Alumni Voices

Run for Something: A 2018 Election Day Exclusive with Seisei Tatebe-Goddu

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CSIS alumna Seisei Tatebe-Goddu (PSIH ’17) proudly displays her NYC “I Voted” sticker.

November 6, 2018 – As US voters head to the polls this election day, CSIS brings you an interview with Penn Social Impact House alumna Seisei Tatebe-Goddu, Chief Operating Officer of Run for Something.

In the wake of the 2016 elections, Run for Something formed with a clear intent: “To help recruit and support young diverse progressives to run for down-ballot races in order to build a bench for the future.” Clearly, they’re doing it well: Since launching, Run for Something has recruited over 19,000 potential candidates from all 50 states and endorsed 647 across 48 states and Washington D.C.

Of the 417 progressive candidates on the ballot today, they hail from 46 US states; 65% are running for state legislature, 50% are women, 35% are people of color, and 15% identify as LGBTQ.

Tatebe-Goddu made time to speak with CSIS and share insights on running for public office, supporting progressive candidates, and the long-term vision of Run for Something. Tatebe-Goddu was Run for Something’s first hire, joining the team just 6 weeks after launch.

What does your job at Run for Something look like?

As COO, there isn’t a typical day. I oversee finance, legal, compliance, logistics, merchandise, human resources, and culture. On any day, I could be reviewing budgets, or our strategy for the next couple of years; I could be interviewing job candidates, conducting performance reviews, thinking about staff benefits and retention… We’ve expanded to 15 people in the last 4 months, and it’s still a huge workload.

What’s the impact you’d like to see from Run for Something down the road?

It’s entirely likely that we’ll see an RFS alum as a congressional candidate in the next 10 years; In 20 years, it could be a presidential candidate. Honestly, our expectations of how quickly we have that kind of impact depend on the reaction to these midterm elections, if people have heard and really understood that there are no more off years. We have to practice constant vigilance – we are always thinking about how to keep an active bench of talent. But even in the recent short-term, we’ve seen a terrific amount of unexpected success.

What do you attribute that success to?

People who never thought they could run for office feel inspired. We’ve supported deaf candidates who deliver their campaign videos in sign language, captioned at the bottom of the screen. Other deaf people see this and think, “This is something I can do.” We’re seeing this across race and ethnicity, as well, with higher numbers of Black, Asian American, and Native American candidates.

Simply by running, our candidates are changing the landscape in both blue and red locations. They are knocking on thousands of doors, and oftentimes they are the first person to ask that resident how they feel about the way things are going. Through canvassing and conversation, they are forcing people to think about things differently.

How do you train or prepare people to run?

It’s our job to point people to the right resources at the right time. When people apply for endorsement, our criteria are: 1) Are you willing to do the work (eg, knocking on a whole bunch of doors)? 2) Are you rooted in your community? 3) Are you running for the right reasons? 4) Do you have a campaign plan that makes sense? We’re not just looking at the amount of money a candidate can invest in their campaign; viability shouldn’t be determined by money the candidate can raise, but by the work you’re willing to do, and whether you have authentic connections in your community.

What’s the biggest myth about running for office?

There’s a perception that politics is dirty – and that politicians are icky people who don’t have any morals. When you look at what’s happening nationally, it is very hard to have any faith in the process. But our job is to ensure that young people growing up understand that running for office is a viable way for you to effect change in your community. Public service is an option: You have an opportunity to change the system from within.

What is Run for Something currently doing to correct this misconception?

We believe that young people absolutely have to be doing this kind of work. This year, Run for Something ran a pilot community college campaign, and we’ll run another community college tour next year. We cannot emphasize enough how important it is for people to stay engaged. There are so many pathways to create change in the world; our hope is that people don’t limit themselves in pursuing change just because they think it’s too hard or they won’t make it. For decades, too many women have taken a back seat because they’ve been so concerned about what a larger audience would do to them. Running for office IS really hard, but we need you: We need good people to do this work, to step forward and actually run.

It does not matter if you win or lose: Just by running, you are changing the game.

What advice would you give to someone who’s never run for office, but thinks they might want to?

If you’re on the fence, go volunteer. If you know you want to run, come find us. Either way, the network will sustain you long after the campaign is over.

Who is inspiring you right now?

On a national level, I’m incredibly inspired by Tammy Duckworth.

On a local level, a few people come to mind: Garlin Gilchrist II was a candidate for Detroit City Clerk and lost his race in 2017; Michigan gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer announced him as her running mate for Lt Governor in 2018, so he’s already back on the ballot. JA Moore is running for South Carolina House of Representatives. Hadiya Afzal is a 19-year-old college sophomore running for DuPage County Board in IL to make sure that the county’s governing body is representative of its residents.

What do you think is the biggest barrier to running for office?

You know the saying: “Women have to be asked 7 times before they run, and a man will tell you what office he will run for.” It is extremely intimidating to put yourself out there and be constantly judged.

Money is also a factor. A lot of people think that running will cost them a lot of money, and the fact remains that the positions we’re talking about don’t pay very much in a lot of places. This is why we continue to see rich, white men in these positions – because typically, they can afford to take an $18,000 salary to work in state legislature. If we don’t start to change that, we will continue to see this be a barrier.

Women in many states cannot currently use campaign finance funds to pay for childcare. Imagine if you’re a single mom trying to run: you’re facing an uphill climb. This is a state-by-state battle, and we’re proud of two Run for Something alumnae who have successfully petitioned for this.)

What’s your favorite political read at the moment?

A friend runs a fun inner circle blog, “Campaign Sick.” Our team also basically reads things like Pew Research results for lunch, of course, because we’re a bunch of geeks. Rebecca Traister is also a fave.

What song would be on your ‘Going to Vote!’ playlist?

ACDC’s Thunderstruck. Also, we have a Spotify “Election Watch” playlist: check it out!


Want to find a Run for Something candidate in you area (or on your ballot)? Check out the RFS directory.

Tune in to the Run for Something Twitter feed to follow election day returns.

About Seisei Tatebe-Goddu: Seisei is a recovering strategy consultant and entrepreneur. In 2008, she founded a strategy and organizational development consulting group that worked with clients across the Middle East, East Africa, and Europe; within four years, she grew the firm to over 50 clients and 8 consultants. After returning to the US, she worked for The B Team (a Richard Branson initiative), co-created a card game called doosh/off, and worked for Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016. She is an Environmental Leadership Program fellow, StartingBloc fellow, Sandbox member, and Dreamers//Doers founding member. In her spare time, she teaches a class on sustainability and global change to fashion industry professionals completing their MA at Glasgow Caledonian New York College and sings with several choirs in New York City. She holds a BA from McGill University and her MA from Columbia.