Inspired by Family, and Wellstone

April 11, 2014
Five years ago, at a Camp Wellstone in Raleigh NC, Kara Hollingsworth walked up to our Director of Strategic Initiatives, Erik Peterson. Erik trained all weekend wearing a pin that had a peace sign and a yellow ribbon, the logo for Military Families Speak Out (MFSO).
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh’” Kara explains, “It’s not a button you saw very often. Getting involved with MFSO was one of the ways I started my work in politics and policy. And it turned out that Erik had a personal connection with MFSO’s founders, Nancy and Charlie.” 
In fact, there’s a direct line from Kara getting involved with MFSO, to her attending the Camp Wellstone, and now to her new job, as Principal, Political Leadership for Wellstone Action. 
It was 2003. Her husband was deployed to Iraq, Kara was taking care of their young daughter, and while she deeply supported the military, she also deeply opposed the current action in Iraq.  “When you’re in that situation, there’s so much you can’t control. I can’t control his orders. I can’t control that this is happening. But I believed they were sending my husband, and thousands of other fathers and mothers, to Iraq without sound policy. And so I looked for ways to change that, to take control.” 
Kara’s Husband, first deployed in February 2003, and was set to return home in January 2004. But before he landed back in the United States he already had new orders to redeploy by November 2004. So over the summer of 2004, while the family prepared for him to redeploy, Kara walked into the local Kerry/Edwards campaign headquarters, sat down, and started making calls. 
Soon she found herself speaking at a roundtable about military families with Elizabeth Edwards. Later she went on a national “Chasing Cheney” tour with other military moms, sisters, and spouses. It was also around then that Kara connected with Nancy and Charlie, at MFSO, and began organizing events, speaking at rallies, and connecting with more families who shared the same concerns as her.
Days after the 2004 Kerry campaign loss, her husband was redeployed. “And I just thought, ‘this isn’t over,’ so I decided it was time to get even more involved.” Soon, Kara was signing up to help lead a Young Democrats group in her area, and volunteering with local and state candidates in the Tar Heel State. 
As Kara was getting more and more involved, an acquaintance running for the Court of Appeals asked Kara to run her campaign, “And I said, ‘sure, but I don’t know what I’m doing!’” The two of them learned together and eventually that candidate would won, becoming the first African American woman elected statewide without first being appointed to the court.
Since then, Kara has worked as an advocate for early childhood education, and managed a few competitive state legislative races. She joined a congressional office to do outreach with military families and veterans, and then became the Political Director for the North Carolina Democratic Party. In 2012, she joined President Obama’s campaign and led the Operation Vote effort in North Carolina to organize and mobilize key communities and constituencies.
Since the Obama campaign, Kara served as the Director of Recruitment and Training with Lillian’s List Action Fund, where she developed political leadership programs to recruit and train progressive women candidates and campaign managers. 
And, in December, she attended Wellstone’s Advanced Campaign Management School. 
“ACMS was the second time Wellstone inspired me in my career. At the very beginning, Camp Wellstone gave me a foundation to grow as an effective organizer, and ACMS was at a time in my career when I was thinking about the next big step. It made me feel like I am empowered to take control of where I go from here. “ 
Since ACMS, Kara stayed connected with the Wellstone staff, and when the Principal for Political Leadership position opened up, she jumped at the chance, “I love my work in North Carolina, but Wellstone looks across states and identifies movement-wide needs. Our work creating a pipeline of candidates, from community leader to well-prepared, viable candidates, is an example of that, and it’s allowing us to empower the next generation of leaders. Wellstone has the unique opportunity to build programs that share best practices that impact our movement across the country.” 
Kara’s rise as a political all-star happened while her husband was deployed, and while they were raising two daughters. But she did the work not despite of her family, but because of it, “My kids are the only reason to keep doing this. When I was as growing up, my parents took me to protests in front of the South African embassy. I hope my kids are learning the same thing from me about values, and community, and their power as individuals. I couldn’t do the job if I couldn’t come home and be a normal person, a wife and mom; it means I don’t have to do this work in a bubble.” 
Five years ago, Kara and Erik bonded over a common love for America’s troops and a common opposition to an unjust war. Now, after Wellstone Action inspired Kara not just once, but twice, and with two daughters growing up [too] quickly, Kara is joining our team to inspire the next generation of progressive leaders to win the Wellstone Way. 
Ready to join her? Sign up now.