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Virginia Women Work at Grassroots to Change Face of Politics

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Buoyed by the energy created by the historic primary campaign between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, a group of influential Virginia women have begun to think about the future beyond the 2008 election cycle. They have come together from all across Virginia to build a new feminist movement.

What began as conversation at the Women's Caucus Breakfast during the Commonwealth's annual Jefferson-Jackson celebration in February has blossomed into a ground game effort dedicated to electing women candidates. Hosted by former Attorney General Mary Sue Terry at her farm in Patrick County, 23 women gathered for a retreat in late September to initiate a new effort they've dubbed the "Farm Team".

Ms. Terry's drive and desire to promote the interests of women in politics is compelling. She believes the Farm Team is really a "dream team" -- women from all areas of the Commonwealth with the experience, energy and resources to change the political landscape in Virginia. She says she is "realistically hopeful" for the future and sees her role as encouraging active involvement and "being as helpful as possible to potential candidates."

The Farm Team's focus is on recruiting and supporting candidates at the grassroots level -- community volunteers, professional women's organization members, campaign activists, homeowner's association leaders, small business owners or others who could step forward to run for city council, school board, or other elected positions. "We're looking for where we see women stepping into any kind of leadership role," said Louise Ware, Democratic activist from Central Virginia.

"We want to provide women with the resources they need to succeed," according to Susan Platt, one of the group's organizers. "We didn't succeed with Hillary, but she was the glue that different women needed to come together to see that we still have a lot we can do," she said. Currently a small business public relations contractor, Ms. Platt previously served as Chief of Staff to Sen. Joe Biden and also managed Sen. Chuck Robb's 1994 senatorial race against Oliver North.

Farm Team members are focusing specifically on three key areas:

1. Recruitment - identifying winnable seats and potential candidates
2. Mentoring - assist with policy, campaign tactics, public speaking, and other campaign support
3. Financial - fundraising through networking and other means

In principle, the group agreed that there would be no litmus test on specific issues. Rather, they will seek out potential candidates who support the Democratic philosophy. They could run either as Democrats or Independents, according to Ms. Ware.

Not all of the women who gathered were participants in the Hillary campaign, but partisanship on that topic was not part of the dialogue, according to Susan Swecker, another participant. She characterized the Farm Team as a tapestry of women from all strata of income, geography, experience and more. Ms. Swecker is a former DNC member who chaired the Southern Caucus and was also the state director for John Kerry in 2004. And she's a self-described "good ole girl" who believes that "We as a party have failed to grow the team at the local level. We need to nurture, cultivate, and reach out to find those people known in their communities."

Roanoke City Council member, Gwen Mason said that "people feel the desire to reach out and form a sorority to help other women".

Overall, the time spent together in the quiet countryside of the foothills of the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains helped solidify a commitment to shared principles and ideals for the Commonwealth and the entire country. For this group, it was a hopeful beginning to a new phase of Virginia politics -- one that is built from the ground up.

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