Power To Run, Vote, Lead: Women Stand Up To Make Change
“The power is with us.”
Such was the welcome from Lauren Underwood, a registered nurse running for Congress in Illinois’ 14thdistrict, to the crowd of more than 1,600 for the 17thAnnual Ultimate Women’s’ Power Lunch in Chicago hosted by Illinois Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.
The greeting was a benediction to the power of women voting, running for office, supporting women’s issues and working for justice. Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza introduced Schakowsky as “persister, resister, our sister.”
“How do you feel today?” Schakowsky asked the crowd.
“Powerful!” was the shouted response.
Stacey Abrams, former Georgia House minority leader and gubernatorial candidate hopeful in that state, said in her luncheon keynote speech that she was one of six children growing up in the Deep South.
Abrams says her mother was a college librarian and her father worked in a shipyard, not because he didn’t have an education, but because he didn’t have a choice. Graduating from Yale Law School, she lived out her parents’ American dream, Abrams says.
“Go to church, go to school and take care of each other,” were her parents’ rules for the family. “The secret is education is transformative,” she says.
As the first black woman who may be elected governor in this country in 241 years, and facing a May 22 primary, Abrams says, “I’m running for an office where some folks don’t think I belong.”
More women on both sides of the aisle are running for office in 2018. Out of 535 members of Congress, women hold 22 senate seats and 83 women are representatives. That is 19.6 percent of the total.
According to PBS, GOP strategist Jennifer Hallowell says, “I think that women are motivated by issues similar to men. You know, whether it’s taxes, or the economy, jobs. I reject this whole notion of women’s issues. Because every issue is a women’s issue.”
The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University reports that 54 women have declared they are in the running for U.S. senate seats including 32 Democrats and 22 Republicans. A record 439 women are in the running for U.S House of Representative slots, including 331 Democrats and 108 Republicans.
Like Abrams, 74 other women are in the running for governor, with 48 of them Democratic hopeful candidates and 27 of these women listed as Republicans.
EMILY’s List reports that 34,000 women are interested in running for office and have reached out for information and training since 2016.
Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock recently said, “As I travel around the country and we see, particularly for EMILY’s List, this wave of women who are coming into the political process. For us, it’s women saying they want to run for office. But on the ground, it’s women marching and organizing and pulling their communities together,” according to CNN.
Several organizations have launched to train women to campaign for office. Project 100 has the goal of 100 women serving in Congress by 2020. VoteRunLead plans to train 30,000 women to run for office by 2020. She Should Run has an even more ambitious goal of urging 250,000 women to run for office by 2030. Higher Heights For America has the goal of encouraging women of color to run for office.
“You can’t win if you don’t run,” says Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead. “And if you don’t run, you can’t complain about not having equal representation. Yet if we are to have a government of, by, and for the people, then we who are half the people must participate in all aspects of the democratic process, including running for office.”
Feldt adds, No matter how hard the knocks are and how distasteful personal attacks women receive may be, it’s time to step up and show up to take our fair and equal place in political leadership.”
Carmen Yulin Cruz, mayor of Puerto Rico, knows all about personal attacks as a political leader.
Cruz, a former member of Puerto Rico House of Representatives, and recently named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World list for 2018, elicited a standing ovation at the annual Power Lunch.
Cruz says her parents advised her as she was growing up to “study harder, run faster, hit harder and scream at the top of your lungs when you see something that’s not right.”
As the force behind the recovery in San Juan where Hurricane Maria devastated the island, Cruz, who graduated from Boston University, then later with a masters in public management and policy from Carnegie Mellon University, says, “September 20 we started a fight and one that is not yet finished. People are still dying.“
The death toll in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria is about 1,500, she says, with no official count available. More than 75,000 people in Puerto Rico still do not have electricity or running water. More than 500,000 homes in Puerto Rico need new roofs and more than 500,000 residents have left Puerto Rico for the United States, Cruz says.
More than $2.2 billion in federal aid has been approved for Puerto Rico from FEMA,according to releases, with more than 1.1 million households and businesses in Puerto Rico seeking assistance.
According to Cruz, “not one cent” has been received.
“My mother and father told me you can stand up or stand down. If you do it, you do it with every bit of your soul.” Cruz adds, “It isn’t just a legal obligation, it’s a moral obligation.”
Fighting tears, Cruz says, “Humans know when humans are in need. Sometimes they say politics shouldn’t be personal. Showing emotions makes us look weak.” But identifying with pain and suffering is essential, she says.
“Life, liberty and the pursuit if happiness pertains to every human where a citizen of the U.S. or not,” Cruz says. “This is not about partisan politics, this is about people. My grandmother told me never to start a fight, but also never to leave one unfinished.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldonwww.micheleweldon.com