Here in Oklahoma, we are lucky to witness a young, female leader emerging. Anna Langthorn at age 24 is RUNNING the Democratic party for the state and regardless of your political views, that’s pretty dang impressive. She usually interviews with oh, Elle Magazine, and the like… But we were able to snag an hour of her time and discuss, what? The demands on a young woman in politics, being an ugly crier, and KICKING BUTT on her campaign. It’s a long interview but read along because the end is really good- get ready to be inspired!
SBA: I know in your Elle interview, you mentioned first engaging in politics to mend your broken heart. Can you tell us more about that and what first interested you about politics?
Anna: My parents were very politically engaged growing up (now they’re even more involved). We would sit around the dinner table and I remember the Kerry/ Bush election and how my family was really upset. And that kind of stuff. So my family was always really aware. In high school I was in debate, and was in a current events class and was always really into government and civics and stuff like that. So it all kind of fell into place naturally. Part of the story with my ex was that he was in debate with me so when we broke up, I didn’t really want to be in debate anymore! He was the star debater… So I was looking for other things to put my energy into. I joined Young Democrats and Girl State and other group activities, continued to volunteer… Just kept showing up! When I graduated high school, I began to get paid to do it and have been doing that since then.
SBA: So I have heard you talk about wanting to make use of modern tools such as social media to engage younger voters. Can you tell us more about those plans?
Anna: That’s something we are still in the process of transitioning and figuring out the best way for one comm. staffer to try to be on as many platforms as she can. One of the bigger ones I wanted to explore was Snapchat, right? It’s funny because I am 24. So I am “young” but I am mostly a Facebook user. It’s like where my social group grew up on Facebook but I know that people younger than me… That’s not where they are. I have a staffer that’s 21 and the other day she had to ask me how to do something on Facebook because she isn’t that familiar!
SBA: YES! We have had the same conversations with our interns… We are trying to use Twitter more but I know nothing about it. So it’s a learning curve for all of us in different ways!
Anna: Yes! So using our Twitter in more a relatable way, because that’s the biggest problem in political communications is that you can’t apply the same principles that you would to like a speech – It’s not formal. The whole point of social media is that it’s INformal… and that it’s supposed to be authentic… So trying to figure out how we can use that to engage young people. We are having a convention tomorrow and I wanted to get a Snapchat filter for that.
SBA: Amazing! Yeah, in doing what we do, we rely a LOT on social media so we are always interested in new ways to use it. So next question.. What are some skills that you feel have really helped you get to where you are today?
Anna: I am a self starter. That’s kind of a gross thing to say but I have always been self motivated and driven. Part of this is just how I got thrown into it- from the beginning, my first political jobs people just said “figure it out!” so I’ve always had that attitude of figuring it out as I go along. It’s something that always surprises me when other people don’t have that quality… Where I just expect them to handle something and just get it done… Like the Twitter thing! I taught myself graphic design- basically everything I do for my job, I learned through doing. I was very fortunate to have a family that instilled in me that I was brilliant and I could do whatever I want- so I have never had a lot of the same doubts that a lot of young women had about my abilities. I never questioned it.
The 21 who works for me (she’s the only person under me who is younger than me…) she told me, “wow you’re just expecting me to run these events?! I am used to being told where to be and when to be there.” I was like no, you are in CHARGE of this.
SBA: Yes, that is definitely something young women typically struggle with. Part of our mission is arming women with more information so that they can be more confident when they’re talking about politics. So what are some other ways that your age has maybe affected your job so far?
Anna: One of the jokes I make… It’s partially funny because it’s true but also not funny because it’s true… Is that a BIG part of my job, is finding white men to go tell other white men what I want to tell them.
SBA: GAG! That would be so tiresome…
Anna: Right! Because I know this is true but I also know if I am the one to share this information they will be like “whatever!” right? So finding the right sender is important. Something that I didn’t necessarily anticipate but started realizing I was doing. If they hear it from another guy, they’ll absorb it but if I say it, it’s like “ahhg you’re so young!”
One day I when knew there were no press coming, it had been a long week, and it was Friday. I came in in my leggings and a Tshirt. I didn’t care. And an older woman said to me, “oh, is this how the Democratic Chair is dressing now?” And I was like “today it is Linda! Because I am THE BOSS.” Ha. It’s funny that I have to say these things. But that’s part of it. You do the cost/ benefit analysis of how you need to change yourself to get to where you want to go.
SBA: Do you think that has to do more with age or with your gender?
Anna: It’s both and that was what was hard when I was first telling people I was about to run, I was told they would care that I was young not that I was a woman. I was like “no, it’s that I am a young woman.” Because they like, multiply each other… If I was a young MAN, people would say like “it’s SO great that you’re doing this, it’s amazing that you’re a young leader, young leaders are what we need.” But when you’re a young woman, they’re like “but are you really ready? Are you sure? But you’re so young!” But there are people in the legislature that are younger than me! We have 21 year old men in the legislature that are literally MAKING LAWS.
SBA: That’s pretty scary to think about! We saw a number recently that the median voting age in the last OKC mayoral election was 51… How are you looking to combat that and get more young people voting?
Anna: Well some of it is using new technology like we talked about right? Like using social media to reach voters where they are. That’s always key, reaching them where they are. Municipal elections you have to take with a grain of salt, older people tend to vote in municipal elections. That’s not how it should be, but a general election you would see more young people voting but still overwhelmingly, you see an older population. Part of what we are doing though, we hired two new field organizers (one on central Oklahoma and one in the Tulsa area) and their job will be to recruit volunteers to talk to low-turnout Democrats such as young people.
It’s harder with young people to get face to face contact because we are more transient. We are more likely to move several times within a few years. But face to face contact is always the most effective way to persuade someone both to vote and to vote for your candidate. Phone calls is second.
Something we are really pushing lately is voting by mail. Particularly for young people. You can get your ballot 3 weeks before the election, you can fill it out at home… You do have to get it notarized but you can also sign up to get every ballot for every election for the entire year! So it’s even a reminder about those little elections.
SBA: Yeah! Talking about this reminded me of a trip to LA I took where two of my friends were filling out their ballots at home, during our trip. I was laughing to myself because I was like look at us! We are voting! Right here, together! It was a funny scene. Talking about this makes me feel like we need an app with reminder notifications…
Anna: Yeah so a few exist but, again, the issue is getting people to sign up. Part of the problem is that voting is opt IN when it should be in opt OUT. In the state of Washington you get a ballot no matter what and you have to choose NOT to partake.
SBA: WOW! Why can’t we do that here?
Anna: First of all, we have a Republican super majority and they’re not usually in favor of more people voting. On top of that, we are in the middle of a budget crisis and things like this cost money, right? So it’s hard to get people to go for that.
SBA: So how can we help with these efforts that ARE taking place?
Anna: You can apply to vote by mail online now. So if you wanted to link to that on the blog (LINKED BELOW!), that would be a great resource. You do have to sign up every year because it’s expensive. Beyond that, it’s just encouraging people to show up and participate. And to emphasize that there are two parts to it: they need to vote but they also need to stay in touch with their elected officials. You have to actually express to them what you want because if you don’t, they’re going to decide for you.
SBA: There tend to be a lot of nay-sayers and drama in politics so what are some tips you have for young women in growing a thicker skin?
Anna: Well… This has actually been a challenging thing for me because… I’m a crier…
SBA: I am such a crier too! So how do you deal with that as an elected official?!
Anna: Well it was a CAMPAIGN ISSUE. And it was so dumb. The conventions are terrible because everyone is the worst version of themselves. They last 12 hrs. Everyone has their own agenda. They’re trying to get a candidate elected or they’re trying to get elected. So as a young woman I would go like every two years, build relationships, trust them and respect them and then you get to this day where everyone is just on top of each other and I just cry… I can’t control it. But it became a thing when I started to run… There was this whole block of older people who I thought were going to vote for me… But their sticking point was that I had cried.
So I developed a mantra of patience and compassion. Both for myself and for everyone else. I remind myself that everyone is just scared. I would not take things personally, I would just remind myself that it wasn’t about me.
When I was deciding to run, the only reason I could come up with NOT to run was that I am a young woman. And I thought to myself “THAT’S STUPID.” Right?
SBA: That’s a great reason TO run!
Anna: Right, and that’s the realization I came to. I HAVE to do it to at least fight this narrative that young women can’t be in positions of power. Worst case, I lose. But I surprised people and made them think about why they believed the things they believe. I won.
Intern question: So it sounds like you grew up in a pretty politically aware household. I did too. So one of the challenges I have come across is trying to communicate with women who haven’t… How can you make someone care?
Anna: What you have to do is connect. One of things that was the most heartbreaking to me was when we would go to register new voters, all these young women would tell me “oh I can’t register to vote because I don’t know enough.” I was like OK you MIGHT be able to tell me you’re not going to VOTE because you don’t know enough but you can register and not vote… Just give yourself the option! That blew my mind. And I was struck because not one single man told me this. Only women. Right? So this is where have to connect. We need to elect more leaders who look like them and care about what they care about. That way, they can see how what goes on in government actually affects their own lives.
And again, you go to where they are. Somewhere with less pressure like a happy hour. Something fun. That way we can talk about issues casually. This is why it’s inspiring to see magazine like Cosmo and TeenVogue talking about real issues and political conversations. It will be over the course of a lifetime that we start to de-program the socialization of young girls.
Hope you loved learning about Anna, I know we did! Wishing her the best of luck in her tenure as chair.