05/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Women, Hugs, and the Power of Grassroots

The moment that Dee and Regina greeted us at the Indianapolis airport in Indiana, I knew by their big smiles that this would be a good event. I had been invited to speak to the Democratic Women's Caucus in Bloomington, Indiana in celebration of Women's History Month. I found out they organized themselves in 2004 after George Bush was re-elected, and after they realized that there were no women on the city council.

They decided to swing into action -- they asked women to run, raised money for them, and provided a cheering section. I asked one woman, who had recently been elected county treasurer (never did get straight all the layers of government in Indiana) what was the greatest help that the women provided to her?

"Hugs," she announced, without missing a beat.

Hugs are helpful, especially when women step out into a mostly male political world. Emotional support, at critical moments, enables women to stay in the race.

But the Bloomington women's caucus does much more. They meet once a month for a 7:30 a.m. breakfast. Some 50 women regularly show up.

Once they find a candidate willing to run they swing into action.

"We tell them the 'must do' events, we help them develop a 'message box', do fund raising, media and teach them how to talk," one member of the steering committee explained over breakfast the following morning. As a small indicator of their commitment, the breakfast was at 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning to enable me to get my flight back.

The key to their success in helping women get elected at the local, county and state level? I believe it is that they are "there" for one another, they are local, they are friends, and they meet regularly.

A small group had gone to a training session sponsored by Emily's List, and that was how jump started the organization. But since then, they have built their own Democratic Women's Caucus with some 200 members.

If we are to elect more women to public office and to have them in appointed positions, it is grassroots organizations like this which will make it happen. How can we do this everywhere?

This was originally posted at Chelsea Green.

Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.