How we win and why it matters was the topic of one of the plenary political roundtable discussions at the NOW conference July 6 at the Hilton Chicago.
Former Ambassador and U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, former President of NOW and founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation Eleanor Smeal, Indiana State Reps. Linda Lawson and Sue Errington, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle spoke to about 250 people about their political journeys and the role of women in government.
Following an introduction by Bonnie Grabenhofer, action vice president of NOW, Braun spoke about the role of women in government, voting rights over time and the history of women in elected office.
Braun shared her history as an elected official and pointed out that, although women are a majority of the U.S. population, they still only hold less than 20 percent of elected offices in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Equal representation is important, Braun explained, when one considers the rights of women, people of color, the poor and the LGBT community. Who better to understand the civil-rights implications of marriage equality than those who have a vested interest in the outcome of legislation, noted Braun.
To get more women into elected office, Braun suggested that every open seat becomes one where a woman holds elected office and both political parties should include that initiative in their national political platforms. Braun praised NOW for their leadership throughout the years, including their work to secure LGBT equality.
Smeal spoke about the worldwide backlash against women and how women are fighting back. "I view it as the last gasp of a patriarchy whose days are numbered," said Smeal. Smeal also roused the crowd with a chant, "we are the majority. We together will not be defeated. We come as one united; rich and poor, all races, gay, straight, bisexual and transgender. We are the majority and we will win."
Rep. Lawson shared how she got into politics by way of a job as a police officer and eventually the first female captain with the Hammond (Indiana) Police Department. Along the way, Lawson explained that she faced harassment from fellow officers, even while the community embraced her. Mentoring is the most powerful thing a person can do to elevate more women into elected office, said Lawson. Lawson also mentioned that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence rejected the recent Supreme Court DOMA ruling in a statement on his Facebook page and promptly deleted any statements that people made in favor of the ruling. "He is a dangerous man with super majorities in the Indiana General Assembly ... social issues are their (the GOP) breakfast, lunch and dinner," said Lawson.
Rep. Errington explained that at first she started working for other candidates who were working on women's issues and after some time she was encouraged to run for office (winning three out of five elections in the process). Her years in NOW prepared her for elected office, Errington noted. Women who want to run for office should pay attention to open seats and run for those offices, she said.
Toni Preckwinkle mentioned that she is a history teacher by trade and if you can manage a classroom you can make it in politics. "Democracy is the most fragile form of government," said Preckwinkle. The challenges women face when running for political office are funding and media representation, according to Preckwinkle. Also, she said that parents should raise daughters who take risks and are willing to fail.
See www.now.org for more information.
NOW holds discussion on diversity issues here: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/NOW-holds-discussion-on-diversity-issues/43610.html .
NOW focus includes marriage equality 2013-07-06 here: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/NOW-focus-includes-marriage-equality/43608.html .