Nothing like a hostage crisis to remind a woman of just how vulnerable she can be in this society.
Female campaign workers could watch the news coverage of Clinton campaign office hostage situation and admonish themselves to be more security-conscious -- to perhaps, be more like their secret service counterparts. But the reality is that campaign workers are not secret service agents. Not in training, nor raison d'etre. To win votes, one must remain open to new people -- to pulling them in, as opposed to holding them at bay.
As the HRC campaign shows, women are doing it for themselves, at every level of the organization. Strategizing up-top, and going out and meeting and greeting and persuading across America. That means talking to strangers. That means inviting them into one's offices, and sometimes, one's homes. If they do advance work, this means being airdropped into towns, probably not knowing a soul, and creating events from near-scratch. Advance staffers depend upon their campaign network, but they also depend upon people -- many of them strangers -- on the ground. When it works, which it usually does, it's a beautiful thing: memorable events, great coverage, VIPs and regular folks who feel taken care of by the campaign.
The problem is, with much success can come bravado. Many campaign workers take great pride in their abilities to get anything done, anyplace, anytime. They're like magicians. They're like MacGyvers. Male or female. And in the flush of these feelings, it's easy to think that the bubble they live in is really impermeable. That they really are bulletproof.
Since campaigning is about delivering, caution is something talked about, but not really internalized. Caution is what one hears when the Secret Service Lead gives his or her pro forma operational security speech (to the sound of a 20 Blackberry thumbs typing). Or, caution is what one hears when someone calls home and let's it slip that she's been out canvassing, even when she doesn't mention exactly which neighborhoods she walked. The mother on the other end may ring the alarm, but the fact is, her daughter is doing the most fundamental campaign job there is -- knocking on doors, armed with a smile, a story, and a hope her efforts will equal a few more votes.
The fact is, to be successful on the ground, one must be a risk-taker. The honed skill is learning which risks to take and which to avoid.
So, instead of being another person saying "be careful" to the female campaign workers out there, let me just repeat a few words that have been very meaningful to me. I remember when Gavin de Becker was on a book tour for The Gift of Fear, and seeing him interviewed on TV. He said: "Fear is your friend." He advised people, especially women, to follow their intuition. If a situation feels bad, there's a reason. If someone is trying to get you to do something that you've said you don't want to do, that's coercion. Back away. Get out of the situation.
Of course, this all goes for men as well. But I feel that women often need to take more preventative measures -- slipping out of bad situations before they turn worse -- if they want to stay safe.
So here's to the women on campaigns out there -- may they keep doing what they're doing, may they not let the actions of one deeply-disturbed man keep them down, and may they go about their work with a heightened sense of awareness of the world around them.