Even as a child, before she learned that women didn’t always have the right to vote, A'shanti Gholar, ’05 BA Political Science, observed that something wasn’t quite right in American politics.
“I was one of those really weird kids where it was all, ‘Why watch ‘Sesame Street’ when you can watch C-SPAN and all these amazing people fighting for what's best for the country?’” she recalled. “But even at a young age, I realized there weren't a lot of women in those chambers and there certainly weren't a lot of women who looked like me."
As she grew older, the native Nevadan began to take up those fights herself.
In a government class at Durango High School, a visiting candidate said he had voted to raise the minimum wage. Gholar called him out, knowing he had not. The candidate, who later admitted he was embarrassed about having been confronted, argued with Gholar in front of the class. So, she volunteered on the campaign of his opponent, who won.
"For me, that was the moment when I realized, OK, I was young, I was a girl, and I couldn't vote yet, but I still had the opportunity to influence other people's votes," she recalled.
Gholar went on to gain extensive experience in politics in Nevada and at the national level, including serving as national deputy director of community engagement and director of African American engagement for the Democratic National Committee. She is now political director of Emerge America, which recruits and supports women to run for office. This year is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, being passed by Congress (May in the House, June in the Senate). And 2020 is the centennial of the amendment being made law (Aug. 26).
A record number of women were elected to Congress in 2018 and, largely because of that, a record number of women are now serving in Congress. Moreover, largely because of the 2018 elections, a record number of women are now serving in state legislatures across the country. And candidates from Emerge Nevada, which Gholar co-founded, helped Nevada in December 2018 become the first majority-female state legislature.
"Without a doubt, we have absolutely made progress, and I feel every year it does get better and better," said Gholar who, as a result of her work with the College Democrats at UNLV, got her first job in politics working for Shelley Berkley, who served in the U.S. House from 1999 to 2013.
Gholar also noted that in 2018, the first Native American women (two of them) and the first Muslim women (also two) were elected to Congress. "But that reminds us that we still have a long way to go if it's 2018 and we're still getting these firsts," she said.
Going forward, women need to stay involved, Gholar said. They can influence elected officials by helping run boards and advocacy groups in schools, churches, and the general community.
"We really have to redefine what is community leadership, because you don't have to hold an elected office in order to be making changes in your community,” she said.
At the same time, more women need to run for office and women need to support those candidates, Gholar said.
"When women run for office, they win at equal rates as men,” she said. “We just don't have enough women running."