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Political Advocacy: Making a Career by Doing Good for Democracy

Talk Bravely

Release Date: 06/22/2020

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On this episode of Talk Bravely, I chat with long time political advocate Mary McClelland about what exactly a career in campaigns and advocacy means, how she’s spent two decades doing good for our democracy, why it’s important to set work boundaries when the stakes always feel so high, and why some of us (me!) just can’t seem to ignore the negative voice inside our head that elevates our confidence issues. 

Mary’s stories of working on campaigns, elections, and advocating for good public policy across the country are inspiring. Early in her career she worked to improve our country and political elections by advocating for better campaign finance laws, and then went on to work with Rock the Vote registering millions of young people to vote for the first time. Mary recently worked on large scale education equity issues, and currently serves as Director of Communications for the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

What we’re talking about:

  • How growing up in a civically-minded home with a focus on being involved in the community influenced her career.
  • What does a political advocate actually do as a career? Educate, activate, petition, organize.
  • Money matters in campaigns and elections - and political advocates can make a difference to even this imbalance out.
  • How Mary lived her early years on a nonprofit budget, and learned a lot on the job her first year.
  • Politics is local. We don’t have to work in DC to make a difference as advocates.
  • But Mary went to DC, young, without a job, and with the benefit of a friend’s kindness (and couch).
  • How Mary has worked on large scale political advocacy from environment, to voting, to campaign finance reform, and education.
  • The myriad of jobs in the political advocacy sector are broad - tech, marketing, programming, curriculum development, learning and training, legal, business development, communications, fundraising, etc., and yes, women can make a difference AND make a strong salary in the field.
  • Yet if you don’t have boundaries around time at work, advocacy and politics can be a 24-7 job because the stakes feel very high at all times.
  • How Mary has had to work really hard to counteract her sense of loyalty, and sometimes her confidence gap, that has kept her in jobs a bit longer than she probably should have.
  • Mary considers herself a saver - mostly - and when she was ready to buy a home as a single woman in Chicago, found the lack of information, confusing acronyms, and non-linear process a barrier. And frankly the process is scary and mysterious for so many first time buyers.
  • What’s in the future for Mary? She doesn’t know, but she knows she’ll stay in political advocacy work. It is what she does, and it is what she is passionate about. 

Connect with Mary:

On LinkedIn