‘Grace and Frankie’ Star June Diane Raphael on Inspiring Women to Run for Office: ‘Your Experience Is Your Expertise’

June Diane Raphael
Stephanie Day-McGann/Ographr

June Diane Raphael is best known for her comedic acting work on series such as “New Girl” and “Grace and Frankie,” as well as for lending her voice to animated comedies including “American Dad!” and “Big Mouth.” But now she is changing the conversation around herself, and around many women, with her new book, “Represent: The Woman’s Guide to Running for Office & Changing the World,” which she co-authored with Kate Black.

Why did you want to create “Represent” as a workbook with an actual checklist, as opposed to a historical guide?

The way the book came to be inspired the actual writing of it because I was searching for information for myself and wondering how one would start this process. And I realized right away that that information is not readily available, and they don’t teach civics anymore in most schools, and I think intentionally so: I think most of us are kept away from the process for a reason. And especially for women who are holding so many roles in their lives and doing so much — taking care of small children and taking care of aging parents and taking care of themselves and their careers — that the details become very important. The granular information becomes paramount because we need to figure out how it would actually work. So many women, and we talk about this data in the book, don’t have the same access to the same circles, have more trouble than men fundraising, because the time we have and the luxury of leading is not as available to women, those details and that information and those steps and processes become much more important. So I really wanted to take this large idea and break it down and make it into these bite-size, accessible pieces where you could really work the book and figure out how a run for office might work in your real life. So that’s why I felt it was important to get really specific and not leave to others to do — to imagine taking these steps.

What went into how you decided to represent the sheer scope of the political world as it is now, as well as what it could be?

There are over 500 offices to run for up and down the ballot, so how do you create a book when running for school board in L.A. is a much different campaign than running for town council in a rural city in South Dakota? The scope of those races and challenges are wildly different. But, I think having a template to work off of is going to be incredibly useful for women. And that’s part of the reason we wanted to pull in so many women from different geographical locations and also who were coming into this process from varied backgrounds. Kate and I have a very similar identity in terms of race and sexuality, et cetera, et cetera, so it was important for us to bring in voices that were more reflective of all women.

Was there one woman’s journey you felt most inspired by as you were writing their stories into the book?

One of the characters I was most inspired by is Monika, who’s the barista, who’s working in a gig economy and making ends meet and considering this — because I really believe so firmly in the idea of a representative government and in the idea of “We the People” and in people being heard and women being able to make decisions about their bodies, their children and the planet we live on. So someone like Monika, who has very real financial challenges in her life, running for office when you are making ends meet is a huge challenge, and yet her voice, her experience really does need to be heard. So going through the book with her — because what Kate and I did was really go through the chapters with each of these characters, even if we didn’t use all of that information in every chapter. So I was really inspired by her journey because of how many difficult sacrifices she had to make to make this happen. And again when we talk about it in the book, we use the phrase a few times, the idea that there’s a luxury to leading: the idea that we should only be able to engage if we have the financial stability to do so. And creating a conversation for women in which every woman can consider this as a possibility in their lives is very important.

Was there one particular part of the checklist you thought would be most challenging to get through?

I think it’s all challenging and takes a lot of courage for someone to do. There was nothing where I thought, “Oh, this is a lot easier than I thought,” maybe with the exception of telling others. That was a surprise to me when Kate and I started our conversations and she explained why she felt that was so important after spending so much time in politics and trying to get women to run for office and being such a trusted source in that world. She felt that was actually a crucial step. We talk a lot about the external struggles of investing money and time and that being very real, but some of the internal struggles were surprising to me and much more complex to talk about.

It seems like getting past the “feeling qualified to run” portion would be one of those.

That’s one of the internal barriers that women face, and I think that the idea that your experience is your expertise is really revolutionary. And I hope that’s one of the things women take away from the book — that their story and point of view and relationship to the world is a qualification. The idea of “We the people” makes us qualified to do this. So I really believe in the idea of demystifying this process and the breaking down of this picture so many of us have, which is of an older, white man who has a law degree being the person who should take the step and not us. I think so many of us have that imposter syndrome, so that was a really good chapter for me to write because I certainly struggle with that as well, and it can certainly stop us from doing the scary things, and it’s not to diminish how much courage and fortitude and passion this process takes, because it does.

Do you have a specific timeline you hope women reading this book stick to for getting through the list and running?

One of the refrains we pepper throughout the book is “Men are not waiting,” so I think there is such a reality to that and the fear I have is that women will feel they need to do the book, do it a million times, do the webinars, do the training and wait and wait and wait. And I don’t think we have time for that. If a woman feels ready to run, then she should, with or without this book. I would never want to prescribe a certain time or litmus test in that way because I believe we desperately need women in charge.

What is your advice for women after they finish the book and feel ready to run?

To ask for help — to ask for what you need. That could be money, time, resources. But to ask for it, and to ask for it on behalf of what you believe in, and to constantly come back to the reason and the problem you want solved. I think that’s incredibly motivating.

Is your goal for the book to get it into schools?

My goal for the book is that women buy it for themselves and buy it for women in their lives and that men buy it for the women in their lives that they believe in and want to see do this. The big goal is that we consider women and women consider themselves. And I mean mothers, I mean trans women, I mean domestic workers, I mean women of color, I mean sex workers. My big dream is that we consider all women who don’t fit into that category of politician that is so ingrained in our culture.

How has your experienced writing this affected the acting roles you want to take next?

I don’t know if I’m looking to take different roles or that it will define necessarily what type of role I want to take because there are so many different people I want to play, so I don’t necessarily want to narrow that. However, where it’s changed me is just in wanting to perform and work without a net, and work without a fear of failing. There are so many things in life that are so hard to do and there’s the fear of not doing it right, and there are the traps for so many women of wanting to please, and I hope my work as an actor doesn’t come from that place of being right or pleasing the director or pleasing an audience, but rather, working from a place of honesty and fearlessness.