We need to make up our loss of women in the next Congressional and Gubenatorial elections. There’s an app for that – and here’s Jill Miller Zimon’s post about it.
Just a few days before Tuesday’s general election, Mary Hughes, Founder and Director of The 2012 Project, spoke with me about the future of women in politics. Hughes’ organization is a national, non-partisan campaign to bolster the number of women in office by leveraging the boon of open Congressional seats brought about by decennial redistricting. In particular, we discussed women running for elected office post-redistricting, which is the basis for the effort’s name.
I kicked off her thoughts by asking what was the the catalyst for The 2012 Project.
There were two things:
First, I was invited in the summer of 2006 to a retreat at CAWP [Rutgers' Center for American Women and Politics]. There were about 30 of us invited, men and women, but the focus among participants – some who were scholars, some who were operatives like myself, some who were elceted women and then some who were active fairly high up in their political parties - was: what is happening to women’s participation as candidates?
What the Center had noticed was that since the mid- to late ’90s through the mid-2000s, the number of women running for office had flatlined. We had seen, since late ’70s, a steady but incremental increase in the numbers of women running, and a parallel incremental increase of the number of women elected to office, but this was a different pattern. I was tremendously intrigued by it.
In addition, I had been working to elect women since the mid ’80s, and although I have also worked and elected some wonderful men, I had probably been more focused on women. And I was aware that the Bay Area where I work, but California in particular, was not like the rest of the city: We’ve elected two women to the Senate, the first woman Speaker of the House, and I knew it wasn’t the norm.
So I experienced this wonderful richness of a women’s community of political leaders, encouraging and supporting each other to run and to develop fundraising ability, but that was the exception, and not the rule.
I realized that the rate of change was slow, even if we got back on the track that we had been on in the early 90s that led to the big year of ’92 when we added so many women to Congress. Even if we got back on the incremental track, we were only making incremental progress.
I began to think, What was possible that would make a significant difference? How could we come at this differently?
I see three elements and a big opportunity:
The first element is the cohort of women over 45, my contemporaries, who are by and large pioneers. There are women who chose for the first time, and had lots of choices in terms of development, who chose sometimes what, at the time, were non-traditonal occupations. But those women who were accomplished in those fields - finance, science, technology, energy, health, environment, small business and international affairs – and women of that age group, boomer women, they had been negotiators and pioneers. They were the first class of women that reached the corporate hierarchy and now possess many of the skills of being a political leader.
They’re also, for the most part, women whose skills and experience are in short supply. These industries are underrepresented in a political world, and yet our economy is dependent on their success. This theory came very much into current vision because we revamped the health care system as well as drew up and knew [how to do] oversight for the financial industry. And so, when I asked a nurses’ association how many nurses were in the House of Representatives who could advise their colleagues on health care reform, there were [just] three!
So this led us to baby boomer women in these industries.
Another reason that this cohort is terrific for this: they raised their families while rooted in communities more financially stable than the generation coming up behind them and they have the network to find the support and raise funds.
So, why make the push? The big deal is that usually, we only get a quasi-level playing field, but when we re-draw all the lines, lots of opportunities are created. Historically, it’s the one election every decade with the most open seats and the most competitive seats.
So it makes sense to say to this group of women, you have an extraordinary opportunity.
And this is the other element that’s important: At a time when we’re looking at our third act, I want to put on that table a post-career public service opportunity. I want to convince these women that the country needs them, needs a mature individual that can make a difference as to what we get done in our country.
What I’ve learned in looking at this third act of life is that most women come to this point of accomplishment and they say, I would like to do something in life that is purposeful, meaningful and leaves a legacy. So often, we describe that as “giving back to the community” but we haven’t always included public service as a part of that giving back to the community.
One goal of The 2012 Project is to have this discussion with women about their contributions and encourage them to step forward and do it from a nonpartisan point of view. This is about what contributions these women can make to the country. Once someone steps forward, we take them to the next step: here are these allies, like Women’s Campaign Forum, etc., to train, and leadership programs or fundraising networks or introducing her to the party or caucus leadership, or relevant campaign committees on national level, and so on.
We do that with fabulous women who’ve already been in office. That’s the faculty, including some of the co-chairs. They are out speaking already and stepping forward.
Next I asked Mary about the Project’s efforts to engage a diverse group of women.
We do this in two or three different ways:
First, we collaborate with women who are elected as well as formerly elected officials who were leaders for their communities of color in stepping forward. We solicit and take suggestions and seek out their advice to be sure we’re reaching out to women of color.
Then, in every industry we go to the professional and industry associations, the meetings where we would find women. For example, next week we have former women legislators speaking to a society of women engineers. So, within that group there, we seek out organizations for advancement of women of color, in those areas, but also we go to national associations and leadership programs seeking them.
In [the October 26th] 2012 newsletter, there is a story about CAWP Director, Debbie Walsh, being on a panelt at the annual training and education conference for MANA: A National Latina Organization. [The newsletter details more about this kind of outreach to diverse women.] Through sitting down and saying, these are our areas of focus, we found the Latinas of NASA.
We ask – we ask a lot and we ask everywhere.
Finally, I asked Mary, how are you dealing with the excuses women give for not running?
What we say is this: some of the finest female leadership in the country runs nonprofits, but in the community nonprofit, you solve a very small piece of a very big problem – literacy, housing, etc. What I’m asking you to do is solve a problem about which you care deeply, on a basis that will be system changing, and that will help more people than you can imagine. And only government can do that, only government can change the direction of a policy. Once government does that, it sets an example for the private and nonprofit sectors.
[I say to them] if you think that you’re motivated by a desire to change something you don’t like but you want to do it only locally, you can solve a small part of a problem, but if you look up and you see the horizon, you can think about solving problems for everyone in the country.
This post also appear at WCFOnline’s Women and Politics blog.
By Jill Miller Zimon at 11:39 am November 4th, 2010 in
by Mike Licht via Flickr/Creative Commons
by Jill Miller Zimon