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This School Program Trains Young Women To Run For Office, Take A Seat At The Table

Bill Zeeble
Eight members of the Royse City High School Ignite Chapter. Vilma Ledferd (white jacket) saw the need for a women's political organization at the school and reached out to form the school chapter.

Vilma Ledferd, 17, who sang Saturday at the Women’s March in Dallas, is already experienced using her voice for women’s rights. Wanting to get others involved, she launched a local chapter of Ignite, a national nonprofit encouraging female students to get into politics, last year at her high school. 

The Royse City High chapter is one of the state’s first and most active in a co-ed public school. The group gathers every month and talks politics, campaigns and what’s hot in the news. 

“It’s very crucial for women to get groups like this,” Ledferd said. “Many rights have been denied, and many people are voiceless in communities and in areas that need more political women to understand their issues.”

'Political parity' 

Anne Moses has believed that forever. She founded Ignite eight years ago so more women could win elections. She says women make up half the population, but don’t hold anywhere near half the elected seats.

“We have pretty much flat-lined over the past several decades,” Moses said. “I mean, we have these kind of fits where we jump a few percentage points, but basically, we’re creeping up very, very slowly, and we’re not getting to parity anytime soon. In fact, at the current rate of change, it’s going to be at least 150 years until the United States reaches political parity.”

At first, Moses says Ignite grew slowly, targeting schools because that’s where the young women are. Some members have since run for office thanks to Ignite’s inspiration.

Margo McClinton Stoglin grew up in a political family, understands the power of speaking out and the need to be heard. She runs Ignite in Texas, which has several dozen chapters in middle and high schools — many of them in North Texas. There are also college chapters.

“Many times we don’t believe that we deserve to be at the table,” Stoglin says. “And I wouldn’t want any woman, who believes she can but is afraid to step up, to ever feel like they didn’t have that chance. So we at Ignite encourage them and train them.”

Over the past year, Moses says interest in Ignite has accelerated.

“As you can imagine, in this particular political and social climate that we’re in right now, everything has changed,” Moses says. “This year alone, we thought we were going to be in about 20 cities in 10 states, and we are already in 35 cities in 15 states.”

Issues that hit home

Back at Royse City High, Ignite brings in speakers, like elected officials, and occasionally sends members to regional conferences where they meet like-minded young women with their own inspiring stories. Cheyenne Mosley, 17, says it would be wrong to assume her fellow members all believe the same thing, or vote the same way.

“I personally don’t lean left or right,” Cheyenne says. “I don’t see myself as part of any political party. My views can go in either direction.”

At their monthly meeting, Ignite members take on all sorts of issues like birth control and women’s health, and want politicians to understand their needs and interests. They say many men don’t seem to get it. Junior Karina Revilla, 17, says the issues aren’t always exclusively female either. Sometimes, they’re personal. She brings up CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, whose funding has been challenged recently.

"That’s an issue close to my heart,” Karina says, “because I grew up on that program. And I know I wouldn’t have had the proper health procedures — because I was a very sick baby — without that program.”

Karina fights tears. She also mentions another issue in the news, DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It’s allowed hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who came here as children to stay in the country.

"Many times we don't believe that we deserve to be at the table."

“One of my older brothers is a recipient of that program. When these programs get cut, people get hurt,” Karina said.

Running for office, even winning a seat, may not fix all the problems these students identify. Stoglin says it would be a start, though.

“And really, what’s at stake? Our democracy,” Stoglin said. “If we don’t have people that represent all of us, who are part of the United States fabric, at the table, how can we say we’re a strong democracy?”

Stoglin says every voice should be heard at the table.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.