This week’s Friday Feature is with 2020 Emerge Vermont graduate Lizzy Shackelford. I met Lizzy at the Statehouse on the final day of training for this year’s signature program. While each woman had the opportunity to share news or updates with the class, Lizzy shared the news of her upcoming book that will be published in May. With this huge achievement, I knew she would have a plethora of stories and experiences to share, and I really wanted to learn more about the work she was doing both in her career and with Emerge Vermont.
As a Foreign Service officer for the U.S. until 2017, Lizzy’s job took her all over the globe. As she moved from place to place representing the United States, she never fully established herself anywhere as a “local.” Her interests in policy drew her towards a career as a diplomat, but representing America overseas became more difficult with the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. As women across the country and the world felt an urgency to take action to fight for their rights and the future generations, Lizzy no longer felt she could represent the U.S.’s intentions abroad under the Trump administration. In 2017, Lizzy decided to separate herself from her role in the government, but she knew it would be a new opportunity to pursue other interests—namely a path in political activism.
Although she was still living overseas in Kenya, Lizzy returned to the United States for several months during the 2018 election cycle to volunteer with different campaigns in Virginia and her home state of Mississippi. It was through the people she met during those races where she learned about Emerge. She always considered herself a policy person, so she began to look into the program as a way of exploring the different ways someone who had been involved in federal government could get involved with state and local issues. When she decided to move back to the U.S. permanently in 2019, Lizzy wanted a fresh start in a progressive place, so moving to Vermont seemed like a logical choice. Since moving to Vermont, the connections she’s made within the Emerge network have been, as she puts it, “invaluable.” I asked Lizzy what her favorite part of the training program was, and she spoke adamantly about the lessons in fundraising. Exercises that forced the women to get out of their comfort zone and learn through direct experience were of utmost importance. Lizzy and her classmates were tasked with fundraising for Emerge Vermont and their own program tuition. Asking for support—Lizzy says—is tough for women because women tend to feel like they have to be the ones supporting the needs of others. There is a shift to be made when thinking about women’s potential in holding political positions, but Lizzy—and every woman who goes through the Emerge program—is helping to narrow that gap.
When speaking about her experience of going through the training program, one word she kept going back to was “powerful.” It is this sense of empowerment that generates the shift we’ve seen in recent years of women stepping into positions of power in politics. Since Lizzy is still relatively new to Vermont, she will not be running in the upcoming election cycle, but she’s already started to make a change in her community. She started the local chapter of the Democratic Party in her town of Rochester, and that group has already gotten a climate emergency declaration on the ballot for the annual town meeting. In addition to the work she’s doing at a local level, Lizzy looks forward to the release of her first book. The Dissent Channel: American Diplomacy in a Dishonest Age shares her personal experience as an American diplomat in South Sudan, the shortfalls of U.S. foreign policy, and a look into how we might shift our overall approach to foreign affairs. Lizzy’s career as a Foreign Service officer coupled with her passion for fighting for policies of equality and fairness make her an ideal candidate for representing in office those who do not have a voice. Along with those factors and the network of Emerge alumnae she’s connected with during her time at Emerge Vermont, this is certainly not the last we will be seeing from Lizzy Shackelford.
Emerge has one goal: To increase the number of Democratic women in office who are reflective of the incredible diversity of the Democratic party by recruiting, training and providing a powerful network.