Bay Area Women in Politics Oral History Project celebrates launch with panel conversation

From left to right: Louise Renne, Shanelle Scales-Preston, Libby Schaaf

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The Bay Area Women in Politics Oral History Project celebrated its launch Wednesday with a livestreamed panel discussing the past and future of local women in politics.

Featured speakers include former San Francisco supervisor Louise Renne, Pittsburg Councilmember Shanelle Scales-Preston and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf talking about their experiences as women in politics. Throughout the panel, they also gave advice for leaders of the future.

“Some meetings I go to, sometimes I’m still the only woman in the room,” Scales-Preston said. “As we start to see more women, we’ll start to see more positive change.”

The event, moderated by campus historian and associate academic specialist Amanda Tewes, was hosted by the UC Berkeley Oral History Center, an extension of the Bancroft Library.

Developed by Tewes, the project will record the histories of local women who have made both “on the ground and behind the scenes” contributions to local politics, according to a UC Berkeley Library website. During the panel conversation, the speakers highlighted other local women in politics who have most inspired their own careers, including Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris and Barbara Boxer.

“I don’t know anybody who can honestly say there hasn’t been somebody in their life who helped them along,” Renne said. “We have to take particular time out to think, ‘How do we go about reaching out and helping others who are in need right now?’ ”

According to Schaaf, studies have shown that women often need to be asked several times to run for office before they decide to run. The panelists thus encouraged viewers to support the women in their lives who may be considering future roles in politics.

Each member of the panel expressed how important it is for women in politics to uplift one another and make space for those who don’t fit the “dominant” characteristics of political leaders. Schaaf added that some of the first people to check in on her after her house was vandalized last week were Feinstein and Harris.

“I never dreamed of being in elected office. … Trust your values and your gut and it will take you in the right direction,” Schaaf said. “So many women have blazed the trail and punched through those glass ceilings for us.”

Among talks of transforming the workplace, the panelists also discussed the need for diversity, equity and inclusion both in political career spaces and internship programs.

Schaaf credited the Emerge America program as the reason she initially ran for mayor, stating that it was both the professional training and the sisterhood that made the experience “life-changing.”

“Right now, we need good leadership in this country,” Schaaf said. “We’ve got to keep people in love with democracy.”

Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @skylardepaul.