By Alex Slater, Managing Director, Clyde Group
Emily’s List has a problem, according to the Washington Post. It can’t keep up with the number of new women interested in running for office. In the first four months of the year, the organization spoke to 11,000 such women, up from 900 in all of 2016. A shocking jump by any means, but not a surprising phenomenon to anyone who’s been paying attention.
The story of these 11,000 women, and the many more who have sought inspiration through desperation in the months since the general election is perhaps best embodied by Teresa Shook, who last November took a walk outside her beachside home on Oahu. Troubled by the recent election results, she asked herself what she could do to help right what had gone so unexpectedly wrong. With a fierce desire to protect rights she felt were under attack, yet with no experience in activism, she hardly knew where to begin. But with the help of some research into political activism, she created a Facebook page and on January 20th found herself leading hundreds of thousands of other women on another, much longer walk – this time on the National Mall.
The Women’s Marches in Washington and around the world that day were like a global birth announcement: of both the anti-Trump Resistance Movement the resolutely female political future it promises.
Kristen Swanson is sure to be part of that future. Swanson, like Shook, had never been very politically active, yet she was disturbed enough by Republican promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act to gather friends at her home in Lovettsville, Virginia, and begin organizing efforts to make their case to their local Congresswoman, Barbara Comstock. They arranged for constituents to tell their stories to Comstock’s staffers, putting together a packet telling personal stories that emphasized the anticipated effects of a repeal.
Before the election, stay-at- home parent Claire Witzleben couldn’t tell you the name of her representative, or even what district she lived in. But since the Inauguration, she has been putting together weekly protests outside of Republican Representative Ryan Costello’s district office.
In New Jersey, Elizabeth Juviler used Facebook to co-found a group called NJ11th for Change, which staged mock town hall events to pressure Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen to vote against the American Health Care Act. On the day of the vote, Frelinghuysen announced that he would oppose AHCA, and credited his vocal constituents for his change of heart.
Stories like Juliver’s are happening everywhere. The Women’s March generated momentum that has led to over 5,000 “huddles”—small, neighborhood-based meetings to plot the next steps for local groups. Efforts led by women have caused House Republicans to shelve their plans to scrap the Congressional Ethics Office, and have prompted pushback on several of the President’s controversial cabinet nominations, including Labor Secretary appointee Andy Puzder, who eventually withdrew his name from consideration.
The surge of women entering the political fray can be partly attributed to the influence of social media as a strategic equalizer: it is a resource with an immediate, observable political impact, one that, unlike others such as campaign financing, professional networks or traditional media coverage, has a very low entry cost. This means that women, who are frequently at a disadvantage when competing for resources, now have more access to the political arena.
The tide of women activists is bound to morph into a new wave of women in office. There were lots of important firsts for women in this election: The number of women of color serving in the Senate quadrupled…to four. Kamala Harris became the first black woman to represent the state of California and only the second black woman—and the first Indian-American woman in history to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Catherine Cortez Masto is the first-ever Latina to serve in the U.S. Senate. Pramila Jayapal is the first Indian American woman to be elected to the House of Representatives from the state of Washington.
Yet it should go without saying that an election in which the first female Presidential nominee suffered defeat does not necessarily auger well for those of us excited by the possibilities for women in politics. It’s going to take work—a lot of work—to realize those possibilities. Women currently make up only 19.4% of Congress: 21% of the Senate and 19% of the House. Women hold 23.7% statewide elective executive offices across the country.
In addition, rights important to women and progressives: reproductive choice, equal pay, access to affordable health care and others are already under siege by the Trump administration. When it comes to women participating in politics, or merely in exercising their own civil rights, Trump and his supporters are defiantly rolling up the welcome mat.
The good news, however, the undeniable, necessary, inspiring, ignore-at- your-own- peril news, is that women are now forging their own path to power. They’re not waiting for anyone, least of all those who have barred their access for so long, to issue an invitation. The women of the new political wave are beholden to no one. They owe their allegiance only to themselves, the commonweal they believe in and the future they envision. A future that is rumbling with promise, just over the horizon.
This piece originally appeared in Huffington Post.