I never planned to get into politics. I spent pretty much my whole career as a teacher. After I graduated from a commuter college, I taught special needs kids in a public elementary school.
Two years, one baby and one move later, I decided to go to law school, thinking I would become a trial lawyer. I hung out a shingle and practiced law. Three years and another baby and another move later, I became a law professor, teaching bankruptcy and doing research on the issues facing middle class families. I loved that work because I felt like I was making a difference.
Then in 1995 I got a call from a congressman who knew about my research and asked me to go to Washington to help advise the National Bankruptcy Review Commission.
I told him I didn’t want to get involved. I was a researcher and I had no interest in politics. Then, he offered me a deal: If I would come up with a few good ideas, ideas that would really help families, he would figure out the politics and turn them into law. I really didn’t think I could stand getting involved in politics, but he pushed and pushed, and I decided to give it a try.
For me, this first trip to D.C. ended up being about fighting for families that were getting squeezed out of the middle class — and taking on an army of lobbyists that were working for big banks. It was about the optimism that if we work hard and we work together, we can make a difference that really matters.
"You’ve got to stand up and fight for what you believe in, even when everyone says it can’t be done."
One fight in Washington led to another: bringing some accountability to the bank bailouts, and then setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. When I first proposed a new consumer agency to protect people from the tricks and traps of big banks and credit card companies, people said it would never happen because the Washington lobbyists would stop us. But we organized and brought together a broad coalition of groups and people — and we won.
My path had plenty of twists and turns, but here’s what I learned: You’ve got to stand up and fight for what you believe in, even when everyone says it can’t be done. Sure, you might lose some battles along the way. But you don’t get what you don’t fight for.
A few years ago, when people began talking to me about running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, I got a call from Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). She told me that I should run and that she could help. I heard her out, but when it was my turn to speak, I started listing off all the reasons why I might not be good enough for the job.
"We need you to run for office, to make your voices heard, and to fight for what you believe in."
She listened quietly for a couple of minutes, then cut me off: "Oh, please," she said. She told me that women always think of reasons they aren’t good enough. “Men never ask if they’re good enough to hold public office. They just ask if they can raise enough money to win. Of course you can do this.”
I’m grateful to those who urged me to jump in that Senate race, because of the great opportunities I’ve had to make a real difference for hardworking families. But there is much more work to be done. And I believe we need more women to get involved in politics. We need you to run for office, to make your voices heard, and to fight for what you believe in. That’s how we’re going to make real change – together.