Friday, October 16, 2015

Representation 2020: Their Mission & Why it May Just Work

By Alexa Zogopoulos & Mallory McPherson-Wehan

Women make up 50.8% of the population in the United States, but only 19% of Congress. Do we still live in a representative democracy if women are not being equally represented? It is easy to advertise these statistics and demand change, but if you have no actual plan to achieve gender parity, then your quest may be in vain. Representation 2020 seeks to present a plan with reasonable goals in order to “raise awareness of the underrepresentation of women in elected office, to strengthen coalitions that are supportive of measures to increase women's representation, and to highlight the often overlooked structural barriers to achieving gender parity in American elections.” Before we explain how exactly Representation 2020 seeks to raise awareness and make these landmark changes, let’s first explain why we need groups like this. 
Why should we elect more women to office? Women represent over half of the country’s skills, knowledge, and talents. Women have a different perspective on needs in policy areas such as healthcare, transportation, education and jobs. Women in elected office increase the likelihood of conceiving and implementing effective legislation and just solutions to social, economic, and environmental problems. With more women in office, there will be a greater desire among politicians to reach out to their female voters and represent their concerns. 
How do we get more women elected to political office? Well, first we need women to run. Representation 2020’s first goal is to recruit more women through intentional action. Whether it be targeting college-age students to get more involved in politics or recruit women from the local level to run, we need to identify women who want to run in this age of “political apathy.” While grassroots organizing will greatly assist in getting women’s names on the ballot, we must also hold political parties accountable for encouraging women to run for all offices. It is the duty of the parties to support their candidates, but it is important that they pay close attention to which members of their party are actually represented by the candidates. State Democratic and Republican parties must establish gender parity committees to acknowledge the level of gender parity among their candidates, while also supporting more women within their party to run for office. Political parties must make female representation a priority. 
So now that we have women who want to run, how do we get them to win? Voting systems have a huge impact on gender representation. America is very unique with our “winner take all” system. This system does not reflect diversity or minorities. Representation 2020 claims that the best way to deal with our voting system is to implement ranked choice voting. Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank their desired candidates in order of preference, as opposed to just choosing one. These rankings then allow for second and third choice candidates to still gain “seats” in multi-winner elections while also allowing higher chances of winning for second and third-choice candidates in single-winner elections. This system rewards candidates who reach out to the most voters and helps lesser known candidates become recognized. Ranked choice voting also revolutionizes campaigns by forcing candidates to rely on more than just one group of supporters to get elected. 
How do we know that this system actually works? Ranked choice voting has been implemented in the cities of Minneapolis, Oakland, San Francisco, Cambridge, and San Leandro. In all of these cases, there was a dramatic increase in women and minorities being elected. Even many universities including Ivy Leagues use ranked choice voting to elect their student representatives. In every case, from local to college-level, the implementation of ranked choice voting has been nothing but successful in increasing fair representation.
 And how is it that something as seemingly simple as changing the way we vote leads to more minorities and women in office? The answer is simple: there is a change in the dynamic of competition in elections. Rather than elections being between one wealthy party leader and another wealthy party leader, ranked-choice voting opens up the pool to candidates of all different backgrounds and political statuses. With more than one “winner,” ranked choice voting allows more voters to feel as though their vote counts while also encouraging politicians to focus more on their own policies than attempting to crush their competitor with the monetary strength of their party.
The problem with enacting ranked choice voting is that no incumbent will want to implement a new voting system that would hurt his/her chances of being reelected. To start implementing this system, we would have to start by targeting communities that need the most revolutionary change in their representation. Representation 2020 seeks to start at the local level. As Americans, we tend to think that federal office is where representation matters the most-and it is very true we need representation there, but in order to get more women to run for office, we must start at the local and state level. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

My Internship with NWPC

                              BY: Piper O'Keefe, NWPC Development Intern

In this post, Piper reflects on her experience interning for the National Women's Political Caucus for the Summer of 2015.

As I was searching for internships for this summer, I wanted to find a way to channel my passion for women in politics. At Gettysburg College, I am a Political Science and Globalization Studies double major and German minor, so I am especially interested in the role that women play in politics throughout the world. Although there are many ways in which the United States is a leader when it comes to human rights, only about 20% of the House of Representatives is female, meaning it ranks 72nd in the world for the percentage of women representatives in national lower houses. We can and should elect more women than this!

I was incredibly excited when I discovered the internships offered through the National Women’s Political Caucus because NWPC is an organization that truly reflects my belief that more pro-choice women from both parties need to be elected to all levels of government. Being a Development Intern with NWPC for the summer has meant that I get to spend the summer in Washington, DC (which is great in itself!) and has given me innumerable opportunities. I have been able to work both in and out of the office furthering women’s equality, and I have learned more than I ever could in a classroom. From meeting with women leaders from across the nation and world to helping to plan and run a major convention, my internship has been packed with more amazing experiences than can even be described.

One of the exciting opportunities I had early this summer was meeting with a delegation of women political leaders from Armenia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Turkey, and Ukraine. We primarily talked with them about what political participation is like for women in the United States and their respective countries. Interestingly, the women shared that in most of their countries there really is no abortion debate in politics- almost everyone is simply pro-choice. They were shocked and confused that the issue of abortion is still a topic of political debate in the US. Until that meeting, the only experience I had with women in politics internationally was comparing statistics; I really enjoyed getting to personalize the facts by meeting these women and hearing what their involvement in politics in other countries has been like.

The NWPC’s 22nd Biennial Convention took place in Washington, DC this July and the theme for the weekend was 50/50 by 2020: Marching Towards Parity. NWPC members from around the nation came together for three days to elect new national officers and attend panels, events, and workshops filled with incredible speakers. As an intern, I helped to plan the convention beforehand and then actually run it. It was incredibly rewarding to see events that we spent months preparing for unfold successfully before my eyes. The Good Guys Gala, for example, was a seated dinner where we honored four men who are committed to helping women reach equality- Former NWPC Political Director Nick Demeter; the late Dr. Howard Lessner; Baltimore City Councilman, Nick Mosby; and Missouri State Representative Stephen Webber. The Keynote Speaker for the event was Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Working from the beginning of the summer to help to get nominations for these awards, contact the honorees, put together their bios, order the awards, and create the event program made hearing their speeches and meeting them an even better experience than it would have otherwise been.

Interning with NWPC has been great for so many reasons- instead of just learning about women in politics, I have met and helped support women in politics; instead of just attending a convention, I have helped to plan and run a convention; and so much more. It has been a pretty incredible summer, to say the least!

To apply for a Fall 2015 internship with NWPC, click here: 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A busy woman’s guide to being an informed voter

BY: Nancy Poling, author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman and Out of the Pumpkin Shell

When I think of scary election scenarios, I imagine David Duke in his Grand Master of the Ku Klux Klan garb sitting at a desk in front of the state seal of Louisiana. In 1991 he ran for governor there and got 39% of the votes. He didn’t win because black voters turned out. That’s why I refuse to let cynicism over American politics overpower my determination to make my political voice count—because the voices of a group of like-minded voters can make a difference.
If we allow ourselves to be convinced that politics is dirty, that all politicians are dishonest, that the world’s headed for disaster anyway—so why do anything?—there’s no chance of rectifying the situation. Our disinterest will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The alternative is to be like the black voters in Louisiana in 1991, to be informed and mobilize our forces.
It’s the being informed I want to address here.
Political campaigns depend on our not keeping up on current events. In the weeks leading up to an election, sound bytes and misinformation blast the media. There’s usually something to fear—ISIS, ebola, criminals, big government—and those who haven’t been paying much attention respond to the fear that best fits their situation.
Unfortunately staying informed requires time and energy, two luxuries most working women don’t have. How might a woman fit it into her already hectic schedule? I’ve got a few suggestions:
1.) Set a reasonable goal. You’re not likely to have enough time to be well informed on every topic.
2.) Just like you schedule exercise, set a goal of reading or listening to current topics for fifteen minutes a day. You can do it while you pedal the exercise bike, commute to work, or by grabbing a little time for yourself at the end of the day. (Beware the gym that keeps the TV tuned to Fox News.)
3.) Pick one or two issues that matter the most to you. For me they’re the environment and racial justice—though I glance at news related to all events of that day. Here are a few websites that may coincide with your interests. Environmental issues: Racial justice issues: Women’s issues:  There are plenty of sites out there, but be sure if you’re googling the topic to choose a reliable source. I find that a search on Twitter under “feminist,” “environment,” or “racial justice” connects me with people who’ve already done the hard work of locating informative material.
4.) Check on what your representatives are doing. Many post on Facebook. Does their voting reflect your values? Also pay attention to what elected officials at the state level are talking about. By the time the election comes around you’ll know whether you want to vote for or against them.
Fifty years ago, John Lewis was in the front line of people crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He and others marched—put their lives at risk—for the right of African Americans to vote. Lewis has said, “The vote is precious. It’s almost sacred. It’s the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society.”

Let’s use that tool responsibly. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

“Islam In The Media: How Global Events Tarnished Its Reputation”

BY: Usma Hosain, Senior at The Bryn Mawr School

The latter half of 2014 was a busy time for global events and happenings. Not only was the Gaza-Israel conflict appearing everywhere, but the execution videos released by ISIS were dominating headlines. Topping all of this off was the coverage done on the behalf of media, tarnishing and slandering Islam as a religion and muslims as a population.
In late September, I was watching CNN, eager to hear about the conflicts filling the world and praying it would have nothing to do with muslims. My heart dropped, however, as I read the headline posted on the screen. “Does Islam promote violence?” I felt tears fill my eyes and the lump in my throat made itself known. The screen flashed and changed to two news anchors interviewing one of my favorite authors and scholars of religion, Reza Aslan. As I listened to Aslan critique the remarks of Bill Maher regarding muslims, one of the anchors interrupted him and brought up an aspect of Islam I had never heard of; the reason being that it doesn’t exist. She questioned why Islam is so misogynistic towards women. I could hear my heart pounding and all of a sudden, I couldn’t hear the interview anymore.
            Thoughts were running through my head faster than I could process. Words regarding muslims that I had heard throughout the years flashed through my head. ISIS, Al-Qaeda, jihadist, terrorist, monster, murderer, and more. I fixated on one, however: “jihadist.” Alongside all these events, I had been writing college essays and I had used jihad in one of them. I looked up the dictionary definition, wanting to verify I was using it correctly in terms of how people hear it today. Yet again, I was let down. The dictionary definition is as follows:

ji•had noun \ji-'häd, chiefly British, -'had\
"a war fought by muslims to defend or spread their beliefs"

1. a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty; also a personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline

2. a crusade for a principle or a belief

The definition provided by not only Merriam-Webster but also the Oxford English Dictionary (slightly varied) puts muslims and Islam in a light that is less than tasteful. Although the second definition is closest to the original, deriving from Arabic, the former is less than accurate. I consulted my Arabic-English dictionary that I had purchased for school. Among the hundreds of definitions listed, ‘a holy war’ did appear, however, there was nothing to suggest it had anything to do with Islam. In fact, in the Qu’ran, it is written that those who wage war on behalf of Islam are not true muslims. After emailing and exchanging several correspondences with the editors of Merriam-Webster, my concerns with their inaccurate definition were politely dismissed. And so, I set out to right the wrongs that I had seen. I started to write a petition to have the definition changed.
I’m not sure what I expected to happen, nor am I sure I had any expectations. I knew that if I could draw enough attention to the issue, even in the case that it did not get changed, I would have done my part. Be it one person or one hundred that read it, I would know that I tried, and I did change the way some people viewed my religion and my culture. I did not, however, expect that this project would take as long as it has.
More often than not, we are much too eager to put people into a box based on what we can see. More often than not, we blindly follow and agree with what the media says, not taking into account that the information they provide may not be the full story. More often than not, we do nothing to speak up, for it is easier to maintain silence than break it. Of course, as I grew older, I came to understand this, but it was not until I began writing the petition that my heart swelled with pride and I embraced my identity. Until that moment, I had not found the courage to break the silence.
My journey, however, does not end here. Over the months that I’ve been doing research and emailing scholars of Islam, I have been envisioning my future. I know that as a woman in politics, I will come to face many hurdles. There will be days when I want to give up. There will be days when I feel my effort is wasted and I am making no difference at all. I will, however, have days when I take pride in having the courage to undertake such a huge project at the age of 17. I will have days when I know that I may be inspiring other people to speak up for their beliefs. I will have days when I feel I have started a movement, for a movement starts not with thousands of people but one person, courageous, willing, and brave enough to begin.
They say women in politics is a bad idea because we’re so hormonal. They say we’re too emotional to make sound decisions and keep in mind what matters. They say women can’t do it on account of their gender. I beg to differ. Women have been the unsung heroes of the world for hundreds of years. In the absence of men, instead of shying away, women stepped up to the plate, ready and willing to help with anything and everything.
I suppose my education at an all girls’ school for 13 years has shaped me into what some would call a die-hard feminist. Some may say my views on women in politics makes me a radical feminist. Some may say that my hopes, goals, and aspirations for my petition are far too ambitious. I, however, refuse to back down. I refuse to walk away from a cause I feel so passionately about. I refuse to silence the voice I was given.
My name is Usma Hosain. I’m a 17 year old first generation American from Baltimore, MD. I am a feminist and I am an advocate for what is right. Above all, I am and always will be proud to be a Muslim.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Rape. Then and Now

BY: Kate Nace Day, Director/Producer of A CIVIL REMEDY
Twenty-five years ago, survivors of rape and domestic violence in the United States started telling their stories to Congress. For four years, their stories joined the testimony of physicians, law professors, representatives of state law enforcement and private business in the eight separate Reports issued by Congress and its committees that led to the enactment of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. On rape, Congress found:

         “Three-quarters of women never go to the movies alone after dark because of the fear of rape and nearly 50 percent do not use public transit alone after dark for the same reason.”
         “According to one study, close to half a million girls now in high school will be raped before they graduate.”

         “[One hundred twenty-five thousand] college women can expect to be raped during this -- or any -- year.”

         “[Forty-one] percent of judges surveyed believed that juries give sexual assault victims less credibility than other crime victims.”

         “An individual who commits rape has only about 4 chances in 100 of being arrested, prosecuted, and found guilty of any offense.”

In September 1994, the VAWA was enacted, declaring for the first time: “All persons within the United States shall have the right to be free from crimes of violence motivated by gender.”  Violence against women became more than a crime or personal injury. Such violence was now, in national law, sex discrimination, a violation of civil rights. Victims were given the same civil rights remedy as victims of crimes motivated by race or religion: a federal civil action for damages against perpetrators. 

That September, Christy Brzonkala was an 18 year-old freshman at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.  In her dorm, minutes after she met two varsity football players, one of them asked her to have sex with him. She told him “no,” twice.  When she went to leave, she says they raped her – first one, then the other, and then the first again. As he left, the first warned her, “You better not have any fucking diseases.” He later announced publicly, he “liked to get girls drunk and fuck the shit out of them.”

After Christy Brzonkala complained to the school, two rounds of disciplinary hearings were held.  One football player was acquitted and the other was found guilty of sexual assault and suspended for two semesters.  His suspension was quickly voided.  He was then found guilty of “using abusive language.” The University Provost personally intervened and overturned his second suspension.  He returned the next fall, on a full athletic scholarship.

Christy Brzonkala sued under the civil remedy provision of the VAWA.  As her case made its way to the Supreme Court as United States v. Morrison, the only question had been framed early on by the trial court. It was not the question whether her civil rights had been violated, but a question of federalism. The Supreme Court answered: Congress had no power to place law in the hands of women victims.  In the entire record of her case, Christy Brzonkala has only one word, “no.”

It is fifteen years since the Court’s decision in Morrison. The story of rape on American campuses has been building - on new social media, like the websites of survivors like Know Your IX and student organizations, SAFER, and blogs like Feministing and in the unprecedented political and legal responses of the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights' disclosures of Title IX investigations and The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. 

This past year, survivor stories became newly visible in documentary film.  In Cecilia Peck's BRAVE MISS WORLD, rape survivor and activist Miss Israel and Miss World Linor Abargil encourages victims of campus rape in America to speak out, and they do.  The director of the award-winning THE GREATEST SILENCE: RAPE IN THE CONGO, Lisa Jackson follows five survivors as they fight for accountability on campus and in federal court in her newly released film, IT HAPPENED HERE  

Just days ago, Kirby Dick's film about campus rape, THE HUNTING GROUND, premiered at Sundance.   Dick is known for telling human stories of inequalities and power, violence and impunity.  The Invisible War, his 2012 film on rape in the US military, pressed for accountability in how the military handles rape. In March 2014, a bill to take military sexual assault prosecutions out of the hands of commanders fell only five votes short of beating a Senate filibuster. 

 I have not seen THE HUNTING GROUND, described by the Sundance Film Festival as a “piercing, monumental exposé of rape culture on campuses.” While it may be too early to know the specifics of the film’s policy agenda, US Senators Barbara Boxer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand were at Sundance speaking on a related panel. Both are backing legislation requiring schools to disclose publicly the result of anonymous surveys concerning assaults. 

I hope colleges and universities will use these films to teach the vulnerability and violence of rape, its entrenched inequalities and shocking failures of accountability. To teach what the law says, what law does, what law has the power to change – in rape at home, at school, and on the streets, rape as pornography, rape for profit, rape as spectacle, rape in the military, rape as genocide, rape as war too extraordinary to be believed, rape in peace too commonplace to be visible.  

To those in colleges and universities who try to silence survivors or erase the small details and remembered events of their stories, then and now, young women are saying, “no.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Observations from my first "March For Life"

                              BY: Jessica Greer, NWPC Political Planning & Action Intern

In this post, Jessica reflects on her experiences attending the "March For Life," an annual anti-choice rally held in the nation's capital on the anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision.

 It felt very cold on one of the last Thursdays in January when I went to protest the March for Life. However, after talking with older women who have been coming to this rally for years, forty degrees was nothing. I was quickly given a sign and became a part of my first feminist protest. I have been to protests before, but never one for women’s rights. I felt more impassioned during this protest than others, and after hearing the pro-choice men, I realized how important it is to have other groups actively support you. I have met many men who support reproductive rights, but never ones who went out of their way to prove how important my rights were to them. It meant a lot to me. However, the good feelings did not last long, as pro-lifers starting trickling in bit by bit. At first they were passive, walking around with their signs, babies, and rosaries. There were also occasional prayers said for our souls, so nothing out of the ordinary.

       About an hour later, the hoard arrived and we blocked the road while chanting in unity. The police gave us the right to protest for a while, but eventually we had to clear the street in order to let them pass. A few young (and old) brave women refused and were arrested. All I can hope is that when I am old, I have the gusto that these women do. Watching the pro-lifers march past was an interesting experience. I went to a catholic school for 12 years, so I know what they can be like, but I never saw them in their full glory—and it was terrifying. Seeing all the younger children march past with confused faces was incredibly disheartening. I wouldn’t bring my children to a march for anything at that age. The babies were worse. These people shout about how much they care about babies, but they bring theirs in cold weather to an event with thousands of screaming people. Something else that disturbed me was how many men were marching. They were telling stories over loudspeakers about how their girlfriends had abortions and they felt as if they “lost their fatherhood.” They really brought themselves into a debate that they have no business being in. How can someone be so against something that doesn’t even affect them? The women in the march also barely had respect for their fellow females. Of course, abortion is a choice and you can always choose not to have one. Nonetheless, women should still respect other women who feel that they are unready for a child or simply do not want to be pregnant.

    Despite all this, there was one thing that gave me hope. Seeing all the kids around the junior high age, pressured to be there by their religion, was not as discouraging to me. I am certain that one day these children’s minds will lead them away from their religious bubble. After all my time in that bubble, I know that many kids will find their way out; I watched it happen. Against the pro-lifers loud and repetitive chant, I do not believe there will be an up and coming “pro-life generation.” 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Feminism and Politics: A Rising Tide

BY: Ellie Grabowski, Senior at The Bryn Mawr School

           "I am an ambitious feminist." Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s words rang out in the auditorium. A split second later, the room filled with cheers and applause. Her words had electrified the audience of teenage girls, and I was caught up in the tide of confidence, inspiration, and awe. For a brief moment, despite all I knew about this unbelievably unjust world in which we live, I was invincible, sitting on the crest of this wave of idealism and determination.
             I attend The Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, Maryland, an all-girls college preparatory school known for its philosophy of women's empowerment. This past November, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York visited and gave a talk followed by a question-and-answer session. She discussed how she entered politics, the struggles she faced and overcame along the way, and her views on issues like sexual assault in the military and paid maternity leave. She was confident. She was intelligent. She was immensely inspiring to the hundreds of teenage girls in her audience. But what struck me the most about her visit was her bold, unapologetic, determined declaration: “I am an ambitious feminist."  Me too.
     There aren’t many self-declared feminists in American culture, let alone American politics. 2014 saw a relative deluge of feminism in mainstream pop culture — ask anyone, and they’ll name Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Emma Watson, and Lena Dunham — but that doesn’t mean that mainstream pop culture is suddenly feminist. This, after all, is the culture that allowed domestic abuser Ray Rice to be reinstated to the NFL, the culture that tells high school girls that their bodies are distracting to their male classmates, and the culture that was documented by the ten hours’ worth of street harassment a woman recorded while simply walking down the streets of New York City. This is the culture that resulted in Time picking “feminist” as an option for its poll of words of 2014 to ban on November 12th this year. This is the culture in which that option received the most votes.
      And yet, time and time again, I’ve seen and heard people protesting that feminism is unnecessary. I’ve heard people decry the way it’s supposedly been shoved in their faces. I’ve heard people insist that women’s issues really aren’t as big a deal as they’re made out to be, and that those who pick up the label “feminist” only do so because it’s trendy. On the contrary, the very fact that those who call themselves feminists are accused of being shallow is proof that feminism is necessary. How can feminism be only a fashion statement if it is obvious that those who embrace it are relentlessly criticized? One need only look at the shocking amount of hatred and harassment thrown at Emma Watson after her (relatively mild) speech at the UN to see that we need feminism now more than ever.
         There are even fewer feminist politicians today than there are pop stars. Hillary Clinton is one; Senator Gillibrand, clearly, is another; and some people might be able to name Wendy Davis, but it’s hard to think of any more off the top of your head. This persistent absence of women who represent feminism and the realities of women’s lives from the political sphere is the reason why my classmates and I were so inspired by Senator Gillibrand when she visited our school. She is someone rare and necessary. We need more politicians and people like her, people who are not afraid of the word “feminist.”
            For me, it wasn’t hard to call myself either ambitious or feminist. It seemed obvious to me. I have big dreams, so I am ambitious; I believe in equal rights and opportunities for women, so I am a feminist. Senator Gillibrand, it is clear to me, feels the same way. As a politician, by definition, she works with people with whom she does not see eye-to-eye, but she has not let anyone else’s refusal to accept her opinions prevent her from working together with those people to come up with real solutions to real problems.
            According to the National Women’s Political Caucus, women currently make up less than 20% of Congress and less than 25% of state legislatorsThere are two women in President Obama’s Cabinet and three women on the U.S. Supreme Court. And yet, according to the United States Census Bureau, women make up 50.8% of America as of 2013. These numbers do not match. They do not make any sense.
       We need women in politics. That much is blatantly obvious, but it’s not where it ends. We need, more than anything, ambitious, feminist women in politics. We need them now. We cannot solve any problem, be it sexual assault or global warming, paid maternity leave or world hunger, if women are not represented in the government that makes decisions about our lives. We cannot solve any problem if half of the country cannot contribute to the solution.
         I am a teenager; I am a young woman; I am a student. I have a voice in this world, and I am determined to use it. The sense of invincibility that I felt during Senator Gillibrand’s visit in November does not have to fade away; the crest of that wave is not necessarily fated to come crashing down back to reality. We have the power to use our momentum to keep pushing higher and higher.
        I am not an aspiring politician, but Senator Gillibrand’s visit inspired me, as it did many of my classmates, to take a stand once again for issues that are important to me. I am an ambitious feminist. You can be, too.