“Men should be glad women want equality, not revenge.” (alexandra@thegr8ethan, March 28, 2018)
Progressive women streamed out of their comfort zones on January 21, 2017, taking to the streets by hundreds of thousands to express their shock from the 2016 election and their need to stand up for equal rights for all people. Women knew the attacks on their rights would increase under a President Trump and the conservative-led Republican majority. They began organizing and within two months, convened the single largest march in American history, the Women’s March. In 2018, they marched again, to reiterate their commitment to equal treatment for all people and to affirm their resolute support for women’s rights and their commitment to changing the political environment.
Women have been marching for a very long time in America, driven by anger and frustration of failed systems and indifferent leaders who have ignored their rights and needs. Beginning with the 1913 Woman’s Suffrage Parade, women marched to publicly assert their right to vote which was finally attained in 1920, after a sixty-five year effort. Marching as a political tool has usually been a long-term endeavor requiring years to achieve legal and legislative results. Bolstered by 24-hour media coverage and supported by social media, organizing and marching are finding new effectiveness as a messaging tool, clearly affirmed by the Women’s Marches and the teens “March for Our Lives.” Marching may not bring immediate change, but it offers a safe outlet to women for advocacy and empowerment. As their numbers grow, the pool of talent and interest in political advocacy is expanding, aided by technology and social media. The second year of Trump’s presidency, women are more confident and going beyond “Trump” to fight for issues that directly impact their lives with a laser focus on the 2018 Mid-Term election. Women, more confident of their base of support and their personal advocacy, supported #BlackLivesMatter and launched the #MeToo movement, in which problems of racial and gender injustice, police violence, harassment and sexual abuse are communal bonds. Whether by design or consequence, women are now a major political force that is generating enthusiasm and broad participation, and the movement continues to expand. Less well appreciated is what they are achieving.
#MeToo has been more effective in the private sector than in government, as powerful men lost positions and jobs. To the consternation of those being held accountable, progress is being made through greater workplace attention to the problems of harassment and sexual abuse, resulting in resignations and firing of those guilty of these offenses and much better behavior, generally. Women have decided they won’t put up with this abuse any longer even though many face personal risk in speaking up. Unfortunately, Congress chose not to pass the bi-partisan Congressional bill on harassment and sexual abuse in the Omnibus Tax Bill leaving aggrieved, frustrated government employees at the mercy of the congressional arbitration process. The process to pursue their rights against harassment and sexual abuse by Members of Congress and administrative superiors remains incredibly difficult, very lengthy, and appears designed to protect the perpetrators rather than the victims. #MeToo is ripe for expansion within the corridors of Congress. The “good old boy network” in government is still alive but not as well, and female Members of Congress across party lines are committed to reform of the arbitration process. Encouragingly, a great deal of activity is happening on policy change at the state level to address harassment and sexual abuse.
When the Marjory Stoneman gun attack occurred, there was no question whether women would support the teens “March for Our Lives,” as gun violence is an old protest issue for women. Remember the “Million Mom March in 2000?” By working together, women and teens will achieve more success on gun safety legislation and voter mobilization for Mid-Terms than by working separately. (Women comprised seventy per cent of those marching in “March for Our Lives.”) Women are employing their numbers and efforts with greater strategic effectiveness and creativity. One example is the East Dallas Persistent Women (EDPW) which just published a scathing report on how closure of eighty-two Texas clinics (Planned Parenthood) has impacted women’s health services. They intend to use this report to lobby the Texas Legislature for change and to expand public awareness of the problem. Women are regularly seen picketing on sidewalks in front of the offices of Members of Congress and the Legislature, conducting town halls, and besieging elected officials and staff with office visits, phone calls, and letters. This sustained, highly visible activity is focused on getting the attention of elected officials, generating public awareness and support, achieving legislative change and expanding their numbers, and, it is working. They intend to defeat candidates who refuse to support legislation important to their concerns.
Predictably, women have progressed from grassroots activism to seeking political office. Thousands of women-led activist groups formed after the 2016 election and they are participating in campaigns and they are running for office. The success rate of these mostly first-time candidates is high and their numbers and enthusiasm impressive. This could not have happened as quickly had they not become involved at the grassroots level, where they gained confidence and skills needed to compete for office. Politico reports: “After primaries in Texas and Illinois, at least 480 women are still vying for House and Senate seats — a number that will shatter current records for both chambers if it holds — according to data from the Center for American Women and Politics. And 76 female candidates are expected to compete in gubernatorial races in 34 states this year, another record-breaking statistic.” The AP released an updated report this week on the number of women who are running for office. Politico has teamed up with The Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers and Women in Public Service Project at the Wilson Center to develop a Women Candidate Tracker which “… will include up-to-date information about who’s winning and losing, where election dollars are flowing and the issues dominating the debate.” Bookmark it and hear women roar!
Teachers are usually reluctant to “make waves” – especially at work, yet they are out in force, protesting and striking despite criticism calling their actions “undignified and inappropriate behavior for educated professionals.” What is surprising is that the strikes are happening in Republican-led states and without union assistance. What’s different? Republican efforts to suppress and destroy unions have been very effective in “right to work states”, but teachers have finally had “enough”of systematic underfunding of education. The traction being achieved without, or even in spite of the unions is powerful. Most teachers are female and they are tired of seeing their income, benefits, and pensions cut, their class sizes increased and classroom resources decreased under years of tax cuts. They want fair pay for support staff, facility repairs, textbooks and equipment because they understand quality education takes many people and adequate resources. When the state legislature offered a pay increase, teachers refused because support staff and other important needs were not included. They have taken their concerns to their state legislatures too many times only to be ignored. Now teachers are fighting back through protests and strikes, leading to a resurgence in teacher’s power and strengthening calls for unionization. Is there any doubt they will be actively involved in the 2018 Mid-Term Elections? Their students are standing with them, noting that teachers are leading the fight “for” them, and they, too, are learning how to stand up for their rights and are promising to vote. Further, Oklahoma residents of all political allegiances are supporting teachers because they know teachers are fighting for their kids and their state. The tough and successful West Virginia teacher’s strike created a ripple effect in other states that is breathing life back into the call for resistance. Oklahoma, Arizona and Kansas are queued up for strikes because they feel nothing else has worked. Kentucky teachers are protesting and strikes are a next step. Teachers feel they have little to lose in these “red” states that have prioritized tax cuts for high earners and corporations at the expense of public education and children for years. Republican state legislators are continuing to resist teachers’ demands for restoration of adequate funding for public education and some are attempting to bluff their way past federal court deadlines for budget action. Amazingly, the Kansas GOP legislature considered a constitutional change that would forbid the courts from authority over funding education in a court battle that began in 2010! Eight years later, the courts have joined the school districts in saying, “enough.”
There is much more that is needed and women’s groups are working in many different levels of political activism. Whether women research, march, protest, strike, get involved in grassroots campaigns, lobby, assist in voter turnout, or run for office, they are involved in the political process as never before. Experience has taught women that change doesn’t come quickly, but they also know if they don’t get involved, change will never come on issues important to them and their families. Each woman goes forth for her own personal reason, but collectively, their numbers and commitment are impressive and they are achieving success. Women may turn out to be the single most important factor in the 2018 Mid-Term election. They are just getting started and they intend to “make trouble.”