Charly Carter ’82 says her work as founder and executive director of Step Up Maryland is a culmination of her 30 year career in politics. While she has never run for office (yet!), she has helped to create and encourage some change makers in the political arena in the across the country.
[She said she fell into politics when Molly Clifford ’83, asked her to coordinate volunteer efforts for a presidential campaign. Within a few months, she landed a position on a NYC Mayoral Campaign.]
Her work in the political arena taught her that we need more ordinary people, with regular life challenges, who represent the people of the community, to run for political office. Her plan was to go out and connect people to the government in a fundamental way, teach them to be heard in city hall, recognize the ways they can better serve the community, and how they can demonstrate, through running for office, their commitment to the community. Over the years, she was able to train hundreds of worthy candidates and loved seeing them run successful campaigns, but became frustrated when they would get into office and not accomplish what they set out to do.
She had an “aha moment” in 2014 when she discovered that these new, progressive, leaders that she was training for political success in office were entering a flawed system and set-up to fail. For example, you might have a group of elected leaders discussing a possible change in the law, everyone is in agreement and the law looks as if it is going to pass, and then the law is run by an appointed board and they vote it down. Seeing how strong these appointed boards were, Charly started to send out “scouts” to go into the community and find strong-minded folks that could represent on these boards.
She also discovered that these newly elected leaders, novices in the political world, were being stymied while in office, right from the start. They would go into their job, having made promises to their constituents, and not have the ability to make any changes. Their “freshman” year in office they are expected to sit back and listen. Their second year, they are told what to do by the other representatives, and by their third year, when they are finally allowed to work on what they promised the people, the people that voted them in have lost confidence in their leader and their government.
In 2018, she started Step Up Maryland as a way to grow leadership in her community in a faster, more effective way. The mission for Step Up Maryland is “building a new generation of leaders through education, training, and direct action.” Their goal is to empower communities to pull together and to make change by giving them a better understanding of the legislative process, and providing them with tools to be better community advocates. Step Up Maryland is a non-partisan group that offers the opportunity for progressive candidates who won their primary to take a 6 month training that is focused on new leaders, to show them the ropes once they are in office. Step Up Maryland teaches these candidates how to stick together to make changes, attract others to their cause, and also offers leadership training for campaign workers and candidates. Charly says that past two years have been amazingly successful, and the program is being recognized nationally.
She says her Socratic education at Harley, where she was taught how to think, not what to think, is the core to her “Becoming.” She said the atmosphere at Harley encourages students to challenge the teachers and find alternative interpretations to what they are being taught. She said although she never had any intention to go into politics (she attended Cornell University with plans to be a veterinarian). Harley taught her going outside your comfort zone and changing plans might just be the best way to make things happen.