I am the child of a sharecropper’s son and a coal miner’s daughter. The mining industry and union struggle are embedded in my family. I came to the Minnesota Iron Range as a young teen after my parents worked hard to realize the American dream by moving out of the Appalachian Mountain poverty in which I was raised. I stayed here even after watching my high school classmates leave, excited to spread their wings. When I was laid off in the early 2000s, I again watched as many of my peers left to seek work elsewhere. My husband and I chose to stay and obtain job retraining and raise our family here.
In 2008, I was in my twenties with two young children at home, and I watched as my city council made decisions that affected my family. The council members did not look like me or have life experiences I could relate to. Local policies were not always created with my perspective or needs in mind. I remember being frustrated thinking that if council members knew what it was like to have young children, to have lost a job, maybe they would lead differently. But what could I do? I was not wealthy. I had concerns about decisions I had made in my youth that made me think I could not become involved. I did not have an advanced college degree or own a business. I was not one of “them.”
Then I was introduced to Vote Run Lead. I met others like me — not polished politicians — including a tribal chair who had been a young single mother and was involved in politics early in her life. If she could do it, so could I. I could run for office. I could lead my community. I could use my life experience to craft policies that work for families like mine. I ran for city councilor and won.
My experiences had an impact. Me, my husband and nearly 200 other community members were furloughed from a company that was provided monetary incentives and tax breaks to locate in our community. Unfortunately, the company left after two years. Once I was a city councilor, I worked to ensure such incentives in our corporate recruitment agreements included covenants for length of time, number of jobs, and worker pay.
Years later, I am still working with women as the Vote Run Lead director for Minnesota, leading an initiative to shift our legislature to majority women, called RUN/51. While women are 51% of the population in Minnesota, we only represent about 30% of our government. This leaves out a myriad of life experiences that should inform policy statewide.
I spent this summer meeting with incredible women from across the state that feel the way I did back in 2008. These women are ready for a change but unsure how to make it happen or if they are the “right person” to run.
Each woman’s unique perspective positions them to bring forward innovative solutions to the critical issues we all face, like paid family leave, broadband and childcare infrastructure, and education and democratic reform. Vote Run Lead is here to give each of them the tools they need to run and how to win. In the 2020 election, we had a 54% win rate overall. In Minnesota, approximately 41% of the women in the current state legislature, and nearly 54% of the women of color legislators, are our alumnae.
With 201 state legislative seats, we need to shift 30 seats to women by 2024 to have 51% women. We can do it. We have the data, tools, and expertise behind us and we know women across the state are ready to lead. If you are one of them, join us this Saturday, September 25 for “RUN/51 Minnesota: What it Takes to Win in 2022.” Women will get winning strategies on how to launch their campaign, while not losing themselves in the process, and be inspired by Senator Erin Murphy and Alberder Gillespie, president of Black Women Rising. Whether you are thinking about a run, are a candidate or a campaign staffer, we encourage you to attend.
Beth Peterson (she/her) is passionate about reducing poverty in rural Northeast Minnesota. She has successfully advocated for policy changes that directly affect the ability of women and girls to move to self-sufficiency, from early childhood education and access to non-traditional career pathways. Beth has run numerous political campaigns, is a founding Board member of Rural and American Indigenous Leadership (RAIL), and served one-term as City Councilor in Eveleth, Minnesota.