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The Center for American Women and Politics was founded to examine and disrupt the gender bias built into America’s political institutions. But these institutions – formal and informal – were also constructed to privilege whiteness. To uphold that privilege, entire communities have been dehumanized, exploited, endangered, and disempowered. Our work has made us keenly aware that changing institutions built to uphold the power of white men is difficult, and it requires those who benefit most from these power dynamics to call for and actively participate in their disruption. It also requires changing who holds power within those institutions.
We denounce the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Nina Pop, Tony McDade, as well as the systemic racism, sexism, transphobia, and inequity that their deaths illuminate. We condemn the long history of police violence against Black Americans and the legal system's failure to respond. We state unequivocally our commitment to anti-racism and to our continued work to transform political institutions to make them more inclusive and responsive to the demands and experiences of all Americans.
One important component of that work is electing more Black women. Our research demonstrates the value of Black women’s voices at policymaking tables, while also highlighting the persistent barriers to their political power. With our partner organizations, we will continue to shine a light on these barriers and work to eliminate them.
But committing to anti-racism also means educating those who are privileged within racist systems to confront their own privilege, and to become both active and accountable in transforming these racist systems. In our programs to teach and empower youth, especially young women and potential women leaders, we will continue to expand our work to create diverse and inclusive environments, while more explicitly encouraging those who possess privilege to understand it, to be humbled by it, and to bend it to the work of justice.
Finally, accountability starts at home. We stand with and for our students and colleagues who bear the brunt of these institutionalized inequities. We know that our organization can and must do better to translate these values into action both internally and in our public-facing work. This is an ongoing commitment that will not end with any single statement, but will be borne out in our actions over weeks, months, and years. We are listening and we are learning. We will also act.
Susan J. Carroll
These days, hand-shaking, baby kissing, and door-knocking are scary and flout social distancing rules. The traditional ways candidates literally reach out and touch voters have been put on hold due to the coronavirus. No more direct contact means it’s necessary to master the art of being a virtual candidate.
Making the shift to online campaigning isn’t as easy as it may appear to be. Ask Joe Biden. His initial foray with a virtual town hall was marred by garbled audio that prevented viewers from hearing his message about fighting the pandemic.
For candidates up and down the ballot, reaching voters requires a vibrant online presence. It shouldn’t be overly produced, nor does it need to be perfect. But it should reflect who you are and why you’re ready to serve. I’ve been coaching women candidates for twenty years and here are my six top points on how to present your best virtual self.
- Give Yourself Credit for Persevering
Campaigning is hard work and doubly so now. In this health crisis, candidates, like voters, are juggling home-schooling demands and work cutbacks or job losses with anxiety about loved ones. Delayed primary election dates have also wreaked havoc on schedules. Amid the chaos, you deserve praise for staying focused on running. Women and people of color remain woefully underrepresented at all levels and that will change only with people like yourself stepping up.
- Set Up a Home Studio
Selecting the right location and camera equipment is easy, preventing the dog from barking while you’re using them isn’t. A quiet room with low traffic flow such as a bedroom or basement will help reduce the likelihood of interruptions by antsy kids. City Councilor Michelle Wu was being interviewed by Boston 25 News at home when her kids burst in. It happens! Be prepared to share your multi-tasking skills to create a connection with anyone facing a similar predicament.
Your daily smile. Being a working mom is tough. Working from home can be a challenge. @wutrain spoke to us today about rent relief for Boston residents - it's a serious story that will air this evening on @boston25 but here are some outtakes that are just too good not to share. pic.twitter.com/1Ebh8mTzLJ— Elysia Rodriguez (@ElysiaBoston25) April 9, 2020
The backdrop or area behind you that is visible to viewers presents an opportunity to send a message. The bookcases behind the councilwoman are a safe choice. Consider the strategic placement of a family photo or two. Or a campaign sign. But the focus of the frame should always be you, so clear away clutter like coffee cups, wine glasses (!), or messy stacks of paper.
- The Right Stuff
There are two pieces of equipment you need to purchase – an IFB ear piece and a light kit. The IFB plugs directly into your smartphone or desk top and provides good quality audio for interactive events such as video conferences or media appearances. The earpieces are barely visible, thus less distracting than white cords or bulky headphones. They are about 10 dollars and can be ordered online. (Another inexpensive, online purchase to invest in is a tripod if you plan to use your phone.)
Do yourself a favor and add supplement lighting. Avoid harsh fluorescents and direct sunlight. Sitting with a window behind you will result in dark shadows obscuring your face. Bright sunlight from the front can wash you out. An affordable choice is a ring light like the one shown in the photo with newscaster Soledad O’Brien in her home studio. It adds soft, diffused light that fills in shadows and flatters the face.
- Test. Record. Playback.
It is imperative to test drive the equipment before going live with an audience. Experiment with camera angles so that the camera shoots your best side. Most people look better with a slightly angled shot rather than straight on. Position the light so that it also comes in from the side. If there is a window, sit so that indirect light comes from the other side. A shear curtain will soften any glare. The mic on your phone or desktop should do the job. Carpeted floors and fabric drapes absorb sound and can reduce echoes or a tinny sound.
With everything in place, record a rehearsal then play it back to see how it looks. You may need to adjust the placement of the camera or light. Do another run-through to check timing. Online you are competing with creative 15-second TikToks. Social media posts should clock in under 60 seconds and bio pieces and donor appeals no longer than five minutes.
- Relevant Messaging
The only thing people care about right now is the pandemic and your message must reflect that. If you are an incumbent, talk about the actions you’re taking. The crisis has given many people a greater appreciation for the important role state and local government play in their lives. The decision by Oregon Governor Kate Brown to send 140 life-saving ventilators to hard hit New York showed leadership and compassion. If you are a first-time candidate, share an example of your problem-solving ability. Voters are looking for leaders who can work with others to get things done and who will tell them the truth.
During the Great Depression, FDR spoke directly to the public with fireside chats. The president’s intimate radio broadcasts utilized the mass media technology of the day to reach people in their homes and are credited with reassuring the public and preventing a run on the banks. Regular social media posts can offer inspiration, suggestions on ways to help others, and lift up stories of neighbors helping neighbors.
- Look Good to Do Good
Claire McCaskill purposefully posted this photo of herself looking like a pro above the waist while wearing PJ bottoms. As a former U.S. Senator, she can get away with it but you shouldn’t risk it. A less than serious look can undermine an attempt to convey a serious message especially when the most viewers don’t know who you are.
Wear a complete look – you’ll feel more on. And if a camera shot goes wide, you won’t be embarrassed. The basics include outfits in solid colors like what former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is wearing below. Purple and rich colors show up well on-camera. Avoid large, shiny pieces of jewelry. Beads or pearls are better choices. Makeup should include undereye concealer, foundation, powder, and matte lipstick.
In this new world order, be assured that with preparation you can carry on a virtual campaign. Here is some inspiration from state legislative candidates in Texas. Their campaign video is clever, energetic, and it follows all of the social distancing guidelines.
Woke up early feeling like I just may run for State Representative!!- @Lizzo... Shoutout to my girls running for the #txlege: @AkilahBacy @NataliforTexas @alisafortexas #FlipTheTexasHouse #RunLikeAGirl #StayAtHome pic.twitter.com/h07RhSI3Jc— Elizabeth Beck (@elizabethforTX) April 8, 2020
This post is part of a series on teaching students about women and American politics. See the firt post in the series, Engaging Students Online: Resources and Activities on Women in American Politics, here.
As more parents and educators adapt to our new reality of online learning, many are searching for educational topics that will keep the children in their lives engaged, informed, and hopeful about the future. The issue of women and political leadership is timely and can be easily incorporated into various academic subject areas as well as family discussions and playtime. The Center for American Women and Politics’ Teach a Girl to Lead® (TAG) project has insightful and interactive content that will stimulate young people’s interest in the subject of women’s political leadership and keep them attentive and entertained. Here are 8 examples of ways to use TAG content both during class time and play time for K-12 students:
*All of these activities can be adapted for both online learning management systems and a traditional in-class format.
Activity #1 - Apply a gender lens to whatever you are teaching/doing.
No matter what you are teaching or doing, applying a gender lens is a useful way of thinking about the larger picture and beginning a conversation on this topic. It means to view programs and materials with particular attention to gender imbalances or biases in what is being presented. Using a gender lens reveals the ways in which content and approaches are gendered – informed by, shaped by, or biased toward men’s or women’s perspectives or experiences.
A great way to start applying a gender lens is by using characters from books, films, and games that your child already enjoys to think about gender imbalances and leadership. For instance, if your child really enjoys Marvel, have them read books on women leaders like Captain Marvel or Storm of the X-Men and discuss how their leadership legacy compares to that of a woman politician and what gendered obstacles they may share. Or have your kids/students write a campaign slogan or election plan for a young woman leader in the Marvel Universe like Ms. Marvel or Iron Heart and have them discuss the gender-specific perspective they can bring to government. Gender is in everything, challenge yourself and the young people in your life to think about all that they learn and encounter through a gender lens.
Activity #2 – Tune into the TAG Virtual Reading Project
Women state legislators across the country have continued their participation in the Teach a Girl to Lead® Reading Project virtually by hosting online readings and discussions of the book Grace Goes to Washington by Kelly DiPucchio. As part of our annual Reading Project, with generous support from the Hess Foundation, the Honorable Constance Hess Williams, and Comcast NBCUniversal, this past fall we sent copies of Grace Goes to Washington to every woman state legislator, statewide elected official, and member of Congress. We encouraged them to read and discuss this book with kids in their district. Many of them are now hosting virtual story time on their social media pages.
Check your local state legislators’ page to see if they are hosting a story time, if not then encourage them to do so by sending them this link. You can also tune in to a reading hosted by another woman legislator, CAWP’s social media keeps track of when they are happening. So far we have reposted videos of Rep. Ashton Clemmons (NC), Rep. Attica Scott (KY), and Rep. Holly Rehder (MO) participating in this project. This is not only a great way for students to get access to this amazing book that explains how federal government works to elementary school-aged children, but it also is a great way to help your kids virtually meet a woman legislator and learn from them.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama will also be hosting virtual read-along sessions with PBS Kids every Monday at 12 pm ET from April 20 to May 11, 2020.
Activity #3 – Celebrate the centennial of women’s suffrage
August 18, 2020 marks 100 years since the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing the right of citizens to vote without any denial or abridgement on the basis of sex. This amendment granted women in the U.S. the right to vote and was the result of a historic movement led by women. In the Teach a Girl to Lead® Teaching Toolbox, we have a Women’s Suffrage in the United States lesson plan that explores the history of the women’s suffrage movement and includes materials, handouts, biographies, readings, and videos to choose from. It also includes discussion questions categorized by age group that connect the history of women’s suffrage to concepts of equal rights and representation. Check out the Center for American Women and Politics website as well for more suffrage centennial data and resources.
This lesson can be followed up with your own suffrage centennial celebration. Participants can dress up as a known suffragist, read from historical speeches and documents, and watch movies about the women who led this movement. In courses related to math, students can use our CAWP fact sheets to examine statistics on women’s voting records since suffrage and analyze them. Whatever you decide to do, help us celebrate this important anniversary!
Activity #4 – Choose a book, film, or web video from our expansive list
Down time can also be a great time to learn through books, films, and web content. We at CAWP have compiled expansive lists of media content focused on women’s political history and women public leaders. The lists can be easily searched and have content for all age groups, reading preferences, learning styles, etc. You can make this content interactive by following up with discussion questions, making art or poetry of the characters you encountered, rethinking plot lines and interview questions you saw, and/or dressing up as characters.
Check out our lists here and find something that might interest you and the young people in your life.
Activity #5 – Dive into the relationship between women and our political institutions
Your students/kids have lived with the potential reality of a woman president, whether through the campaigns of the women who ran for president in the 2020 primaries or through the historic nomination of Hillary Clinton in 2016. Additionally, with the record-breaking number of women who ran, and won, in the 2018 congressional elections, young people are starting to see more attention being paid to the lack of gender parity in their political institutions overall.
The lesson plans in the Teach a Girl to Lead® Teaching Toolbox on Women and the Presidency and Women and Congress delve into the complexity of women’s relationships with these political institutions and can help spark a discussion with your students on what they have observed around women’s roles in these institutions in this current time. Like all lesson plans in our toolbox, these modules are complete with resources and discussion questions for all ages.
Activity #6 – Explore the historical and current impact of women of color in American politics
The subject of the underrepresentation, roles, and impact of women of color in American politics is something that all young people should be aware of. The lesson plan on Women of Color in American Politics in the Teach a Girl to Lead® Teaching Toolbox is a great way of bringing that awareness into your classroom and home. The goal of this module is to provide resources and ideas that will alter young people’s image of politics as a masculine space and political actors as white men and challenge them to move beyond assumptions about “men” and “women” in politics by offering resources that illuminate the diversity within women.
Use our book list to search books by and about women of color in politics and make a reading list for your kids. April is National Poetry Month, so this is also a great time to explore the political poetry of women of color political activists, like Audre Lorde, and bring it into conversation with the current and historical treatment of women of color in the United States.
Activity #7 – Utilize games and puzzles
Games and puzzles are a fun and interactive way to get a child learning, and can turn into an engaging activity for the whole family or classroom. This Teach a Girl to Lead® list features hands-on activities and exercises, including a women’s political history Jeopardy game and an Advocacy Day role-playing exercise. Additionally, there are newer games related to women’s political leadership that are great for educating and engaging young folks.
The award-winning 2121 game is a guided facilitator card game where each player acts as a real woman who is running or has run for office. The game utilizes role-playing and strategic decision-making that highlights the process of running for office for many women and also includes historical information on women and politics. Another example is the Who’s She board game from Playeress, which is like Guess Who? with notable women’s history figures as the playable characters. Additionally, there is History.com’s Famous Women in American History card game, the Little Feminist Memory Match game, and the Little People, Big Dreams matching game.
Puzzles are also fun for kids to engage with and spend time away from their screens. Some examples are: Nevertheless She Persisted puzzle, Ridley’s Inspirational Women Feminist Circular Jigsaw puzzle, Little Feminist Family puzzle, Votes for Women puzzle, and Women Who Dared building blocks. To set free the inner artist and do a quiet activity, you can turn to coloring books like the America’s First Ladies Coloring Book, and The Blue Stocking Society Coloring Book, which highlights women of color leaders, and this Huffington Post list of printable coloring sheets of women leaders.
Finally, virtual trivia games on women’s political history are also available on educational sites Scholastic and Brain Pop. You can also check out the National Women’s History Alliance for a list of trivia games created by them.
Activity #8 – Engage with the experts and the community
There is a larger community of folks who are already doing the work to educate young people on women and political leadership, and they want to involve you!
Follow a Women & Politics academic on social media and see what they are doing at home with their families and students. Christina Wolbrecht, Director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy and professor of Political Science at Notre Dame University, created a syllabus for watching Mrs. America on FX, a series about the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment. Amanda Bittner, Director of the Gender & Politics Laboratory and professor of Political Science at Memorial University, recently shared a #5DaysofGenderPol homeschooling lesson plan for children aged 7+ that is adaptable to all ages. This lesson plan gets kids thinking about gender and political leadership through numerous interactive exercises, readings, and discussion questions.
You can also check out this list of programs and places on the TAG site and see what programs in your area you would like to connect with. Many of them are putting out interactive, engaging, content related to the topic of women and political leadership. The Center for American Women and Politics website has lots of resources such as fact sheets and timelines that can be used for interactive exercises like trivia games, such as our Milestones for Women in American Politics timeline. For more resources on how to use the research, data, and analysis done by the Center for American Women and Politics for online learning please check out this post on our CAWP blog by Research Associate Claire Gothreau.
Invite your larger school community, family, and friends to try any of these ideas with you. It is so important for young folks to learn about women’s political leadership now so that they can change the future for the better.
This post is based on the author's live webinar presentation: “Campaigning During COVID, Part I”, as offered by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. Download and follow along with the accompanying Power Point presentation. Part II’s webinar will be on Campaign Tactics and presented on Tuesday, April 14th. To participate, register here.
It’s April 2020 and all across the world COVID-19 has taken over our everyday way of living and far too many people are getting sick and dying from it. We are experiencing something the majority of us have never seen nor faced before, resulting in major uncertainties and challenges in the election arena for candidates on the ballot in 2020.
While we are all dealing with the uncertainty in how we live our daily lives, as well as when and if our lives will return to normal, candidates for public office are also dealing with “campaign” issues, including the uncertainty of whether or not it’s okay to campaign and the uncertainty about how to actually campaign. Candidates are also facing uncertainty around “election” issues including how voters will be able to cast their votes, and when filing deadlines and elections – both primaries and, possibly, the general – will be held. If it is any consolation, just about all candidates and their opponents are facing these same issues.
The first concerns listed in the previous paragraph – the uncertainty in how we live our daily lives, as well as when and if our lives will return to normal – are the only two that the people you want to serve actually care about. This is very important for candidates to understand, as your future constituents’ concerns are what should drive your campaign strategy.
Is it Okay to Campaign During COVID?
Yes, it is okay campaign as long as you follow “social distancing/stay at home” orders, and any other orders applicable to your district/state. You cannot campaign in the manner we did this past election cycle, but there are still ways to be effective.
Similarly, when is it okay to campaign? Common sense rules the day. If your communities are spiking in numbers of those suffering and dying from COVID and your election isn’t until November, then now is not the time. However, if your primary has not been postponed but rather is imminent, then campaigning – following the law of “social distancing/stay at home” – is acceptable. That does not mean everyone will think it is okay to campaign, and that is why we are having this discussion. Further down in the post when we discuss messaging, we will address how to respond to those who don’t think you should be campaigning.
Part of the reason it is okay to campaign is because it is during times of uncertainty like these that people look to, and for, leadership. In troubled times, our country has proven over and over again that not only do we come together but we rally together. Elections are foundational to the way our country is run and to our moving forward to better, and healthier, times.
The next obvious campaign questions are whether or not it is okay to fundraise while people are losing their jobs, and possibly their family’s sole source of income, and whether or not negative campaigning is appropriate. Fundraising is acceptable as long as you are respectful of the very hard times some people are going through, while also lowering your expectations of what you will be able to raise since your campaign fundraising is not a priority for others. Negative campaigning is a separate issue all on its own, and unless your election is imminent, now is not the time, and even then, it is probably not the time for negative campaigning. Better to hold that option until after things improve.
“How to” Campaign
In my thirty years of working on campaigns, nothing, not COVID-19, not September 11th nor anything else, has or will ever change the fact that campaigns are made up of strategy and tactics, and that tactics should never come before strategy. Strategy always drives tactics. In “The Art of War”, Sun Tzu wrote, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” If your strategy is wrong, your tactics are wrong.
Therefore, the first thing to do is regroup and revise your strategy, if necessary. Unless your plan already takes COVID-19 into consideration, that plan will not work. Candidates need to capture what is happening in the political environment. Usually what is happening nationally does not impact local campaigns. However, COVID-19 is opening up whole new conversations, including some involving the authority of states and more. Candidates need to understand the impact COVID is having on their local communities, starting with what is on people’s minds, i.e., life, death, uncertainty, financial concerns, plus much more. Candidates must respect the intensity of what people are going through and what they are feeling, while understanding everyone’s experiences and feelings are different. Candidates need to connect with their voters on what is important to them, demonstrating the candidate’s understanding, care, and willingness to work to help make things better for their communities. Quite simply, “voters do not care what you know until they know that you care.”
Where to Begin.
Begin by being a leader during these very troubling and uncertain times. It is always the right time to do the right thing. If you are an incumbent elected official, the best thing you can do is do your job. If you are a challenger, try to act like an elected public servant; be a part of the solution and help connect people to services and resources they many need. Start demonstrating your leadership by:
- Redefining “why you” and how you are going to be a part of the solution. Yes, you need to talk about COVID and connect it to your why. This does not mean politicize it, nor make it about you and your personal stress or pain. Rather discuss how this has reinforced why you want to serve/make a difference. As noted earlier, some people may not be receptive to campaigning at this time. Be respective of them and their opinion, and politely explain to them how it is exactly because of these uncertain times and the need to deal with the specific impacts of COVID in your district that you are even more committed to serving your neighbors. Make sure here that you are speaking authentically about yourself and your district.
- Revise your overall focus on the issues. Potholes in the road probably are not on the top of the list of concerns anymore. Conversely, COVID is probably not the only concern, even though is it probably the number one issue.
Step up and be a public leader now – which you can demonstrate by:
- Being the calm in the storm. Don’t make things more stressful by making this a political ideological fight, or a blame game. Now is not the time. Make it about finding solutions and moving forward towards healthier and better times.
- Listen with compassion. Before starting your political pitch, ask people how they are doing and how you can help; sincerely listen because sometimes leadership is simply listening.
- Be a connector and a resource. You don’t have to have the all answers to people’s questions, but it would be helpful to be able to connect them to the appropriate resources or help them know where and how to find the help they need. For example, making sure seniors know when senior shopping hours are scheduled at the local grocery store, providing an online link to a reputable source of symptoms of COVID, etc.
- Be an optimistic voice. There is enough stress and anxiety out there. Provide realistic optimism, without going overboard, communicating that we will get through this together and it will get better. Our country has survived many, many hardships and we will survive this too, and people need to hear some positivity. As a leader, you are the right person to share it, with realistic optimism. To reinforce the earlier point that “voters don’t care what you know until they know that you care,” you may have heard Maya Angelou express a similar sentiment when she said: “At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Try to end conversations on a positive note about how we will get through this together and how you want to work to ensure that the problems affecting your own community are improved.
Strategy first, then tactics. While these are uncertain times for candidates, they are even more uncertain for all of us — the people you want to serve. If you always put first the people you want to serve, then, yes, it’s okay to campaign.
This post is the beginning of a series on teaching students about women in American politics. Stay tuned for more posts in the series with resources and activities geared toward students K-12. You can also check out the CAWP Teach a Girl to Lead® initiative for more teaching tools and activity ideas.
The past few weeks have seen K-12 schools and colleges move to online-only learning. Hundreds of thousands of teachers and professors are working to transition their face-to-face lessons to an online format. If you are teaching high school or college courses on history, government, or politics and would like to incorporate discussions of gender into your activities and lectures, here is a list of resources and activity ideas using CAWP’s historical data and a recent report on gender and the 2018 election:
*All of these activities can be adapted for both online learning management systems and a traditional in-class format.
Have students go to the CAWP website and see how their home state stacks up to other states in terms of women’s representation. Have students record how many women currently represent their state in the U.S. Congress, statewide elected executive offices, and the state legislature. Additionally, students can see how their state ranks among all 50 states. Ask students to note any patterns in which states tend to have more women in elective office and if these patterns vary by level of office.
Use CAWP’s report on the 2018 election, Unfinished Business: Women Running in 2018 and Beyond to generate discussion questions or prompts for brief response papers. Here are some ideas:
- The Unfinished Business report states that “Women made history in the 2018 election, but the story of women’s political success is more complex than the records broken.” In what ways was the 2018 election historic for women and in what ways is there still significant progress to make? Cite specific examples from the report to support your argument.
- Women of color made historic gains in the 2018 election.
- What historic “firsts” occurred in 2018 and what do these “firsts” reveal about the progress to be made for women of color in elective office?
- Did the sites for success (types of districts, levels of office) for women of color candidates in 2018 indicate progress and/or persistent hurdles in where women of color run and win?
- The majority of the gains made in the 2018 election were made by Democratic women, while Republican women saw a decline in representation across levels of office. Using information presented in the report and your own assessment of the current political environment, why do you think these partisan disparities were evident in women’s electoral and representational gains in 2018?
- The “Barriers to Progress” section of the report details the unique challenges that women face when making the decision to run (or not) and waging their candidacy. What do you think are the most significant challenges women face in navigating U.S. elections as potential candidates or candidates?
- One of the barriers to progress that women candidates and politicians tend to face at higher levels than men is violence and harassment. Watch the “Silencing Women in Politics” video in the “Barriers to Progress” section of the report. How do you think things like online harassment and threats of violence might have an impact on women who are considering a run for office? How do you think we can address this issue?
Direct students to CAWP’s Milestones for Women in American Politics timeline and ask them to do one or more of the following:
- Identify an individual or event on CAWP’s milestones for women timeline and conduct additional research into their importance to women’s political history in the U.S. Write a short paper to further explain the milestone and why it matters to our understanding of women and American politics.
- Review the timeline in its entirety and write a short response (either in paper format or in an online discussion forum) to the following questions:
- What surprised you most on this timeline of milestones for women in American politics?
- How many of these milestones were you aware of before reviewing the timeline? Why do you think you were or were not aware of these milestones before now?
- What does this timeline reveal about the historical progress for women of color and LGBTQ women in American politics?
- Have students review the CAWP milestones for women timelines and choose a film from for students to view that relates to one or more of the historical events. Take a look at our curated list here from our Teach a Girl® to Lead project.
Instructors should also note that CAWP’s Milestones for Women in American Politics can be filtered by categories (major events, levels of office, women of color, etc.) for more targeted review and activities.
Use the 2020 Candidate Summary and the Unfinished Business: Women Running in 2018 and Beyond report to have students compare the number of women running so far in 2020 to the number of women who ran in 2018. They can also use the tracker at the bottom of each level of office to compare 2020 to 2018 numbers of women candidates, as well as CAWP’s tracker of women as a percentage of candidates in both years. Have students write a short memo on what the broad trends are in terms of women in the 2020 election. Where are we on track to break records made in 2018 and where might we fall short? Are there notable trends by party? Students can also use the maps to see where women are running in the primary and where women have won the nomination for different levels of office. Make note that not all the state’s candidate filing deadlines have passed, which means 2020 numbers will change.
According to a Gallup poll conducted in May 2019, 94% of Americans say they would vote for a woman for president. However, an Ipsos/Daily Beast poll conducted in June 2019 found that only 33% of Democrats and Independents believe their neighbor would vote for a woman for president. Take a poll of your students, asking how much they agree with the following statements and report the results to the class:
- I would feel comfortable voting for a woman for president.
- My neighbors would be comfortable voting for a woman for president.
*Response categories are “Strongly agree,” “Somewhat agree,” “Neither agree nor disagree,” “Somewhat disagree,” “Strongly Disagree,” and “Don’t know”
After reporting the results of the class poll, compare those results to the Gallup and Ipsos/Daily Beast polls. Either have a discussion about the results on your online learning management system or have students write a brief response paper.
Every year, the Center for American Women and Politics supports an internship through the Rutgers-Eagleton Washington Internship Award Program that provides financial assistance to interns in the nation’s capital. This is made possible due to the generosity of Susan N. Wilson in establishing the Katherine K. Neuberger Legacy Fund in honor of her mother, a prominent figure in New Jersey Republican politics. Neuberger Fund internships are awarded to Rutgers University–New Brunswick undergraduates who have secured for themselves a Washington-based political internship. This year’s Neuberger intern is Hallie Meisler, a rising senior majoring in women’s and gender studies with dual minors in political science and comparative and critical race and ethnic studies.
In the following interview, we discuss with Meisler her interests and background in politics and her aspirations for both this internship and her future career.
What inspires you to get involved with politics?
I chose to get into politics to assure that everyone has a voice so not just a minority of views are heard. When I was first able to vote, I naively assumed that voting was the only thing I could do to support the candidate I wanted to get into office. I soon learned that to have an impact on an election, there is much more to do before stepping into the voting booth on Election Day. As I continued my education in Women’s and Gender Studies, I became increasingly frustrated at the lack of female representation in the political sphere. I could not wrap my head around the fact that decisions, for example, on women’s rights were being made almost exclusively by old, white men. This lack of diversity is what fueled my involvement in politics. I knew that if I wanted my voice and those of the vast majority of Americans to be heard, it would be essential that we move to elect representatives who would pursue policies more supportive of women and minorities at all levels of government. Until women and people of color have proportionate representation in politics, I will have work to do.
What was your first election as a voter and what did you feel when you cast your first ballot?
I cast my first vote in the 2016 presidential election. I was so proud to be voting, especially since I voted in Virginia, which was viewed as a swing state at the time. The prospect of the 2016 election had really engaged me in political action—for the first time I was researching the voting records of candidates, reading news stories from various outlets, and staying up late to watch every debate. I wanted to make sure I was informed and prepared to cast my vote wisely. Being able to vote was exciting but made me feel both nervous and filled with hope. Even though voting made feel proud that I had done my civic duty, I realize now that my engagement and my commitment to civic duty was not enough, and how much more voter engagement in my generation was necessary in that election.
In the 2018 election, you volunteered with a congressional campaign. How did you get involved and what was that experience like?
Before the 2018 election, I volunteered with a local organization—NJ 11th for Change—which aims to educate citizens on the voting record of their representatives and to explain how the process of gerrymandering impacted our district. Through this volunteer work, I became passionate about supporting a candidate who reflected the ideals that mattered to the majority of my congressional district. I was compelled to volunteer to ensure that whoever filled the seat in the 11th congressional district would do so with the needs and views I wished to see addressed. Volunteering for Mikie Sherill was an amazing experience for so many reasons. Canvassing and phone banking is no easy task, but it really felt worth it because I believed in the candidate. Working to elect a strong woman made me hopeful about the future of Congress and US politics, in general. Knowing that I had a direct role in helping fill a congressional seat with an amazing female politician made the experience of volunteering for a campaign life-changing, and I knew from that moment on I wanted to dedicate myself to this work.
Why did you want to take this opportunity to intern in Washington, DC?
I chose to seek an internship in Washington, DC to be in the center of the national political sphere. While I could have applied to Planned Parenthood centers all across the country, to be in Washington, D.C. would give me the opportunity to advocate on Capitol Hill and garner support from various representatives for the causes at the heart of preserving the mission of Planned Parenthood Federation. As the future of Planned Parenthood remains increasingly insecure, I felt a pull to be in DC where critical decisions were being made in order to fully advocate as an engaged intern on behalf of the many women and men who desperately depend on this organization for critical health care.
How did you choose the organization you'll be interning with?
I have been volunteering for various Planned Parenthoods across the country, as well as participating in the Rutgers chapter of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. I have done research papers on the founder of the organization, and I was given the ultimate privilege as a scholar at the Institute for Women’s Leadership to interview Cecile Richards, the former president. I am so thankful that the Eagleton Institute of Politics and the Neuberger Fund have recognized me with the opportunity to fulfill a career goal.
What do you hope to get out of your DC political internship experience?
I hope to grow as a political organizer and refine my skills as a communicator for the causes I am passionate about. I know that if I can learn to effectively organize and advocate in the center of US governance—Washington DC—I will be able to employ the skills gained wherever I go after I graduate. Since this is my first internship, I hope this summer experience will instill in me a level of motivation to continue to advocate for more women and issues of social justice in the political sphere.
Is there anything you're trepidatious about in taking on this internship?
Even as I am passionate about the causes pursued by this organization, I am sure that I will come across individuals throughout my internship who will question my efforts. I recognize that this will bring an added level of challenge and difficulty to my role, but I also realize that engaging with individuals who have different viewpoints is often the most important way to make progress. As a public advocacy intern, I welcome the challenge to connect with everyone, not just those who share my ideals, and I am sure this will further enrich my experience and strengthen my skills as a communicator and advocate.
What do you hope to get out of your stay in DC outside of your direct internship experience?
Throughout my time in DC, I hope to strengthen my networking skills. I am keenly aware of how important it is to make connections with political leaders and those in government. So, while I am in the seat of the US government, I hope to maximize my time and experiences meeting others who seek to advocate for other compelling social justice causes. Especially as a woman in a heavily male environment, I know how important it is to make connections with a wide range of professionals. In this way, I hope to challenge myself to reach out to people who can mentor me, give me advice, and help further my aspirations.
What are your goals in terms of your own political engagement and career?
My ultimate career goal is to work to empower and elect more women to positions in the political sphere—whether that means working with organizations that support women who are considering running for office, seeking to recruit potential female candidates, or working on campaigns for women I would like to help get elected.
Stay tuned to the CAWP blog later this summer for a guest post from Hallie about her internship experiences and how her D.C. summer has impacted her planning for her future in politics.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Opinions expressed by interviewees do not represent the opinions of the Center.
Too much to do and too little time this holiday season? To help lighten the load, here’s a handy list of gift ideas honoring women public leaders – perfect for the women (and men!) in your life who appreciate the role that women play in shaping our democracy, as well as the kids who will carry the leadership torch in years to come.
TheCOMPASSProject has designed a collection of special artisan-crafted True North bracelets, and a portion of sales supports CAWP’s Ready to Run® Network of nonpartisan campaign trainings for women. We wear our bracelets every day as a symbol of hope that one day women in America will have the power to govern as equals. Yes, this is a shameless plug to support our work, but you’ll also help women break some marble ceilings while shopping. See, everyone wins!
Speaking of ceilings, this shattered glass ceiling necklace pays tribute to the accomplishments of empowered women everywhere. Enough said.
Every baby needs this Ruth Bader Ginsburg bib, because it’s never too early to start kids on embodying the spirit of powerful women.
We can’t all be on the Supreme Court, but we can enjoy a cup of coffee with this record-breaking, history-making squad any time we’d like.
Statement t-shirts are fun; why not make them empowering ones? Suffragist Alice Paul said, “There is nothing complicated about ordinary equality,” and we agree. Every woman has a mind of her own. And in case anyone needs reminding about where women belong.
What better way to spend a cold winter’s night than curled up in front of a good show? Equity is about the hard road women face making it in a man’s world. The binge-worthy drama Borgen covers challenges faced by Denmark’s first female prime minister.
Last, but not least: books that teach kids and adults about women’s public leadership. (Note: this is by no means an exhaustive list of books on women leaders. The biggest challenge is the lack of titles on the subject of women’s political leadership. Take note, publishing houses and authors! We need more. In the meantime, additional book suggestions are available on our Teach a Girl to Lead™ site.)
Preschool and Elementary: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison; She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger; Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx/La juez que crecio en el Bronx by Jonah Winter; Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio ; If I Were President by Catherine Stier; Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton and Raul Colon. Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies by Cokie Roberts and Diane Goode; Mary America: First Girl President of the United States by Carole Marsh; Hillary Rodham Clinton: Do All the Good You Can by Cynthia Levinson; A Woman for President: The Story of Victoria Woodhull by Kathleen Krull and Jane Dyer.
Pre-Teen: Yours Truly, Lucy B. Parker: Vote for Me! by Robin Palmer; With Courage and Cloth: Winning the Fight for a Woman's Right to Vote by Ann Bausum; Scholastic Biography: Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I A Woman by Patricia McKissack and Fredrick McKissack; President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston; Margaret Chase Smith: A Woman for President by Lynn Plourde.
Teen: 33 Things Every Girl Should Know About Women's History: From Suffragettes to Skirt Lengths to the E.R.A. by Tonya Bolden (editor); Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony by Geoffrey C. Ward and Kenneth Burns; Still I Rise: The Persistence of Phenomenal Women by Marlene Wagman-Geller.
Adult: Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead by Madeleine Kunin; Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick by Peter Collier; Unbought and Unbossed by Shirley Chisholm; My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor; Mankiller: A Chief and Her People by Wilma Mankiller; Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress by Olympia Snowe; The Autobiography Of Eleanor Roosevelt.
At the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), we have been getting a lot of inquiries about how to get politically engaged and how to encourage other women to do so. Below is a list of ideas and action steps to keep you inspired and engaged. Please share widely, and contact me if you have other ideas I should add. Happy holidays!
Take a Seat at the Table (and help other women pull up their chairs)
The late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm said: “If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” The fastest and most effective way to make change at policymaking tables is to sit there. Help women take their seats by helping build and sustain the infrastructure needed for women to be successful public leaders.
- Run for office. Sign up for a campaign training program in your area. CAWP has a National Network of Ready to Run® Campaign Trainings for Women around the country. If there’s not one in your state, check out our map of political and leadership resources for women. There are a whole host of organizations, including She Should Run, Emerge America, the Excellence in Public Service Series, and more. Check them out!
- Ask a woman to run. And then tell her you will help her, and find others to help her (and follow through.) And then ask another woman. And another. And another, and…well, you get the idea. If you are already an elected official, it’s particularly important to encourage a woman (or women) you know to run for office. Research that shows that women are far less likely than men to get asked to run for office by formal political actors, including other elected officials and party leaders. Your encouragement could make all the difference. Thank you for your service!
- Start a campaign training program to encourage other women to run. Connect with CAWP on how to launch Ready to Run® in your state. Our programs are nonpartisan, but if party or certain issues are your thing, check out any of the organizations mentioned or on our map.
- Get appointed to office. Did you know that there are hundreds of thousands of positions available on state, county and local boards and commissions around the country? Did you also know that appointed positions often have significant policymaking authority? Start researching the boards and commissions in your town, county, or state and find out how to get appointed to the ones that interest you. Feel overwhelmed about how to start? One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was from a woman who was concerned about an environmental issue in her town. She found the local commission responsible for overseeing that issue and made a point of showing up at each meeting and asking at least one questions publicly. She began to build her public profile on that issue. She eventually became a member of that commission.
- Start a project to encourage other women to seek appointive office. During open gubernatorial election years, CAWP runs a Bipartisan Coalition for Women’s Appointments here in New Jersey. The goals are: to create the expectation within both major parties and the campaigns of their gubernatorial candidates that women will be included in significant state government positions in even greater numbers than in any past administration at every level of appointment – from cabinet positions to unpaid boards and commissions; and to create a “talent bank” of resumes from New Jersey women interested in being considered for appointments in the next administration.Other states have had appointments projects. Interested in creating one in your state? Contact me.
- Read this case study on New Jersey by scholars Susan J. Carroll and Kelly Dittmar. It examines the reasons why New Jersey was able to rise from the bottom ten of all states for women serving in its legislature to the top of the pile (we currently rank 11th.) It was mix of factors, but one thing is for certain: change required intervention and lots of people paying attention. Use it to start discussions with other women leaders in your state about how to build a political infrastructure supportive of women candidates.
- Start, join, and support an organization dedicated to political parity. A number of groups exist all over the country, including the ones mentioned earlier, but also the National Women’s Political Caucus, Higher Heights for America, Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE), the National Congress of Black Women, and many more. Look for resources in your state on our resource map; if there isn’t an organization, think about creating the infrastructure yourself. Over the years, I’ve met women from around the country who took a look around their state and realized that there wasn’t an organization or network dedicated to women’s public leadership or parity, so they started their own. Women Lead Arkansas and the Institute for Women in Politics of Northwest Florida are just two examples. It takes a lot of work, but we need more of us.
- Join your party organization. Information can be found on the national Democratic and Republican party organization sites.
- Seek party leadership position. If you are already a member of a political party, seek out an official leadership role with the party organization. In New Jersey, for example, all but two counties have male party chairs. Time for some women at the helm.
- If you are already a party leader, take the time to mentor women who could come along the leadership ladder with you. (See #2 above.) Lift as you climb!
- Volunteer on a campaign. Take the time to volunteer and learn as much as you can about the campaign and political campaign organizing. Take a campaign training class (see #1.)
Give as much as you can, depending on your circumstances. I guarantee you, no amount is too small. Give more if you are in a position to. But seriously, money talks. Give money to the people and causes you support. Try to make it a regular part of your giving – not just at election time, but all throughout the year. Women candidates face challenges raising money, according to Open Secrets.org.
- Give to women candidates. Even if they don’t live in your district, it’s worth supporting women candidates whose values match yours. You can always find a list of women candidates on CAWP’s Election Watch page – do research on the ones that may be a fit for you. Organizations like Women Count, Maggie’s List, Higher Heights for America, as well as other political action committees (PACs), are useful resources for giving to and finding women candidates. A full list of PACs supporting women candidates can be found on our Political & Leadership Resource Map.
- Start a PAC supporting women candidates. Here’s a quick answer guide from the Federal Election Commission, but for state or local PACs, you will want to check your state’s election commission for state-specific rules and guidelines. Campaigns for federal office are governed by federal rules, while campaigns within a state are governed by the rules of the state.
- Give money to advocacy organizations focused on issues you believe in. Pick at least one or two causes that are most important to you, and find the organizations that best meet your goals on those issues. Sign up to be a regular supporter – remember, no amount is too small. Once a year, evaluate your advocacy giving and readjust. Can you give more? Are there other issues about which you have become passionate?
- Follow the money. Use OpenSecrets.org, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics, to look up where candidates or PACs are getting their money and how they are spending it. Use this to make informed decisions about where to spend your own money and to advocate for transparency in campaign finance.
- Support the work of research centers and scholars dedicated to studying women’s public leadership. Well, this is an outright ask: we need your support. The Center for American Women and Politics has been dedicated to examining and tracking women’s political participation over the past 45 years. We simply cannot do this work without the support of our generous donors. Other organizations include the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University, the Carrie Chapman Catt Center at Iowa State University, the Center for Women’s Leadership at Portland State University, the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Many more can be found at our Political & Leadership Resource Map.
Become a Citizen Lobbyist
Our democracy hinges on participation from many people. If you are not running for office, you can have a voice in legislative processes in a variety of ways.
- Attend legislative hearings. Open public hearings happen all over the country almost every week. Look at the schedule for upcoming hearings on issues or committees you care about. Take a drive to your statehouse and check them out. Learn about the process. Get to know the elected officials working on the issues you care about (committee members, etc.)
- Give testimony at legislative hearings. Anyone can sign up to give testimony at a hearing. Make your voice heard. Do your research and prepare your remarks. Here’s a handy guide from the Oregon Legislature on how to give testimony.
- Contact your elected representatives. Write, email and call your elected officials – the only way they know how you feel about an issue is if they hear from you. Make this a regular habit; don’t take for granted that others are doing it or tell yourself it doesn’t matter. As this former Congressional staffer pointed out, it does matter (she also gives great tips on how best to contact members of Congress, but don’t stop there. Find out how your state and local representatives are, and make a point to contact them about state and local issues.)
Groom the Next Generation
It’s more important than ever to provide the tools and resources to help young people rethink leadership and refocus the picture, because if a girl can’t imagine a woman leader, how can she become one? And if a boy sees only men in leadership roles, what will convince him to support aspiring women leaders?
- Invite a woman public leader to speak to your classroom or youth group. CAWP created our Teach a Girl to Lead™ (TAG) project to make women’s public leadership visible to the next generation. What better way to do that than have women public leaders talk to kids about politics and government? For sample invitation letters and discussion points, go here.
- Assign readings on women's political leadership to students, or read with your kids. Plenty of book suggestions by age, from kindergarten through adults, can be found here. Have a family movie night coming up? Suggestions can be found here.
- Arrange to take a class or youth group on a statehouse tour with a gender lens.
- Incorporate these exercises and activities about women’s public leadership in classrooms or youth programs.
- Talk to kids about politics and government. Explain, early and often, what it means to be a good citizen and to be part of a participatory democracy. Answer their questions. Take them with you to legislative hearings and other public events. Point out city hall when you drive by. Tell them why you served on jury duty recently. Talk about things you like and things you’d like to change in your government. Make public service and government a regular part of life for them.
- Support organizations dedicated to building girls’ political leadership. Our Teach a Girl to Lead™ project needs your support to continue to provide new resources and programs. There are also several organizations dedicated to girls political leadership, including IGNITE, Running Start, and the Girls and Politics Institute. Spread the word. Donate scholarships to make it possible for more girls, particularly those from underserved populations, to participate. Donate to our Teach a Girl to Lead™ project!
Build Your Personal Leadership Style & Feed Your (Civic-Minded) Soul
Sometimes you need inspiration or advice on your road to public leadership.
- Talk to an elected woman or a woman party leader. Make an appointment or, if you know her personally, invite her for a cup of coffee. Ask her these questions: why did you run? What is the best thing about public service? How can I be of help to you?
- Read a biography about a women public leader. Here are few suggestions to get started: Eleanor Roosevelt’s You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick. More can be found on our Teach a Girl to Lead™ site (filtered by age for grown-up titles.)
- Find your own public voice. Lots of people are nervous about public speaking, but you have to be able to articulate your message and inspire your audience. Learn how to do that by reading The Well-Spoken Woman by expert Christine Jahnke.
- Watch women public leaders tell you their stories on MAKERS.com. You can find more video conversations with women leaders here.
Above all, get and stay involved. Go forth and lead!
This week, CAWP was lucky to have extern Alexandra Banash join us from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI. Working with a fellow Aquinas Saint, CAWP Scholar Kelly Dittmar, Alexandra learned about CAWP’s work and helped conduct CAWP research. As the week came to an end, Kelly and Alexandra had a short conversation about some of the topics that came up throughout the week, and shared their cross-generational insights below.
KD: Why are you interested in the topic of women in politics? What made you interested in coming to CAWP this summer?
AB:I have been interested in politics itself from a very young age. We could say I have then also been interested in women in politics from a young age because of the active participation of women that I have been surrounded by my entire life. I delved into the subject of women and politics as an undergrad at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI. As a junior I enrolled in an entry-level women’s studies course. I don’t think from that point on there was a time that I became detached from love of the topic. With that being said, I was interested in coming to CAWP this summer when the chair of the women’s studies department encouraged me to apply for a pilot program. In doing so I had no idea that I was coming to CAWP. Not knowing much about CAWP and not knowing I was coming to CAWP was a curse and a blessing because after my time here I don’t want to leave.
AB: Even if we had equal numbers of men and women on the ballot, do you think that their will ever be a 50/50 distribution between men and women in office?
KD:One of the biggest, and initial, hurdles to political parity is the dearth of female candidates. We know that women women run, women win as much as men in comparable races. In other words, there does not appear to be any blatant bias at the ballot box. However, women make up far less than 50% of candidates for office at all levels, lessening their chances of being on the ballot or being elected to office. There is a great deal of research into whywomen don’t run, as well as efforts by women’s political organizations to encourage, recruit, and support women candidates (CAWP’s Ready to Run is a great example!). I’m confident that if the number of women candidates rose significantly, we would see a quicker move to political parity. But that alone won’t resolve some of the underlying institutional barriers to women’s political power. That will take more significant cultural changes, like redefining and revisioning what it means to be an elected official so that masculinity and men are not assumed the norm and femininity and women assumed as “other.” Rethinking and revising our stereotypical expectations of gender, candidacy, and officeholders is the harder resolution on the road to 50/50, and is one that will both create greater opportunities for women to run and be influenced by women running and serving. I can’t venture to guess whenwe will reach gender parity in office since we’ve seen such a plateau (and some declines) in recent decades, but I do hope we get there – even if that means I am out of a job someday.
KD:This week, you helped analyze data related to Black women’s political representation and engaged in conversations about gender dynamics in the 2016 presidential race. You also learned a bit more about what we do at CAWP. What have you found most interesting or surprising, and why?
AB: Looking at the data overall I am shocked by the numbers that analyze the amount of women in statewide elected executive offices by state. Just 25% of statewide elected executive officials are women and only two of those are Black women. The disparity between the numbers of Black women in office and Black women in the population in some states is almost unfathomable. Looking at state legislative representation, I am alarmed by the fact that only 3.4 percent of all state legislators nationwide are Black women in 2015. I do not expect to see a large increase in 2016, which is very unfortunate. When will this change?
AB: What do you think is the best tool for successful support as a woman when deciding to run for office whether it is on the local, state, or federal level?
KD:We know from research that women make the decision to run differently than men, and support and encouragement is even more essential for them than for men. However, it’s too simple to say that we need to just “ask women to run.” In addition to asking, or encouraging women, to consider a bid for office, we need to provide them the incentive, infrastructure, and roadmap to run successfully. Having the support of political leaders – whether elected officials, formerly elected officials, or party leaders – is often most influential to women’s calculus. If that support is not there, especially from parties (which, according to research, can act as gatekeepers to women’s political power), it’s important for women to be able to look to an alternative support infrastructure. That might include women’s political organizations, personal support networks, or community groups that will back a woman candidate from the time she makes the decision to run until Election Day. Running for office is not easy at any level and women are smart – they need to know that: (1) they can win; (2) there are people behind them; and (3) there are groups or individuals that will help them navigate political terrain successfully.
KD:Recent research on young people’s political ambition finds a gender gap in young men and women’s interest in running for office (with women less likely to want to run). It also finds that women’s confidence in their leadership skills actually declinesin college. Based on your knowledge and experiences, what do you think might be happening? What do you think we can do about it?
AB:The decrease in confidence for women in college might be tied to the limited scope of who is in power today. The rigid two-party system constrains the expansion of opportunity for groups that are marginalized from power. Today, women are a group marginalized from power, which is correlated with the rigid gender binary in society where men have control power relations. The large gap of women to men in our legislative body affects the experiences in our everyday lives. How can we as women become so confident if we don’t have other women behind us? As Shirley Chisholm would say, “My success was exclusively due to the support of women,” adding, “No one will save us but us.”
AB:Transitioning from a small liberal arts school to a large university, can you compare and contrast the power of the students from a political stand point and how does it influence the decisions of the hierarchy of the administration of the school(s)?
KD:Even more than contrasting the power of students at small or large higher education institutions, I think it is important to emphasize the political power students have, but often do not use. Whether it be with their university administration or their member of Congress, students can mobilize to have a great deal of influence. As consumers (at a college or university) and constituents, students are affected directly by the decisions made by leaders in both realms. Like any population, students often struggle to find the time or incentive (or even information needed) to navigate the bureaucracy of government or higher education. I think the key for students across the board is to see themselves as their own best advocates and not count on others to represent their interests. Just like women need a seat at the table, students’ voices need to be heard in the most important policy debates of the day – all of which affect their presents and futures.
KD:There is a chance that we might elect a woman president in 2016. Do you think it will happen? Do you think it matters to have a woman in the White House? Why/why not?
AB:Yes, there is a chance, but I do not believe it will happen. Of course, I would be so ecstatic to even see a woman be the leading candidate on the Republican or Democratic ticket, but we need to see if the level of support is there and we need to see if people get out and vote. Voting is the key; if we can somehow reach out to the people that would most heavily influence and be influenced by a women being in office, I think the vote could change drastically. On that note, I do think it matters to have women in office. In looking at recent data, we have seen a common progression in the ups and downs of the economy, but there has not been any change in who is regulating the economy per se. I also think it is important to note that having women in office would also change the dynamic of the household, shifting roles and making it more of a common solution for women to be in public and private sphere.
KD: Of all of the CAWP staff you have met this week, who is your favorite and why?
AB: Of all of the CAWP staff I have met this week, I would have to say Florence Eagleton (1870-1956; pictured to the right with Alexandra) would have to be my favorite [NOTE: Eagleton is the namesake of the Eagleton institute, not a former or current member of the CAWP staff.] She once said in donating the building that houses CAWP and Eagleton that the purposes should be for, “the development of and education for responsible leadership in civic and governmental affairs and the solution of their political problems.” We have a lot of problems. Somehow we have to fix them.
As CAWP gets ready to welcome NPR’s Michel Martin as this year’s Senator Wynona Lipman Lecturer in Women’s Political Leadership, you might sign up to attend without knowing anything about the woman for whom the lectureship is named. Your interest might be further piqued by discovering the roster of extraordinary African American women who have already been Lipman Lecturers; beginning with Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the list includes powerhouses such as former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, law professor Patricia Williams, Senator and Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, political strategist Donna Brazile, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, PBS host Gwen Ifill, Obama advisors Valerie Jarrett and Melody Barnes, and NPR host Michele Norris. Who was the woman whose life we celebrate with these exciting annual lectures? As we wind up Black History Month and head into Women’s History Month, it’s an appropriate moment to find out.
Senator Wynona Lipman was the first African American woman in New Jersey’s State Senate, serving from 1971 until her death in 1999. A Georgia native, Lipman earned her Ph.D. in French at Columbia and taught for many years, confronting racism that kept her from a full-time professorship in her area of expertise. She got involved with politics through the local PTA and NAACP, ultimately becoming the chairman of Montclair’s Democrats and then an Essex County Freeholder before moving up to the State Senate. Her biography provides the details.
But the heart of the story is this: Throughout her more than quarter-century tenure in Trenton, Senator Lipman carried the water on almost every key piece of legislation for women, children, families, small businesses, and minorities. We asked Alma Saravia, Senator Lipman’s longtime aide, for reminiscences about the path-breaking senator. In her words: I worked with Senator Lipman for many years as the Executive Director of the Commission on Sex Discrimination in the Statutes. The Commission was mandated to conduct a systematic study of the statutes to determine whether the laws were discriminatory or whether the absence thereof resulted in women being denied full equal protection under the law. As Senator Lipman stated: “[m]any of the state’s laws contain discriminatory provisions based upon sex and reflect policy judgments which are no longer accepted by our society.” (Trenton Times, June 28, 1979) The legislation enacted as a result of her considerable efforts changed the lives of many of New Jersey’s citizens. Senator Lipman’s distinguished legislative record included sponsoring bills related to her deep-seated commitment to children’s rights, the rights of women and the disenfranchised and to assuring that health care and essential services were provided to New Jersey’s residents. Her record of getting more bills signed into law than most legislators stands today. In addition, Senator Lipman’s powers of persuasion were legendary. When she wanted a bill to go forward she passionately advocated for her legislation and she often “wore down” her colleagues. Senator Lipman knew that there was strength in numbers. Many of the bills recommended by the Commission were enacted with the strong support of other organizations or individuals. From law professors to ordinary citizens, Senator Lipman understood that their voices counted in lobbying for a bill. With the formation of alliances came the knowledge that compromises must be made – a “half a loaf is better than none.” There is also no doubt that Senator Lipman’s legislative success was attributable to her strong belief in the need for the legislation. Whether it was the establishment of the State’s first domestic violence act, child support laws, the parentage act, economic equity legislation, recognizing Advanced Practice Nurses, or AIDS related legislation, her ground-breaking bills reflected her belief in those issues. There was no mistaking her deep passion and commitment to social justice and equality. What would Senator Lipman be doing today if she were still in the Senate? No doubt addressing the same kinds of issues, speaking out loudly on behalf of the under-represented, and bringing both her intellect and her powers of persuasion to bear to identify and banish all vestiges of discrimination. In her absence, we draw on the wisdom of the Lipman lecturers to point us toward what others must do to move forward.