It was one hundred year ago, 1917, when the first woman penetrated that all-male body in the U.S. House of Representatives. Jeannette Rankin, Republican of Montana, took her seat on March 4, 1917. Imagine her walking to her seat that day. I wonder, did her new colleagues provide her a warm welcome or did they snub her? So here we are, in 2017. Have we “come a long way, baby,” as the vintage ad slogan for a cigarette product marketed to women proclaimed, in 1968? Actually, we have not come such a long way. According to The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University, women in the US. House of Representatives hold 84 of the 435 seats, or 19.3% of that august body. Looking at other elected offices, women are 21% of the U.S. Senate, and 24.9% of state legislatures. What is wrong with this picture? Women are 51% of the adult population of the United States. We have not come a long way in these 100 years, since Jeannette Rankin walked to her seat among all the men.
We are on the cusp of another wave of women, of all colors, taking their rightful place in the decision-making chairs in our society. Ironically, the disappointment of the 2016 election, when the first woman President seemed eminent, was the catalyst for many women to get involved. That result galvanized women with anger and determination, not just to take to the streets on January 21, 2017, in the largest protest march the world has seen, to voice their displeasure, but for some, to take the courageous step to run for office for the first time. Patrice Billings, of St. Charles County, Missouri is one of those women, “I truly believe 2018 will be the premier year of women running for office, and winning, both locally and nationally. We are stepping up like never before to change the balance of power. So, the reality is, if not we women, who? And if not now, when?”
Existing programs to identify and train women to run for office, and win have been swamped with interested women, and new programs have sprung up.
The National Women’s Political Caucus, founded in 1971, is a multi-partisan organization. When the Caucus began, there were just two women in the U.S. Senate, and 12 women in the U.S. House of Representatives. The national organization, and the local St. Louis Metro Chapter recruits, trains, and provides financial donations to support women candidates, running for all levels of office regardless of political affiliation.
Emerge America, founded in 2002, trains Democratic women to run for office, and states that more than 400 women are in its classes.
The National Federation of Republican Women supports all Republican candidates and elected officials, but their website states they are particularly interested in recruiting and electing Republican women to office.
Emily’s List, the progressive organization that trains and recruits women to run for political office, has a successful track record since 1985. In the 2017, with Emily’s List help, we saw Latina Catherine Cortez Mastro, Black woman Kamala Harris, and disabled veteran Tammy Duckworth take their seats in the U. S Senate. It’s training program is called Run to Win. Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, said that during the 2016 cycle, her group spoke with about 900 women interested in running for school board, state legislature or Congress. This year, as of April, they had heard from more than 11,000 women in all 50 states considering running.
To make meaningful change in the number of women elected to office, we need to look beyond posting on Facebook and protest marches. The women stepping forward to run need our support with the “Three C’s”– Your checking account, your calendar, and your contact sphere. Find a woman candidate that you can get behind. Then support her with donations, volunteering, and introducing her to your friends, neighbors, and colleagues.
The National Women’s Political Caucus has a clear and powerful goal: 50-50 by 2020. Their goal is to achieve political parity – 50 % women in every elected law-making body. There are a few state legislatures that are getting close – Vermont and Nevada have almost 40% women in their legislative bodies.
Remember that lone figure of Jeannette Rankin taking her seat in a chamber filled with men? Now, imagine the nation’s legislative bodies in 2020, when half of the room is women, half men, and diversity of all kinds – racial, religious, orientation, (dis) abilities, is present. That is a vision worth working toward. History is being made. Be a part of it.
Let’s Celebrate Our History!