The Activist: ‘I’ve always been very focused on social change’

The Activist: ‘I’ve always been very focused on social change’

Sarah Standiford, 35

Executive director, ?Maine Women’s Lobby and Maine Women’s Policy Center

Sarah Standiford first found her calling as community activist at age 13, when she became concerned about the pesticides that were used on neighborhood lawns.

Though signs on the lawns listed the chemicals used in the pesticides, she realized those warnings couldn’t be understood by those who needed to be protected most. So she founded “Birds Can’t Read,” and began knocking on doors.

“We knocked on doors for many months,” said Standiford, who is now 35 and laughs at her early earnestness. “That was my early introduction to both community work and canvassing.”

Today, as the executive director of both the Maine Women’s Lobby and the Maine Women’s Policy Center, Standiford said her canvassing mostly involves public speaking in front of different groups, one-on-one fundraising efforts, and encouraging other people to get involved in social change.

“I’ve always been very focused on and involved in social change,” said Standiford.

Originally from Baltimore, Standiford moved to Maine to study at Bates College. After college, she studied with the School for International Training in Nairobi and Lamu, Kenya, and then worked as a community organizer with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. She stepped into the role of the executive director of both Maine Women’s Lobby and the Policy Center in 2003.

“The reason I was able to step into this position was because I with worked with people while I was a community organizer who really gave me opportunities to try new things and lead,” said Standiford. “Part of our mission and a way to continue to do the work is to make sure there are those pathways for young women.”

Standiford said the Maine Women’s Lobby monitors legal activity in Augusta to make sure that women have a voice in the State House -– an effort that first began in 1978 after a domestic violence bill was defeated in the State Legislature.

“They had every assurance that the bill was going to pass, but it ultimately died on the Appropriations table,” said Standiford. “When the deals were being made, women just weren’t there.”

Standiford said though the organizations first focused primarily on so-called “women’s issues,” such as domestic violence and sexual harassment, “over time, what we’ve also discovered is that so many issues are women’s issues,” said Standiford, w ho cited economic development and health care. “Our goal is to review 2,000 bills every session and prioritize,” said Standiford.

The organization also encourages women to run for office in Maine. As part of that effort, every year they bring 100 eighth-grade girls to the State House for Girls Day, where they learn about the legislative process, meet with legislative leaders, and participate in a mock public hearing with real lobbyists

“We always hear from girls who have been inspired to run for office and get involved in their community,” said Standiford. “It just gets bigger and bigger.”

Sarah Standiford’s job includes networking, one-on-one fundraising and encouraging other people to get involved in social change.

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