The RISE Movement, based in Chicago, is a movement to get non-voters back to the polls. It urges RISE-ers to get educated on how much their votes matter! The RISE Movement was founded by two powerful women, Genevieve Thiers and Ellie Bahrmasel. To get the full scoop on the RISE Movement and the co-founders themselves, check out our Q&A together below:
Tell us a little bit about yourselves!
Genevieve: Sure! I am a crazy opera singer that ended up first in tech–founded Sittercity.com and ran it for 10 years, and then jumped onto the board of 1871 (huge co-working space in Chicago) and into funding women in tech. To date, I have founded over 12 women in tech companies. I am also an opera singer. I have sung at Chicago Lyric, Goodman, and others–I was training as a playwright when the election changed my plans a bit 🙂 See more about me and investments and performances and talks and things at both www.genevievethiersentrepreneur.com and www.genevievethiers.com.
Ellie: I’m a Chicago girl, born and raised, with a passion for all things impact. I’ve spent time in both the public and private sectors, building impact projects and strategies for harnessing resources for collective good. I’m deeply invested in creating a world where women are truly treated as equals, so I’ve spent a good deal of time and energy on work that accelerates parity for women. When I’m not building community or trying to tackle social challenges, I’m trying to satisfy my curiosity about the world through travel and reading. My happy place is being home with my husband Matt and my rescue pup, Ozzy. You can learn more about me at www.eloisedbahrmasel.com.
Genevieve, you founded the website Sitter City, and Ellie, you were in a power position in the Mayor’s office, so how did the two of you meet and get into business together?
G: I called Ellie the day post the Trump win and was a mess. We both agreed we needed to build something. As we explored the space, one of the needs that seemed most apparent was infrastructure. We’ve never taken the thinking that has worked most for us on the left—the kind of thinking we use to build drones and Google and similar—and applied it to politics. There is a ton we can do to both unite the center-left and retake the narrative with design principles and thinking—its our superpower, but we just forgot to apply it in this area.
E: I echo everything Genevieve said. We initially met through the VentureFWD conference, and had bonded over our shared desire to see more female CEO’s and female politicians resourced to thrive. But the results of the 2016 presidential election really compelled us to think about how we use our skills and resources to impact the electoral space.
How did you come up with the idea of the Rise Movement?
G: We sort of “backed into it” once we saw the landscape and where the dust has settled. We realized that almost all the players in the space right now are focused on resistance. That’s awesome, but we want to build machines that will allow them to also be the change, too. That’s where our elections app comes in—see more below. That’s just the beginning of what we think we can do with RISE—and New Founders (conference) is the megaphone that we can use to spread the word of all the amazing things we are building.
E: Rise has been people-powered since day 1. On November 11th, Genevieve hosted over 100 people in her home. We asked people to use their voice to tell us about what they wanted and needed from their electoral system. That’s guided our work and helped us arrive at where we are today.
Can you tell our readers a little about the Rise Movement and what it’s all about?
G: Sure! RISE is a movement dedicated to getting non-voters back to the polls. Politics has become very removed from the everyday American. Our goal is to use a galvanized base to engage those who don’t feel like they have a voice. Our RISE Report is providing education on what happened in the last election. Our RISE tools are building critical infrastructure, and our New Founders conference is going to tie it all together and begin building a “second tent” under which the new center-left can build critical infrastructure and policy for the future.
What’s first? The RISE elections app. Coming April 29, the app contains within it all 519,000 elections in the United States, from federal to local, and graphs them over google maps by district. Our awesome partners include flippable, Sister Districts, BallotReady, VoteRunLead, RunForSomething and Wall-of-us! When you join this app, you can upload your contacts and social network, and see not only the elections near you, but also the elections near your friends and family. With one click you can text or email them to vote. For each race we give you the incumbent, the challengers, their parties, early voting info and your local polling place. We make it easy and fun to vote, and to get others to vote too! This is the FIRST of several critical infrastructure projects that we are planning, and that see as critical for re-uniting the center-left in coming years.
This fall, RISE is beginning the NewFounders conference, on Oct 24-26 at the Radisson Blu in Chicago. We need to build a megaphone around our work, and also the work of the amazing activists in the field. 2300 strategists, activists, economists, donors, fighters, leaders and policymakers are expected to come, condense efforts, grow and plan in a three day conference with a rally at the end. The aim of the conference is to build a command center for all the new ships operating on the center and left, to begin to work on policy that moves the world forwards in certain critical areas (education, globalization, automation, climate) and to form and showcase the nascent new bench for 2020. Think DNC crashes into SXSW with the media side of TED. Expected speakers include major strategists, players on the new bench, and most of the fearless teams leading both the resistance and the change. Registration opens in two weeks. See more at www.newfoundersconference.com.
What is the overall success rate so far?
G: Considering we have managed to wrangle the biggest elections in the US across all 50 states—at least 300,000 elections—into one place with our amazing partners and release that in a coherent format so voters can use it to vote and get their friends to vote too—I think we’re lined up for success. But the machines we build—the infrastructure, takes time to build. And a lot of activists are not patient. They want to act NOW. So we’re hoping to work with our partners on the app to really get it “out there” once it’s live and make sure it gets a huge following. If we can do that, we’ll feel great—we need both resistance AND change, and this will be one of the first tools for real change that activists can use on the ground.
What would you say is the most heard excuse for not voting?
G: “I’m already in a blue area” is what I hear a lot. Also “It won’t matter.” We have so many issues around voting in this country. Between issues registering and unclear info around voting (or lack of it) and fancy additions like electoral college on top of things, it’s confusing to navigate the landscape—and easy to think your voice does not matter.
E: Many of the people I’ve talked to have expressed a frustration with the candidates – they don’t see themselves in many of the candidates who run, or don’t believe their campaign promises. There are also sublte forms of voter supression that keep people away. We’ve heard from people who went to the polls and had to wait for over two hours to cast their ballot. That is luxury that many, many Americans simply cannot afford.
Looking at your site, you are based in Chicago, is that only where your reach is?
G: RISE-ers are all over. And New Founders—the group planning that conference is about 40 of the largest and best activists on the center-left. So we’re national—even global, some of us!
What is your overall hope or goal for the Rise Movement?
G: RISE and New Founders want to build a new tent. One that focuses on four areas. First, how to get a solid, complete and updated database of elections and officials. Second, how to get a voter file that is not only crowdsourced, but takes into account
E: To speak in broad strokes, my hope is that we create a better ecosystem for people to engage in civic life. The ultimate success is a world in which every American votes and is active in shaping their nation through regular engagement in their communities.
Being both women of power, how do the two of you empower one another in this men-business world?
G: I have personally funded or been an angel for at least 12 women-run companies in tech now. I want to right the balance there. I was the only woman in the room for a long time.
E: Empowering women is at the core of everything I do, from creating an underground women’s organization to amplifying the work of other women by helping them build strategic partnerships and visibility opportunities. I think Genevieve and I have been very intentional in empowering one another by having frank conversations about the challenges we encounter as women in leadership and creating strategies to overcome those challenges.
What’s the toughest experience you have had being businesswomen and how did you overcome it?
G: Getting Sittercity funded was a nightmare. Took years. I pitched over and over, but VC’s are 96% male. They kept saying “my wife handles that.” I personally faced the awful situation that women in tech face—men don’t get the issue they are solving for and so do not tend to invest.
E: I’ve worked on a team where my male colleagues often diminished or dismissed my contributions, no matter how on target my work, despite my seniority to them. Those little ways in which a woman is made to feel small or less than, on a daily basis, all add up.
Being a startup, is it hard to be taken seriously?
G: Being a woman running a startup, it’s hard to be taken seriously. Sadly, if you are a white guy in a hoodie it’s a lot easier. But that is changing. It’s all about the optics. If you are starting something, talk to tons of people first, focus group, and then go in with confidence. I will talk to any women that come to me—I give out templates, advice, etc. Even funding! But you have to ask. The only bad thing to do is not talk to anyone, and then go in claiming to be a solo savior of something, without having talked to people or knowing the landscape…amateur move.
What is one piece of advice that each of you would give to women wanting to promote or get into a startup?
G: Leap in anytime, and you’ll make it work, but for women, I find that the best times to found something are right post college and also when kids turn 10. That said, however, my twins are 5 and I am making it work with RISE—so it’s harder, but it is doable. It’s all about your team.
E: Know who you are and be committed to living your values, no matter who might try to convince you otherwise. There may be people or opportunities that seem shiny and inviting, but at what cost? If you aren’t firmly grounded in who you are and your principles, and those of your organization, it’s easy to say yes to the things that ultimately don’t serve you.
What is the best piece of advice the two of you have received?
G: With RISE? I would say that over and over people are talking to us about how it’s bad to try and be a solo hero. So similar to tech, it’s all about who you bring together, and what springs from collaboration. And the great news is that there are AMAZING brains in the activist space right now. From Indivisible to Women’s march to Swingleft to Flippable to Wallofus…over and over we meet the most amazing people and we’re just trying to connect the right brains. It’s mostly air traffic control. 🙂
E: Liz Jaff from CrowdPAC said, “no egoes, no turf.” When it comes to doing the work of saving democracy, she’s one hundred percent right. There is no room for egoes and turf when the stakes are this high.
What is a quote you each live by everyday?
G: Make no small plans. And be the change you want to see.
E: “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” Not every day is going to feel like a monumental win. But when you can look back at the end of the month, or the end of the year, and realize that all of those little things came together and advanced your work in ways bigger than you could have imagined, it’s powerful.
Become a RISE-er here: