Every Day Is Election Day: A Woman's Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House

Every Day Is Election Day: A Woman's Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House

by Rebecca Sive

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Every Day Is Election Day is a practical, inspirational guide for women who want to achieve political leadership and influence public policy. In her no-nonsense, woman-to-woman style, public affairs strategist and consultant Rebecca Sive offers insider advice for women’s daily lives as advocates, candidates, and powerbrokers. This accessible primer


Every Day Is Election Day is a practical, inspirational guide for women who want to achieve political leadership and influence public policy. In her no-nonsense, woman-to-woman style, public affairs strategist and consultant Rebecca Sive offers insider advice for women’s daily lives as advocates, candidates, and powerbrokers. This accessible primer explains how to surmount public barriers, conquer private fears, and run a campaign with humor, confidence, and no apologies. Sive provides tips for realizing the power of sisterhood, bankrolling oneself, creating an inimitable brand, and getting men to accept a take-charge personality. She also shares the secrets of success, and frank suggestions from women who have led, run, and won, including US senators Mary Landrieu and Debbie Stabenow; Planned Parenthood Federation of America president Cecile Richards; Cook County, Illinois, board president Toni Preckwinkle; feminist activist Shelby Knox; and many others. Whether you want to become more actively involved in the issues you care about, or you’re considering a run for a PTA position, board president, US senator or beyond, Every Day Is Election Day will inspire you to stand up, stand out, and treat each day as part of a winning campaign.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In her frank and practical first book, public affairs strategist Sive, former commissioner of the Illinois Human Rights Commission, provides a clear and persuasive roadmap to female political success, whether it manifests as a PTA election or political office. Breaking the process into four main stages—Every Day is Election Day, Take on The Big Boys, You Can Never Care Too Much and Confront, Co-opt and Control—the author lays out critical strategies, such as effective and specific goal-setting, creating a winning mental state, and compromising with perceived enemies. Offering the precedent-breaking strategies of Senators Mary Landrieu, Amy Klobuchar, and others, Sive holds out a helping hand to women in the political arena. She also strongly advocates to other women the importance of realizing their worth in every aspect of their lives. Sive’s facts-based treatise, which includes a foreword by FDR’s granddaughter, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, provides a practical guide for any woman looking to break the political glass ceiling. Agent: Laurie Abkemeier, DeFiore and Company. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

“[Sive] brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and wisdom to the subject, and she has the credibility to give sound guidance to women who seek public office and an influential voice in the public square.” —Debbie Walsh, Director of Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP)

"Every Day Is Election Day is a good blend of personal, and behind the scenes, anecdotes with extrapolated, actionable lessons learned." —Christie Hefner, executive chairman of Canyon Ranch Enterprises, and board member, Center for American Progress Action Fund

"Think you could make better decisions than the leaders who are running things now? Through the inspiring stories of women who won office despite heavy odds, Every Day is Election Day offers valuable advice, strategies and encouragement for anyone who aspires to rise in leadership." —Clarence Page, Pulitzer Prize-winning Syndicated Columnist

“Essential reading for aspiring female policymakers and political leaders.” —Kirkus

“A clear and persuasive roadmap to female political success.” —Publishers Weekly

"While I have yet to set my eye on political office, I still found Sive's advice helpful in the workplace, as it can apply to any situation in which a woman is looking to become a leader, especially in environments dominated by men." —Adrienne Urbanski, Bust

"Every Day Is Election Day is the Lean In of the political world." —Lisa Madigan, Illinois Attorney General

"Every Day Is Election Day is terrific. Advocates like Rebecca Sive—dedicated to educating and empowering the next generation of women leaders—make me so confident in our country's future."  —Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood

Kirkus Reviews
An activist and public affairs strategist's intelligent, no-nonsense guide for women seeking to hold elected office. While feminist movements have helped women make inroads into the halls of power, the world of politics is still dominated by males. In this take-charge guide, Sive offers practical advice to women on organizing successful political campaigns that can help women become anything from PTA presidents to U.S. senators and beyond. Using her own experiences along with stories from political women at the municipal, state and national levels, Sive tackles such issues as branding, image management, networking, fundraising, handling the media and dealing with the challenges of gender. Women must learn to shrug off sexist criticisms ("If being blunt and efficient means being called a bitch, so what?") but also be ready to "haul out the pink sweater" when necessary. They must also learn to play hardball if they want to win since "softball is only played at campaign photo-ops." At the same time, women must also know when to put aside differences and negotiate compromises. Failure is an inevitable part of the process as well. And to be successful, women candidates need to be able to transform loss into an opportunity for a future win. Above all, women must adopt a no-limits attitude to achieve power. The higher the position they seek, the more likely it is that they will have to make sacrifices, including those affecting the work-life balance. Commitment to a political life is no easy task, as Sive makes abundantly clear. Yet leadership positions for women are now not only possible, but necessary since the laws that benefit women ultimately benefit their families and everyone whose lives they touch. Essential reading for aspiring female policymakers and political leaders.

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Read an Excerpt

Every Day Is Election Day

A Woman's Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House

By Rebecca Sive

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2013 The Sive Group, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61374-665-3


Six easy rules

When I first began to imagine writing a guide for women running for office, I went to the bookshelf above my desk for inspiration. I homed in on these titles: Unbought and Unbossed by Shirley Chisholm, a Democratic candidate for president in 1972 and the first African American woman to serve in Congress; Crusade for Justice, the autobiography of antilynching activist Ida B. Wells; and My Life, the autobiography of Golda Meir, the only woman prime minister of Israel and only the third woman ever to hold that position in any country. These memoirs are all by powerful women who were fully engaged in the world, fighting to fulfill their personal dreams.

While I was writing, I kept the following books close by: Sisterhood Is Powerful by Robin Morgan, The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life by Jennifer Worick, The Gospel According to Coco Chanel by Karen Karbo and Chesley McLaren, and Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. All the authors look straight ahead, without blinders, completely aware of what they need to accomplish. They're all suited up for battle, ready to fight for what's rightfully theirs, which is what Barbara Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in the US Senate, asked of all women after her bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act, failed to pass in 2012. No wishful thinking, no believing that success comes without sweating it out, no illusions about the competition or the discipline that will be required. No matter how inspired they are by the opportunity they seek, they remain clear-eyed and practical.

In Skinny Bitch, there's a drawing of a cupcake with devil's horns and tail. The mandate is clear: if you want to be skinny, don't eat cake. While there aren't any line drawings illustrating my key premises, I think they're equally clear.

Here's number one: if you want to be a winner, you have to want it really bad.

My dear friend, neighbor, and longtime mentor Ilana Diamond Rovner, the first woman judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, has a simple answer for how she beat all the politically connected men who'd wanted the same jobs she did. Of course she had to study hard, work harder, and make friends with important people who needed her help. But above all, she says, "It comes down to one word: desire."

She goes on: "And I mean raw desire — pure, raw desire."

You gotta want it — bad.

Rule number two is echoed in an article in the October 2012 issue of Vogue entitled "The Voice." The article profiles Florida member of the US House of Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the first woman to be elected chair of the Democratic National Committee. The profile offers a lot of inspiring material: Wasserman Schultz is a breast cancer survivor who kept her illness a secret because, she says, "I just knew there would be well-meaning people who would decide not to ask me to do things because I was going through cancer. I wanted to decide what I was capable of doing." She is a mother of three children who nevertheless pays close attention to others' needs, according to NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, who is Wasserman Schultz's friend and also a breast-cancer survivor. But the most telling line is at the article's end, when author Jacob Weisberg says, "It would be foolish to bet against her." That's because of Wasserman Schultz's work ethic: "I might not always convince you that I'm right, and I might not always win the day or be successful on everything I set out to accomplish, but I'm never going to lose because I got outworked." Politicians may rest a little on the seventh day, but they never really quit. That's rule number two. You've got to outwork the competition.

The third rule of Every Day Is Election Day is that you will have to win the same way men do. When voters pull the lever or when governors or mayors or school-board presidents make an appointment, they are aware of the candidate's gender. For political reasons of their own or because this woman candidate is making history (as so many do), these voters or officials may even choose to stand with the female candidate on the ticket. That kind of consideration might improve your odds, but it won't be sufficient to win. (Sarah Palin, anyone?) That's because decision makers give the greatest weight to the case you've made. Does your case statement stack up at the top of the pile when it's compared to others'?

Making great speeches isn't a substitute for knowing who your voters are and getting them to turn out on Election Day. Believing in worthy causes isn't a substitute for sensible policy solutions. Learning that "money is the mother's milk of politics" is a prerequisite. There is no "kinder and gentler" way to win in politics that women have and men don't. Campaign tactics are uniform, though the group at which they are targeted differs from one campaign to the next. This is the practical fact.

There are, however, campaign strategies you can deploy that take into account your understanding of women's lives. For instance, being a wife or mother might come into play, as can issues that concern women or the unique alliances you can build among women and with other women leaders because of your shared experience. These realities enable women candidates to create campaign messages or organizing and fund-raising programs that take gender into account in a winning way. Women candidates can do just what, for instance, African American or Hispanic or Jewish candidates do (and Irish and Italian candidates have done even longer): target their community for special understanding and support. And because our life experience differs from men's in fundamental ways that are both biological and cultural, there are ways to win that don't run so much against (female) type that no one will listen to you. You can win with women and for women, and that's my fourth rule.

Rule number five: success in politics is not a one-off. It is a marathon, not a sprint. However, only marathoners willing to switch it up occasionally and sprint when necessary will be successful. Consider an unexpected resignation. Consider the special election because an incumbent has died. You need to be ready for opportunities when they present themselves. Get ready for a marathon career, not a race from a standing start. It won't happen — it never does.

The key to winning an elected or appointed office isn't staking out positions and advocating for them, regardless of the practical realities of getting those positions adopted. That job is for gadflies and true believers. The most effective women leaders are adept at working with other public leaders because they appreciate the constraints of leadership and know how to work within them to achieve beneficial public ends. The art of politics, whether campaigning or governing, is the art of being practical at almost all costs, including making compromises — big ones. If you can't handle that kind of thing, pass this book along to your girlfriend who can.

In the year Jan Schakowsky, a pro-choice member of the US House of Representatives and past Democratic cochair of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, was first elected to Congress, she supported an Illinois gubernatorial candidate who was anti-choice. She asked her supporters to do the same. Most sucked it up and supported him because this particular alliance would enhance Schakowsky's leadership. Though he didn't win, Schakowsky's support did enhance her statewide and subsequent national leadership, including advancing her pro-choice agenda. And she's been a national leader for more than a decade since. Not a bad trade-off. Rule number six: The process of leading and/or governing will be different from the process of advocating.

Consider these your strategic imperatives wherever you find yourself.


Dream big; then set your goals and make a plan

Your dream will inform everything you do to achieve it. You can't win if you don't know what you want. Chances are your dreams don't stop at being vice president. But that doesn't mean achieving second best isn't part of the plan. You'll tell yourself, I want to be vice president, but only so I can be president one day.

Your dream and your plan will keep you going on hot summer nights at community meetings, on cold winter days as you trudge door to door, and on rainy afternoons when you're making a speech you've made a hundred times before. The dream will keep you focused on the ideas and the people that matter most to you. That plan will guide you along the path to victory.

I have a photo taken in 1958 showing me at age eight standing pensively in front of my father as he waves to a crowd. I traveled a lot with him during his campaign for Congress, and while I'm sure now that his dream of serving in Congress was what sustained him, I was too young to comprehend much then. However, I'm pretty sure I did understand his practical mission: presenting himself to others and telling them he'd do a good job. My father didn't spring onto the scene as a congressional candidate at the age of thirty-six. Once he identified his dream to serve in Congress, he became active in local politics. He became a steadfast volunteer in town and county campaigns and in the Democratic Party, taking on progressively more responsibility and more leadership roles.

One stop during his congressional campaign was the home base of his opponent, Republican congresswoman Katharine St. George. Tuxedo Park, New York wasn't just any old neighborhood, where you could walk down the sidewalks, knock on doors, and ask to make your case. The wall surrounding it is metaphorical, but the actual entrance was restricted by a guy in a guardhouse. I was eight when I accompanied my father on this campaign stop. I remember the guard telling us, "Nothing doing," when we approached the gate. Was he really saying, "No Jews allowed"? That's what my father told me a few years later, when a swim-team friend invited me to her parents' country home in another private community. My father said, "I'm sorry to tell you this, but you'll never get to go." And I didn't.

Tuxedo Park had been home to the likes of J. P. Morgan and the Astors (and provided the nickname for what had previously been known as a dinner jacket). St. George herself, a first cousin of FDR, had lived there since 1919, and her developer father had built some of its homes. Today, FDR's granddaughter Anna and I are close friends, but in 1958, we couldn't have played together in Tuxedo Park.

Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor wouldn't have gotten through that gate, either. Nevertheless, in the face of entrenched cultural biases, they've each dreamed big and made plans for public leadership, too. These two girls shared the goal so many American children of immigrants and ghettos hold dear: I'm going to make my dreams come true, no matter what impediments I face.

In 1958, my father's Aunt Flora lived in a second-floor walk-up on 160th Street in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood. One of the joys for my sister and me during our weekly visits with Aunt Flora was playing on the front sidewalk with the Puerto Rican girls who lived nearby. Sonia Sotomayor was a toddler living in the Bronx at the very same time. For all I know, I played with her cousins!

Sotomayor's life offers one remarkable example after another of how she actualized her dream and pursued her plan. Her father died when she was a girl; by her own account, the public housing project the family moved to in the Bronx was run-down and dangerous. Nevertheless, she won a full scholarship to attend Princeton University — this at a time when it had no tenured faculty of Latino origin and few students with a Nuyorican background like hers ("Nuyorican" is a term for a person of Puerto Rican birth who lives in New York City). While she was at Princeton, she led efforts to change university hiring and recruitment practices. After graduating summa cum laude, she went to Yale for law school; then she returned to New York for an appointment as an assistant district attorney and later an appointment to a federal judgeship.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg had grown up in Brooklyn and attended the James Madison High School, just like my father had. In 1959, she graduated from Columbia Law School (also like my father) just a few stops down the subway line from Aunt Flora's. Before transferring to Columbia, Ginsburg had been at Harvard. There, she had a law professor who was so biased against women that he disgustedly told the eight women in her five-hundred-person class that they were taking up seats men should have gotten. Ginsburg didn't let such attitudes get in her way. She says she bore in mind some advice from her mother: "My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent." Lesson one on how to realize your goals.

Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor both had supportive mothers and the sponsorship of powerful men. But neither was afraid to go out on a limb. While you're pursuing your dream, you'll be working alone. A lot. But sticking with it is the only way to get there.

A certain youngster in New Jersey had the idea. She wrote this pledge at the age of ten, already well aware of the destiny she'd be shaping for herself.

What the Preamble to the (U.S.) Constitution Means to Me

"We the people" is the most important part of the Preamble to me. It means I am the government: No king, no dictator, no army will ever take my freedom from me. It also means it is my responsibility to protect my freedoms as outlined in the Constitution. If I am a good citizen, I will accept my role seriously, to be informed and to take part in my government by voting, or, as I hope someday, to be a Member of the House of Representatives.

Caroline Casagrande, fifth grade, St. Catherine's School, Spring Lake, New Jersey

Caroline Casagrande grew up to take office at thirty-two as a Republican New Jersey state assembly member in 2008. Her district office is in a storefront on Main Street in Freehold, New Jersey (which is also the birthplace of Bruce Springsteen). It's in an old building in an old town, a county seat that's home to the Italian Americans and African Americans who have lived there for decades, as well as to more recent Hispanic arrivals. Her fifth-grade declaration is printed on a poster board that hangs in the office's meeting room.

When Christine Todd Whitman, later governor of New Jersey and director of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, ran for the US Senate in 1990, she sent audiotapes about her candidacy to prospective voters. One arrived at the Casagrande household, where fourteen-year-old Caroline listened to it over and over again. "I listened and realized I could do this," she says. Whitman "showed me what was possible." I'm not sure Casagrande needed Whitman to show her how it was done: in short order, she became president of her grammar school student council, then secretary of the high school student council, and later president of the student government at Penn State.

"Being president of Penn State is no joke," says Casagrande. "It costs a lot to run, and you're in charge of hundreds of thousands of dollars. When I think back on all the power we had ... We raised our own money. We spent our own money. We had a ton of responsibilities."

Casagrande spent six months in South Africa while that nation rebuilt after apartheid. "People who spoke twelve different languages were working together to build a government. This taught me never to fear anything."

Inspiration, dreams, and a plan notwithstanding, you can't win on Election Day without an army. Whether you're pushing for a big elected office or a high-level appointment, your people are key to your success. At Penn State, Casagrande's campaign staff was a group of college friends, many of whom are now working as political campaign professionals. Though many of them are Democrats, Casagrande says that all of them would "come back and run a big one," if she decided to run for a higher office. Can you say "member of the House of Representatives"?

In 2007, the year Casagrande first ran for the New Jersey state legislature, Governor Jon Corzine "doled out millions," Casagrande says, to local Democrats. She ran anyway, in a majority Democratic district. As a result, she says, "Most people thought [my race] was 'a suicide mission.'"

"I just thought it was what I should do," she says. "I really thought I would be a great assemblywoman."

But that race was part of Casagrande's plan, so she ran. And she won, becoming the youngest woman ever elected to the New Jersey Assembly.


Excerpted from Every Day Is Election Day by Rebecca Sive. Copyright © 2013 The Sive Group, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

“[Sive] brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and wisdom to the subject, and she has the credibility to give sound guidance to women who seek public office and an influential voice in the public square.” —Debbie Walsh, Director of Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP)

Meet the Author

A frequent Huffington Post contributor, Rebecca Sive writes and speaks on American women’s pursuit of public leadership and power, and on race and gender in American life. A founding, gubernatorially appointed member of the Illinois Human Rights Commission, she has been a leader of many public-interest organizations, including NARAL: Pro-Choice America; an adviser to other women leaders, including some featured in this book; and an organizer of women’s-issues agendas for presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt is a granddaughter of President Franklin (FDR) and Eleanor Roosevelt and chairs the Roosevelt Institute, a nonprofit organization      carrying forward the legacy and values of her grandparents.

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