When Jessica Barnes joined Vote Run Lead in 2021, she thought it was for only a few months. Two years later, she says she can’t imagine being anywhere else. And she won’t be anytime soon. She was recently appointed as project manager for the St. Petersburg group.
“Vote Run Lead is an organization that trains women to run for office and to win. We want to be the headquarters for political resources and content that inspires women to run for state legislature,” says Barnes. “I’ve never worked somewhere like this where humans are so valued and we’re all working toward a more representative democracy.”
Launched in 2014 by Erin Vilardi, formerly of The White House Project, VRL has a remote staff with state directors in Michigan, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.
“With more than 55,000 women trained to run for office, VRL is the largest and most diverse nonprofit training and campaign leadership program in the country and is focused on improving women’s representation in America’s statehouses. The organization seeks to unleash the political power of women as voters, candidates and leaders to create an equitable democracy, according to its mission statement.
“My short-term goal is to move our organization from Google Suite to Microsoft 365 and to recruit women from my network to come to our training in Detroit, Michigan, called [the] ‘RUN/51 Summit,’” Barnes says of her short-term goals in her new role. “My long-term goal for the group is to have more impactful events by planning them in new regions, targeting underrepresented communities and implementing strategies to make events more inclusive.”
As for Florida plans for VRL, she adds, “There is an opportunity in Florida. I hope we have a training here. Right now, Florida is not an expansion state but one day it will be. Currently, we are using our resources in Georgia and Minnesota. We’re focusing on expanding and being a political home for women in Arizona, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington. We are interviewing candidates for state director positions in [those] expansion states.”
Local representation means having individuals from diverse backgrounds and communities, particularly women, actively participating in political events and decision-making processes to ensure equal and fair involvement in the political landscape. Women make up 50% of the population but represent 30% of the state legislature, which needs to change, Barnes says.
Jacquie Ferreira, chief operating officer for VRL, says she is excited for Barnes’ appointment in advance of the 2024 election cycle.
“Jessica’s exceptional ability to seamlessly blend creativity and precision to orchestrate memorable and flawless events serve as the bedrock of her indispensability within our team,” says Ferreira. “She is not just a logistical expert but also a visionary who can turn any idea into an immersive experience. Her passion for civic engagement and voter turnout, coupled with her drive to make a difference, perfectly align with VRL’s mission.” ♦