1. Opinion

Bill Maxwell: Empowering women in politics

Women members of Congress, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., center, cheer after President Donald Trump acknowledges more women in Congress during his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Published May 3

I've always thought that women in the United States too often have allowed men to marginalize them and devalue them. After all, women outnumber men in the United States.

I've had many arguments with women, and I have engendered a lot of hostility for asking these questions: You outnumber men, so why do you let men run almost everything, including many aspects of your personal lives, abortion rights being one? Why have you accepted, blithely in some instances, second-class citizenship?

That said, I'm hopeful women will gain real power with the launch of a new women's organization called Supermajority.

The professional histories and political instincts of the three cofounders make the effort instantly legitimate: Cecile Richards, former Planned Parenthood president; Alicia Garza, a cofounder of Black Lives Matter; and Ai-jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Worker Alliance.

What makes Supermajority different from other such organizations?

In an email, Richards writes: "What's different this time around is just how many women there are: the teachers in Arizona, Oklahoma, California, and West Virginia striking for public education. Women everywhere speaking out against sexual assault and harassment. And of course the millions of women (and our allies) marching all across the country for issues like reproductive rights and equal pay.

"One of my comrades in this effort, Ai-jen Poo, says it best: 'Women have always been forces for change in this country, but we've never run the country.' That's what Supermajority is all about – women coming together across issues and identities to fight for our shared values and demand what we need from those in power."

Richards, the daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, said the issues women care about most are cast aside. She said despite being the majority of Americans, women are treated as a mere constituency and a special interest group.

Supermajority intends to change that. Going beyond perfunctory meetings and marches, the organization's goal is to professionally train women on basic ways to participate in politics and activism in their communities, both face-to-face and online.

Getting women to run for office and getting women to vote for other women is a winning combination during Donald Trump' presidency as the 2018 midterm elections clearly demonstrated.

When the 116th Congress convened in January, women comprised nearly a quarter of its voting membership. A record 102 women now serve in the House of Representatives, 23.4 percent of the chamber's voting members. This is the highest percentage in history. More good news is that 25 women now serve in the Senate. These increases are the direct result of smart activism.

In a press release, Supermajority stated that a major goal is to create a "women's New Deal for gender equality." It will include issues such as unequal pay, soaring child care costs, family leave and saving the Affordable Care Act.

Notably absent from the release was any mention of reproductive health care or abortion rights. Organizers said these issues remain priorities, but how they are handled for public consumption still needs to be worked out.

Supermajority's cofounders and others will launch a national "listening tour" over the summer, meeting with other women to gather information on issues that are important to them. The hope is to establish the "agenda" that will underpin the group's long-term advocacy.

"In many ways, women have been doing all this work – whether it's running their PTA, or organizing around reproductive health care – but we haven't been doing it together," Richards told the Washington Post. "What are we going to do to make this moment not something that is just a fleeting flash point of activism, but actually creating a permanent organizing ability for women?

"The issues we share as women are deep, and they are wide, and they're very similar across the country. But we have to be in rooms with women that we don't know. I know that there are many more of us, even though we don't come from the same backgrounds. I don't know what the model for that is. It's not something that we have done."


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