How Did You Get Here: Abigail Spanberger
We have a new story of transformation, empowerment, and moxie today as we continue our “How Did You Get Here?” series. If you live in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, the name of today’s guest may be a familiar one. If you’re watching the congressional races across the country featuring strong women then there is a good chance you are familiar too. Today, we are happy to talk with Abigail Spanberger and ask her, “How did you get here?”
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am running for Congress, I live in Henrico County, I’m married, a mom to three girls, and I’m a Girls Scout leader. I am running for Congress because I really truly believe, particularly at this point in history, that we need people in Washington who are committed to understanding the issues facing the people in their districts, communities, and focused on trying to fix the problems facing our country. For me, this is my community. This is where I grew up. This is where I moved back to in order to raise my girls by family. For me, this race is incredibly personal for the fact that I don’t I see that same commitment to this community from our current representation. I have always been focused on public service and being engaged in my community. First, it was as a Federal law enforcement officer, then it was as a CIA operative. Now that I am in a public space running for office, it is a departure from my previous experiences.
How did you get started on your journey?
It has been an evolution towards this. I started considering how I could get more politically involved. Then it was how could I get more involved in advocating for things important to me. Then this evolved into “would I ever considering running for something down the road”. Ultimately it became a little more immediate of a thing that I had decided to run. I never really thought I would be in this place where I would be running for Congress.
What has been the most interesting thing?
Actually being able to interact with different communities and groups across the district, particularly those that I would have never been invited to enter or otherwise aware. Some of these may be a cultural community or organizational community, particularly those outside of the county where I live. Going to small festivals in places that I would never have previously known were happening. Being able to experience all these different communities has been an unexpected benefit and so rewarding.
What is the most rewarding thing about your whole process?
Seeing the excitement people have when they realize that they can have an impact on the changes they want to see. People coming to the conclusion that they can advocate for something different and learn that they can make it happen. Watching people come to this realization when we won the primary and then seeing people celebrate the success of what they wanted. While I am the candidate, I am only a piece of the larger pie, a piece of the group of people in this district that want to see something different. There are many people who are putting their time into making this it happen. There is so much commitment on the part of so many people all the way from Culpeper to Nottoway, they are the people that make this campaign possible. This has been so humbling.
You have done some interesting things through being a federal agent and CIA operative. Do you feel that they have prepared you for this or is it vastly different?
They are vastly different, but in many ways, they have prepared me. The skills I learned as both a federal agent and CIA officer were that every day was different and that you had to be prepared for anything. You have to be quick on your feet. You have to be responsive, but not reactive. While I wouldn’t have thought that being a CIA case officer was very similar to running for office because they’re not the same at all. In one, you’re trying to fly under everyone’s radar, and on the other side, you’re announcing yourself as you walk into a room. But the disposition that it requires, and the level of calm attention to detail while being very responsive is a very transferable skill.
Working through your journey that has gotten you to this point, what was the most challenging part?
I think it has been making a final decision towards something. While I was with the CIA I LOVED my career with the CIA, but ultimately with my family, we decided we wanted something different, and wanted to move back to Virginia. I had to work through the decision to leave my job and leaving a career and a calling that I loved. I then had to pivot to something new that was generally unknown. Once I got here and established a life in the private sector in a job that I really enjoyed, I then took the next step to leave all of that to run for office. This has all lead to what is basically a year-and-a-half-long job interview that may or may not go well for you. Taking each step and leaving the comfort of something I really loved to a place I believed would be the next step on my path without knowing. I was taking a step towards something when I didn’t know one end from the other. The most challenging is the second guessing if I’m doing the right thing.
What would you say you have you learned the most?
That I can only control what it is that I do, what our team does, and what we are focused on. I can anticipate, I can prepare for, but I can only control what we do.
What advice would you give someone who decided to set out on this journey?
You have to be 100% in it. You have to be totally driven to achieve a goal. It is a goal that will be shared with the people who are helping you and people who are volunteering. I would never have imagined when I launched this campaign that we would have all these volunteers. Really, truly, fundamentally understand why you’re doing it and what you’re doing it for, because the more you can articulate that through your action and words the more people who want to advocate for that same purpose will want to join your efforts. While I didn’t realize it at the time, the reason we have been successful is we have made it accessible to people who want to be involved in politics in this district and want to change representation in this district. You can never anticipate what it’s going to be, but be ready for the rollercoaster of it. As long as you know why you’re doing it, and stay focused on that piece of it it’s going to be really exciting. It’s 100% worth it.
What has changed you going through all of this that’s brought you to this point?
What has changed me or what has changed in me?
What has changed me is that I am now in this place that I now get a lot of unsolicited advice and criticism. This has been a learning experience for me. I can generally handle constructive criticism pretty well, so overall it has been a positive impact. Being aware of all of the opinions that come at you from different sides and recognizing that in every nugget of suggestion or criticism there is room for you to improve or make things better. I think I’ve honed and shaped who I am as a candidate because of all of this feedback.
What has surprised you?
There are people who from the beginning of the campaign, conceivably a year-and-a-half before I would even be in Congress, have been telling me their concerns. They have been sharing with me their personal stories because there is a hope. A hope that if I make it through the primary, then if I became the nominee, then if I were to win, and then get sworn in in January, that at some time later I could be available later to address their concern. The fact that people would share really personal stories because I’m the closest thing to rectifying a situation in their life. This is really astounding. What this has taught me is that people really want and need people who listen to them and want to understand the challenges they face. There is a real disconnect between the people who live in this neighborhood or county from with those actually legislating. They have an impact on their lives without an inkling of the challenge the community members are facing on a daily basis. That’s been the most surprising. How many people are willing to share, because they hope it can inform something productive you can do a year-and-a-half later.
As a mom to three girls, what do you hope for the girls in our country?
I would like for young girls to be nurtured and encouraged by what they see and by the way people react to them that they can do anything. Regardless of what interests them, it shouldn’t be interesting that a mom is running for Congress. It’s not interesting when a dad runs for Congress. They have the same opportunity. An opportunity to take a path or not, whether it’s a really uncommon path or the common path. That’s what’s most important to me, that we can find ourselves in a place in the future where it’s not so noteworthy that there are so many women running for Congress. That this is just normal. And it still may be a crazy idea for some young women, but for others, it’s simply the path they want to pursue. Just like for some men. For some it’s crazy, and others it’s just the path they want to take. I think we have grown, but there is still a lot of space between where we are and where we could be. The way we’re going to get there is by people clearing that path so it’s less uncharted and less scary.