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BOOKS Political powerhouse Rebecca Sive on the GOP, women's rights
by Sarah Toce
2014-01-29

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As a writer, public speaker and political strategist for women in politics, Rebecca Sive is setting the trend for successful female entrepreneurs from New York to L.A., Chicago to the Bay Area, and everywhere in between.

Her distinct brand of no-holds-barred straight talk coupled with serious brainpower and constitutional wherewithal have landed her numerous awards and accolades. Rebecca is currently on tour promoting her bestseller Every Day Is Election Day: A Woman's Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House.

Windy City Times: You've been named one of the Feminists Who Changed America: 1963-1975 ( University of Illinois Press, 2006 ). Where do you find the inspiration to keep evolving and working in the women's rights movement?

Rebecca Sive: I was inspired by my mother and father, who were always involved in various community betterment and progressive political activities. In college, I read Robin Morgan's Sisterhood is Powerful, which was enlightening and inspirational. As a young woman, I learned about feminist heroes like Ida B. Wells, Jane Addams, Golda Meier, and Shirley Chisholm. I thought I might emulate their work. I was also fortunate to work with Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, Addie Wyatt, and many other Second Wave women leaders and politicians, who continue to inspire me.

WCT: Since you were the chair of the NARAL Foundation, how does the Republican male politics of today's society sit with you?

Rebecca Sive: My twin-issue commitments, since I first became a women's-issue organizer and feminist activist during college, are women's reproductive autonomy and economic security. Consequently, I've always been engaged with projects and political candidates who favor these two policy positions. It's also important to remember that, particularly back in the '70s and '80s, some Democratic ( as well as Republican ) candidates were anti-choice, requiring pro-choice activists to lobby them to change positions. We need to always pay attention. That won't change!

WCT: What advice might you give to young women fighting the system to have control of their own bodies and reproductive organs?

Rebecca Sive: My advice is this quote from Thomas Jefferson: "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." You can't ever take for granted the fact that abortion is legal in the U.S. since, in the adult lifetime of many women activists today ( myself included ), it was not. "Eternal vigilance" means engaging in reproductive rights advocacy, including only supporting political candidates who are pro-choice.

WCT: Politics and women's rights. How closely are these two items related, in your opinion?

Rebecca Sive: They are as closely related as once can imagine since—in one of the first political acts of our nation, the writing of the Constitution—women were excluded, and it was close to another 150 years before an amendment to it ( finally ) gave us the right to vote.

WCT: You were one of the founders of EMILY's List. The tagline of EMILY's List states: "Supporting pro-choice Democratic women running for congress and governor." Obviously, this is an important issue close to your heart. What inspired the creation of EMILY's List?

Rebecca Sive: I was honored to be the first organizer of EMILY's List in Illinois and counted among my colleagues the D.C. women who initially set-up EMILY. When those first organizing meetings were held, it was clear ( this was during the period immediately following attempts to amend the Constitution to prohibit abortion ), that more pro-choice women-electeds were desperately needed. That was the motivation to create EMILY.

WCT: If another list were invented as a spin-off for women right now, what might it be called and why?

Rebecca Sive: Well, I think there are any number of good ideas out there for women's political organizations. Certainly, every state could usefully have an organization like EMILY's List. That would be a great boon to pro-choice Democratic women who want to run for office, since getting trained and raising money are so important and EMILY does both those things so well.

WCT: How did your book—Every Day Is Election Day: A Woman's Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House—come about?

Rebecca Sive: I was inspired to write Every Day is Election Day after the 2008 election, when it became clear that a woman [Hillary Clinton] could run a mainstream race for the presidency, changing the political realities for women so positively. Clinton's campaign also coincided with a time when I was reflecting on my work as an advisor and strategist for women-led progressive organizations. I concluded the time was right to share the wisdom and experience of feminist political activists, so that successive generations could be motivated and guided to become feminist public leaders and politically influential.

WCT: Can you give us some insight about the contents of Every Day Is Election Day?

Rebecca Sive: The book is advice about how to build a public presence and political influence, intertwined with the wisdom and illustrative stories of women, from a range of experiences and backgrounds, who've done this already. The women I interviewed—and whose stories I tell—are from all over the country and of differing racial and ethnic backgrounds, holding a variety of different types of offices. Consequently, the book makes the case that valuable and important political work is happening everywhere, providing a political opportunity for every woman who wants one.

Also, their ( and my ) advice is well-suited to any woman who seeks a presence in the public square -whether as an elected or appointed official, a campaign staffer, a head of an advocacy organization, a government staffer, or as a business leader. The book includes a comprehensive resources section, so that readers know where to go for various kinds of information. I'm also pleased that my publisher is offering terrific bulk order organizational discounts, so that the book is affordable for book groups, clubs, training programs, etc.

[Note: Call 800-888-4741 for bulk order organizational discounts.]

WCT: Who are some of your favorite "Women to Watch in Politics" right now?

Rebecca Sive: I'm always keen on watching women running for the U.S. Senate, since the position is so important and the term is long enough for a woman—just like a man—to build up some real accomplishments and power. I'm also very interested in watching women who seek executive offices, e.g., governorships or mayoralties. Since only five states have a woman governor now, and none of the big three U.S. cities have a woman mayor, this is a good place for all of us to watch, learn and be helpful.

WCT: There is a tour in support of this book. Why was that an important step to take?

Rebecca Sive: In the course of writing Every Day Is Election Day, I found enthusiasm all over the country for increasing the number of women political leaders. At the same time, my years of consulting had taught me how important it is for women to share their advice and experiences as widely—and deeply—as possible. Consequently, I was delighted to tour to support the book. And, I will tell you, it's been quite gratifying. Women everywhere are excited to be a part of this history-making time for political women.

WCT: Looking ahead to 2016, will we see another Clinton administration?

Rebecca Sive: Last summer, I was thrilled when I read a list of women, Republican and Democrat, who were considered prospective candidates for the presidency in 2016. Who would have dreamed we'd reach this day! Certainly, Hillary Clinton is at the top of any list, but until we know whether she will run or not, it's not possible to assess further. In the meantime, we can all work to develop the positive political climate women candidates at every level need and deserve.

WCT: If not Clinton, is there another female powerhouse that might be able to step up to that podium?

Rebecca Sive: On lists I've seen—of Democratic women who are considered front-runner possibilities in 2016 ( after Hillary Clinton )—are U.S. senators Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand.

WCT: What is the best advice you have ever given to a candidate?

Rebecca Sive: I think the best advice for a candidate is the best advice for anyone who seeks public influence and power: seek the office for a substantive reason and then be willing to give your all to that effort. Power and influence for their own sake don't really help women and girls. And, no one wins without understanding Every Day is Election Day.

Further information about Every Day Is Election Day: A Woman's Guide may be found at www.rebeccasive.com . Rebecca is on Twitter @RebeccaSive .


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