing” election. Each time Martins asked for her vote, the woman parried with an enthusiastic anecdote. Recognizing the woman was never going to commit, Martins had to politely back away.

She wanted to be empathetic, Martins said, but she recognized the pattern. “I worked in customer service for Bank of America for seven years,” she said. “I was mainly doing therapy.”

Martins, who is currently running for City Council in Everett, is one of a few Emerge trainees who has already launched a campaign. Many of the other women now in training are still deciding when and where they will run. Most will end up as candidates on the state or local levels, rather than aiming for higher office.

Karen Foster, center, flanked by Megan Beyer, left, and Elizabeth Pimentel, listened during a presentation.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Karen Foster, center, flanked by Megan Beyer, left, and Elizabeth Pimentel, listened during a presentation.

But the number of women at all levels of elective office remains low. Ten of the Everett City Council’s 11 current members are men. Massachusetts has had only one female governor — Jane Swift, who was elevated from lieutenant governor to fill a vacancy — and three additional lieutenant governors, including the current officeholder, Karyn Polito.

While the share of women elected to Congress has increased over the past two decades, Massachusetts has sent only six women to Congress, including the three currently serving, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representatives Niki Tsongas and Katherine Clark.

About a quarter of Massachusetts state legislators are women — a share that has remained roughly the same for nearly two decades, according to data from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Similarly, over that time, the share of women elected to state legislatures and executive positions across the country has leveled off at less than a quarter.

Despite those statistics, Julie Flowers had allowed herself to believe that 2016 would be the year America elected a woman president. “And then it wasn’t,” she said. She was devastated, feeling as if voters had concluded, “ ‘No, we are not ready to see a woman in that position of power,’ ” said Flowers, 37, a Beverly mother and pastor.

“I spent a few days crying, sad, trying to figure out what that meant for me as a woman in America,” she said.

Then her long-deferred dream of leadership resurfaced. After all, a friend goaded her, she kept saying more women should run. Why didn’t she?

The election, she said, “was a step back, this was getting knocked down. There’s two choices: You can stay knocked down or you can get back up and keep going.”

Flowers views the spike in candidate interest and the furious outcry at the women’s marches as hopeful signs that women will persevere.

“Nevertheless,” she said, borrowing the feminist rallying cry that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell inadvertently created last week after silencing Warren on the Senate floor, “we’re persisting.”

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert



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