Here at GAIN Power, we are always looking to spotlight different political progressives and changemakers. If you or someone you know would like to be nominated, please fill out this form!
This week, we are spotlighting A’shanti Gholar, the President of Emerge. A’shanti is a winner of a 2023 Powerful IDEA Award for Nonprofit or Political Organization Manager/Leader.
Can you give a brief background and introduction about yourself and Emerge?
AG: I’m Ashanti Gholar. I’m the President of Emerge. I came to the network in 2006 as a co-founder and founding board member of Emerge Nevada. I came to the national organization in 2016 as the first political director and to help open up our D.C. office, and in February of 2020 I took over as president of the organization, the first black woman to lead the organization.
For almost 20 years, we have been the premier organization that recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office. We have trained women to run and win, in 45 states and territories. We have 5,500 women in our network and currently have over 1,200 that are serving in elected office. Through our signature program, our boot camps, our Step Forward program, we really start the process of demystifying what it takes for Democratic women to run for office and when, but most importantly, we provide them with a network of support. If they do our signature program or boot camp, they become our alums, and we are with them on their entire political journey. We have been extremely successful in the 2022 elections. We have a 71 overall percent win rate. And our alums that were for re-election have a 96% reelection rate.
What does your day-to-day work look like?
AG: Every day is extremely different.; it is one of the things that I love about this job. When I took over, it was right when the pandemic hit. So everything looked a lot different from what I had in my 90 day plan to where we’re at now, where it’s actually been a year since Roe fell, and we’re still grappling with access to abortion and reproductive health care.
My days really focus on making sure that we are letting people know that Democratic women are the answer at the federal, state and local level, which can include doing donor meetings to raise money for the organization, internal team meetings, traveling to speak about our work at different conferences and conventions, traveling to support affiliates on the ground. My favorite events at Emerge are the graduations; I feel it is really the heart and soul of what we do.
Every day is different, but every day is dedicated to making sure that Emerge is the strongest organization that it can be to making sure that our staff feel supported and their work, and that our alums continue to get the tools and the resources that they need to be great future candidates, candidates and elected officials.
Why did you choose this line of work?
AG: I never knew that this was going to be my path. I knew that I always loved politics, and I love the community side of politics. When I volunteered I always wanted to do the door knocking, I wanted to do phone banking. I really like the aspect of politics being for the people, and that’s where I always wanted to be. It really wasn’t until I was at the DNC in 2016–I was the National Deputy Director of Community Engagement and Director of African American Engagement–working closely with my colleague who did Women’s Engagement, and knew that women were the base of the Democratic Party. For me, Black women were the base of the Democratic Party, and we really made sure that our work was centered around women. But, there was always an area where women would call me asking for help and I couldn’t help them, and that’s when they wanted to run for office. It just deeply bothered me that I was in that position because of other women who saw things in me that I didn’t see in myself, who uplifted me and believed in me, and it just broke my heart every time I had to tell a woman that I couldn’t help with that.
I went home that night, and I just started doing some thinking, and I knew that I wanted my next role to really be with getting women politically and civically engaged. I put that out in the universe, and 2 days later Emerge posted the job description for a political director. I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do, and I’m just so blessed and grateful that, especially during this time, this is where I am with the attacks on women, the attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, everything that’s happening with voting rights. When you look around, women leaders are at the forefront of really protecting our rights of saving our democracy. We like to say that Emerge alums are the defenders of democracy, so to be able to do this during this time and to play this role, I absolutely love it.
How does your work and the work of Emerge impact the political climate we live in?
AG: We are the beginning of the political pipeline. You need elected officials that are out there doing the recruitment and the training. So it’s the very beginning. While we have our signature programs and the boot camps, one of the things that we have been really diving into is, how do we expand the role that we play and the recruitment and training? That has meant that we dive deeper into where we still need more work, where we can make a really definitive impact that no one else is paying attention to. You saw that with Gavel In, but we have our Women in Law Enforcement work, which we partner with the Democratic Attorneys General Association on their Women’s Initiative to get more women AGs. We know that we need more women sheriffs as well. So it’s been looking at where we need to help women who want to be in these political spaces.
We also have Seated Together, which is our advanced candidate training that focuses on Black women who are elected officials who are ready to run for higher office. It provides that area where we let women know that they don’t have to bloom where they’re planted, that the sky really is the limit, and help them with the extra tools and resources that they need, so they can run for higher office. And, right now we’re diving into school board work, because Democratic women, Black and Brown women, they are parents too, and they’re being erased from the conversation. So, when we’re talking about parents and parents’ rights, it’s not just the conservative viewpoints dominating the conversation and taking over these school board seats; we want to have that balance.
Is there anything you think campaigns should do or should stop? Why?
AG: If someone is managing people, they should get some management training. It is very disappointing to me when I still hear from young people, especially, who are working on campaigns saying that they’re being mistreated. If someone’s managing people, make sure they have managerial skills, make sure that you have HR, make sure that you have healthcare, make sure that you’re paying a decent wage. I just fundamentally don’t believe that people should have to go broke or not have healthcare or be treated poorly when they’re trying to improve our democracy. Make it so that people will want to continue to be in politics, because if you have a very bad first campaign experience, people just leave and quit, and we don’t need that. We need for everyone to want to continue to do this cycle after cycle, to move into management, to move into different organizations and to become leaders. But, that has to start with them first having a great campaign experience.
Lastly, for fun, if you could do another job for just one day, what would it be?
AG: I love astrology, so I would be an astrologist for the day. When I’m talking to my friends, when I’m talking to the team, someone will be like, “Oh, my gosh, A’shanti! What is going on in the world?” I love being able to tell them what planets are in retrograde and whatnot.