Women’s Campaign Fund Urges Women to be Politically Active

Brittany Chevalier

As a student of American and Women’s History, I have always been passionate about women’s participation in the political realm. When I found out that I received the summer fellowship at the Women’s Campaign Fund in Washington, D.C., I was overjoyed because I knew it would be a learning experience that would determine my future and, perhaps, help me figure out what would I like to do with my life.

The Women’s Campaign Fund (WCF) is an umbrella nonpartisan organization dedicated to dramatically increasing the number of women in elected office who support reproductive choices for all. Under the WCF is their PAC- Political Action Committee- that is a 501(c)4, political organization. This part of the Fund provides money from members or donors to endorsed candidates. Although it is non-partisan, the candidates must be pro-choice. This PAC is different from their non-profit (c)3 side of the Fund. The non-profit side of the Women’s Campaign Fund, a foundation called She Should Run, is their product–the “meat” of the organization. I wanted to work specifically for She Should Run because it deals with how women actually get to the point of running for office at both local and national levels.

There are two programs and one research study under the She Should Run (SSR) side of the Fund. The first is She Should Run In Action. This program presents the problem that women make up only 17 percent of the seats in congress, 23 percent of state legislatures, and only 6 out of 50 gubernatorial seats. How can we as women, over 50 percent of the nation, be adequately represented with such small numbers in our government? SSRIA’s main goal is increase the number of women in government across the country by seriously asking them to run for office.

Statistically speaking, women are less likely to run for office, even at the highest levels of professional life; usually, this is because they do not think they are qualified. However, it is shown that when women do run, they win at equal rates to men. SSRIA is nonpartisan and accepts ALL women running for office. Although the WCF ultimately works toward electing women who believe in reproductive choices, SO few women actually run for office that we need to work on getting more women in races and on the ballots- even if they do not support reproductive choices. Although I personally support only candidates that believe in choice, I see the necessity to be inclusive of all women, no matter their reproductive stances. The foundation’s first step is to have everyone ask a woman to run for office- on a local or national level. Next, after a woman decides to run, She Should Run provides her with local and national resources, monthly e-newletters, tip sheets on basic campaigning, and guidance on how to run a political campaign. We want women to know that they are capable of running for office and that they are not alone in the process.

The second program we run, along with the Women’s Media Center, is Name It. Change It. NICI, as we called it for short, is a vital program that works to end widespread media sexism that women candidates face. The ever-changing media landscape creates an unmonitored atmosphere that often allows damaging comments to exist without accountability. In the past, when women were faced with these disparaging comments, they were told to just ignore them, but this is obviously wrong. In order to erase the pervasive sexism against all women candidates–irrespective of political party or level of office–we must call out the sexism. At Name It. Change It., we teach candidates to hold a press conference or release a statement as soon as the comment in the media is made that the verbalized slander was sexist and unacceptable. If anyone sees or hears sexist remarks against a candidate, she or he can report it to NICI and Women’s Media Center’s blog, which acts a third party to call out the statements as wrong.

The third part of SSR is called Vote With Your Purse. It is a research study that examines trends in women’s political giving and financial power as well as their political fundraising results in election years. Additionally, it provides concrete ideas on how to tap the “power of the purse” for the 2012 elections and beyond. Their data explains that women invest in political campaigns at lower rates because they do not think their money matters in showing support for a candidate and championing her or his issues. The study also shows that when women contribute more to political campaigns, especially to those of women, those candidates attain more power in the political landscape. It is important to give money– even $5– to women candidates that are running, because sadly, money is power.

These are the three programs that the Programs Director and Programs Fellow promote. Although it is hard to believe with so few women who run for office, there are hundreds of different organizations all over the country, partisan and not, that work toward motivating women to run for office. My job at as the Programs Fellow was to maintain our connections and promote our materials to the 94 organizations in the 45 states we represent. Since it is important to maintain these mutual relationships, the Programs Fellow touches base with these entities bi-annually to update them on what is happening with the program and to get feedback on their own organizations. I spoke with the Executive Directors and Programs Directors, updating them on our programs and the roundtable discussions we hosted at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. I fashioned new promotional material for all three SSR programs to offer to our current partners and future partners.

When I arrived we had partners in 45 of the states, but this was something I wanted to change. I was able to research and find various organizations in fifteen states. By the end of the summer, I made partnerships with four new organizations that represented three of the five missing states. She Should Run In Action now has 98 partnerships in 48 states– I am very proud of this accomplishment.

Brittany, far right, with other WCF fellows and the President and CEO, Sam Bennett, second from left.

I also helped to build our Leadership Circle Briefings (LCBs) in various states. Our President/ CEO, Sam Bennett, traveled around the country this summer to San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York City (at Annette Taylor and Mayor Bloomberg’s home), Chicago, and Columbus to discuss the political economy and the importance of women running for office. LCBs used to be small salon-like gatherings for donors and members, but this summer they grew to include our partnering organizations, featuring panel discussions by candidates running in these areas. My job was to reach out to our partners, invite them to our events, and discuss whether their Executive Directors would be willing to speak for five minutes about their organizations. All of these LCBs were wildly successful.

Since I am also interested in non-profit development, I asked to be included in some of the developmental tasks of the office. I helped schedule Sam’s time in each city with organizational heads and staffed her at the WCF’s Union-endorsed luncheon. I also attended many political fundraisers for Congresswomen, such as Yvette Clarke of New York’s 11th district, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin’s 2nd district. One of the most invigorating, self-determined, and amazingly vibrant women I have ever met, Sam Bennett is an outstanding CEO/President, and I learned so much from her. She is a true idol when it comes to being a self-starting, motivated woman who is passionate about electing women into office.

My time at the Women’s Campaign Fund not only taught me how a nonprofit geared towards women’s activism is run or how important it is for women to enter politics, but also that I can do whatever it is that I want– and that is to ultimately run for a political office. My first year as a Women’s History student taught me the deeper limitations of women’s freedom in the past and their inability to fight and change the status quo, and my fellowship reaffirmed that we are still fighting the same battles. If we feel the urge, which we should, to change our current positions and the futures of our children, we must take action, change laws and create new legislation. The first step toward change is equal and fair representation in the United States government.

Do you know a woman who has innovative and serious ideas for community, state or national growth? YOU should ask her to run for a local, state or national seat. Are you interested in a summer, fall or spring Fellowship? Please visit SheShouldRun and WCF to learn more. Subscribe to MsRepresentation to receive your weekly dose of irreverent political analysis, bringing election realness to your inbox every Wednesday.

Brittany Chevalier attended undergrad at Wellesley College and is currently a Women’s History grad student at Sarah Lawrence College. Aside from her interest in politics and encouraging women to run for office, she is intensely passionate about New York City history. She self-admittedly watches too much television, loves anything Hello Kitty and is probably going to get a dog soon.

The “Wicked Woodhull”: Still Waiting for a Woman!

Marion Sader

One hundred and thirty-eight years before Hillary Rodham Clinton decided to seek her party’s nomination for President of the United States, Victoria Claflin Woodhull announced that she would become the first female candidate for America’s highest political office. In 1872 Woodhull’s name was placed on the ballot as the nominee of the National Equal Rights Party, a third party she herself had established two years earlier.

Frederick Douglass, former slave and abolitionist, received the party’s nomination for vice-president, though it is believed he never formally accepted it. What an extraordinary, progressive ticket: a woman and a black man! And just think:  black men had only received the right to vote two years before and women still could not cast a ballot!

From the start, however, Woodhull’s candidacy was doomed to failure; her opponents were Ulysses S. Grant, seeking a second term (which he won), and Horace Greeley, well-known publisher of the influential New York Tribune. Woodhull tried her best, but ran out of funds early in the campaign, even though she had become wealthy via the stock market and her weekly newspaper. She was an able campaign organizer, forming “Victoria Leagues” and opening her home for meetings of supporters and potential supporters. She was also a charismatic speaker. However, she was faced with opponents and their followers who were not gentlemen, calling her “witch,” “prostitute,” and other such epithets as they attacked her personally.

Support for her campaign came from trade union members, women suffragists, and socialists, but to no avail. There is no accurate number of votes she received, but it is known that it was very low.  Sadly, on Election Day Victoria was incarcerated in jail for a trumped-up charge of obscenity; her enemies were many and stopped at nothing to defeat her.

Who was Victoria Woodhull?  Born into a dysfunctional, lower-class family in Ohio in 1838, Victoria, who claimed to have been named for Britain’s Queen Victoria, began making money at an early age catering to the national rage for hypnotism, fortune telling, magnetism and spiritualism. Victoria would remain a disciple of these pseudo-sciences for the rest of her life. In fact, many members of her Equal Rights Party were spiritualists as well as free thinkers and reformers.

When Woodhull, her second husband and her two children moved to New York City in 1868, she struck up a friendship with railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt who helped her open a brokerage office in 1870, called Woodhull, Claflin & Company (Claflin was her sister and partner). A fortune was made and with it they were able to found a weekly newspaper, which became indispensable during the campaign. They were the first woman stockbrokers in New York. Victoria was an outspoken advocate of sex education, the eight-hour workday, a graduated income tax, profit sharing, and a number of social welfare programs. All her ideas were controversial and not specially designed to please. In fact, because of her radical ideas she was continually faced with mockery, caricatures, laughter (and worse) by both men and women.

Woodhull was outspoken and militant, traits that a proper nineteenth-century middle class woman should not demonstrate. Controversy surrounded her life and activities, but through it all she held fast to the revolutionary ideas she firmly believed in. Though her nomination did not end in a successful election to the highest office, it may have sent a message to Washington that it was time for women to speak up politically and be heard. We have come a long way since 1872 and let’s hope we will soon see a woman as President.

Marion Sader is a second-year graduate student in the SLC Women’s History program; she can often be seen on campus with her husband Ray, who helps carry her  books to and from the library.

Modern-Day Coverture Still Limiting Women’s Voices


Sian Leach

Under the system of coverture, women were denied a political voice of their own, but as a nation we have come a long way since our founding. While we have moved beyond seeing women as perpetual dependents, we have not moved beyond the idea that women are not capable of making decisions regarding their own bodies.

Coverture came over to the American colonies as part of British common law. Women were considered either “feme soles,” single women, or “feme covert,” married women. These categories separated women by their legal status, giving single women,  access to some of the same rights as men. However, with marriage, women’s civil identity became part of their husband’s.  functioned as “virtual representation,” which according to Joan Gunderson, “assumed a community of interest so that those who could vote had identical interests to those who could not.” Women were denied suffrage, but it was assumed that their husbands and fathers represented their interests for them. The ideology of “virtual representation” was flawed, and was part of what lead to the American Revolution.

Women now have the right to vote, but white men like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are making it clear that they do not think women are capable of making their own decisions about their bodies.  We may have moved passed the official structure of coverture, but the current debates on women’s access to healthcare suggests that women’s suffrage has not fully eliminated the idea that men can make decisions for women, and that these decisions are in the best interest of women. Mitt Romney has said that he would end funding for Planned Parenthood and eliminate contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act if he is elected. And when asked where women should go for healthcare instead, he casually answered that they can go anywhere they want.

Without access to Planned Parenthood, many women, especially low-income women, have no other options for healthcare access. Mitt Romney and other Republican politicians imply that women who choose abortion are not actually capable of making that decision without the guidance of male politicians who decide what circumstances are “legitimate” reasons for abortions. By focusing the discussion on women who choose abortion for medical reasons, rape, or incest, they marginalize all women’s choices. Women have had the right to vote for over 90 years, isn’t it time for men like Mitt Romney to realize that women are capable of making decisions about their own bodies?

For more information about the politicization of women in the Revolutionary period and Early Republic and coverture see: Linda Kerber’s Women of the Republic and Rosemarie Zagarri’s Revolutionary Backlash.

Sian Leach is a second year Women’s History student at Sarah Lawrence College, with research interests on the Revolutionary period and Early Republic. Hobbies include Joss Whedon shows, vegetarian cooking, and playing with her two kittens.

Voter ID Laws target women, transgender persons

Emilie Egger

This November, several states will implement their new Voter Identification laws, many of which require the presentation of a valid photo ID at the time of casting the ballot. These laws were ostensibly designed to eliminate voter fraud at the polls; however, instead of actually preventing voter fraud (of which there appears to be very little, according to a Brennan Center for Justice Report), these laws will prevent up to 5 million registered voters from casting their ballots, through photo-ID, citizenship, and registration restrictions.These laws specifically target low-income, minority, women, and transgender voters.

The new voter ID laws are almost completely supported by Republicans. Why would the Republican party want to suppress female voter turnout? Because women are more likely than men to vote and are more likely to vote Democratic. Recent research from the Pew Hispanic Center showed that women outnumbered men at the polls during the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. This is especially true of black women, who were the had the highest voter turnout of any demographic in 2008, with almost 69 percent. Black women overwhelmingly supported Obama in that election, and they have consistently been the Democratic Party’s most consistent voting bloc. Furthermore, Barack Obama leads in the latest polls among all women nationwide–in many states by 10 to 25 points.

Here’s how voter identification laws could keep women and transgender people from casting their votes:

The biggest risk for women being turned away from the polls is because of a recent name change. The Brennan Center reports that American women change their surnames in about 90 percent of marriages and divorces. These women often have to wait several weeks or months to receive a form of identification with their corresponding new last name. Previously, an older ID card would have sufficed at the polls, but now these women could find themselves unable to vote. Instead, they will be asked to fill out a separate ballot and provide a court-issued proof of their marriage or divorce, which takes time and money to obtain. According to the Brennan Center, only 48 percent of American women have a birth certificate with their current name. The American Prospect reports that only  66 percent of American women possess current legal identification with their current last name, so this could affect millions of voters.

Getting to the polls is already difficult enough for women, especially for those with children, work, and who do not drive. Requiring an extra trip to the courthouse to obtain a legal document, not to mention the new provisions outlawing same-day voter registration, could prevent many women from being able to complete the voting process.

Transgender voters, who are also more likely to vote for Democrats, face a difficult fight as well. The Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles law school, estimates that 25,000 transgender voters will be disenfranchised this year, as 41 percent do not have updated driver’s licenses and 74 percent do not have a passport. Although the burden of obtaining a state-issued ID is costly and time-consuming for all those affected by voter ID laws, transgender voters face even more obstacles; in some cases they will have to present proof of their gender change in order to receive a new ID card, which typically requires gender-reassignment surgeries costing between $40 and 50,000.The burden increases for transgender people of color; blacks and Native Americans are even less likely than white transgender people to have an updated gender on their driver’s licenses.

The states that have legislated these new rules have a total of 171 electoral votes. Voter-ID law proponents know that suppressing women and other minorities could drastically affect the election.

In fact, many Republicans are banking on it. On June 23, Pennsylvania State House Leader Mike Turzai expressed confidence in the laws at a Republican State Committee meeting.“Voter ID…is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” he said.

“Done.”

For complete voting-identification laws, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Emilie Egger is a first-year student in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College. 

Why Women Can’t Afford to Lose Obamacare

Emma Staffaroni

On June 28, 2012, when the Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act known familiarly as “Obamacare,” women around the nation breathed a sigh of relief. Planned Parenthood reports that in the two years since the law’s passage, 20 million women have received preventative health care services.

It was Nancy Pelosi  who first publicly stated that under this law, “being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition.”

It is one of my favorite political sound bytes of all time (besides maybe Sojourner Truth asking “Ain’t I a woman?”–sadly they didn’t have sound recording devices back then). But it takes more than rhetorical flourishes to convince American women–especially conservative ones–that health care reform is their law.

Therefore, in honor of the four generations of women in my family, I’ve put together this anatomy of the ACA in four acts.

I. The Little Ones
My big Italian family is growing in 2012. One of my cousins had twins in June, and another will have her second baby in October. Under the ACA, it will be illegal for a health insurance provider to deny my baby cousins, and all children, coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Meanwhile, their mothers are guaranteed full coverage of their maternity costs, including neo-natal care for premies like the twins. When Medicaid expansions go into effect in 2014, families making up to 133% of the federal poverty level ($29,700 for a family of four in 2011) will have maternity costs covered for up to 60 days post-partum, according to the Kaiser Foundation. Other great improvements for children’s health include mandatory vision and oral coverage for kids under all plans, effective in 2014.

II. The Big Kids
My sister and I are in our twenties and still covered under our parents’ private insurance until we are 26, thanks to the ACA. Whereas once my healthy 21-year-old sister, newly an R.N. (congrats, Hannah), could be discriminated against by insurance providers simply for being a woman, under the reform she and a healthy 21-year-old man will have the same premiums. As both of us establish financial independence, we will not be burdened by high co-pays, nor will we be forced to dish out for basic needs like birth control and annual exams. (Did I mention free birth control?)

III. Middle-Aged Mamas
My mom’s nest may be empty, but she still deals with and worries about the logistics of her family’s health care, in addition to her own. According to a study from the White House, she is among the majority of American women who plan for their children as well as their parents, and sometimes even extended family. Women are the most important consumers. One of the most significant–and least discussed–aspects of health care reform is its emphasis on improving competitiveness by making health plans more transparent to the consumer. Under the law, your provider is obligated to provide reciprocal services within your region if your family’s needs aren’t met under its plan. Information about competing providers must be clear and accessible. Women–mothers–will benefit most from this pro-consumer policy.

In addition to improved and more transparent access to family-friendly coverage, middle-aged women like my mother will have their own preventative care covered no matter what: that is, a woman will no longer have to forgo a mammogram because her plan has reached its annual limit; she will not have to delay a medical visit or a trip to the pharmacy (see Figure 13). More women in my mother’s home state of Connecticut will be insured overall: starting in 2014, 42% of the currently uninsured in CT will be eligible for coverage under Medicaid. (In New York, that number is 49%, or half a million women.) Every member of the community will have access to preventative care, reducing long-term state spending on health care overall.

All in all, for my mom this law means “peace of mind.” In terms of positive impacts of the ACA, that belongs at the top of the list.

IV. The Young-at-Heart
Finally, women of advanced years are protected in new ways under the Affordable Care Act. Lifetime and annual limits are no longer legal as of 2014. Additionally, discrimination based on age and medical history is banned as of 2014, and if you get sick, your provider is prohibited from dropping you. “It finally allows coverage for those with a pre-existing condition, something my parents didn’t have when my mom found out she had cancer,” my mom recalls. Until the law takes full effect in 2014, a temporary subsidized program protects adults in a “high-risk pool”–predominantly the elderly.

Health care reform also works to close what is called the “doughnut hole” gap in Medicare coverage. (Google search “doughnut hole” and instead of glazed or jelly the first link you get is the Wikipedia page for “Medicare Part D coverage gap.”) If a person on Medicare has prescription drug costs between $2,700 and $6,154, she must pay for everything out-of-pocket. Below $2,700, 75% of the costs are covered, and above $6,154, 95% is covered. Thanks to the ACA, in 2010 seniors in the doughnut hole received rebates of $250. In 2011, they became eligible for 50% discounts on brand name drugs. The law claims to phase the gap out by 2020.

If there is a pre-existing condition of womanhood in the United States, it is that the burden of finding and paying for health care most frequently falls to her. Obamacare is legislation that benefits all women– though above all, it serves the most vulnerable women and girls. Its physical, psychological, social, and economic advantages for women run the gamut of age, health, and income level. This controversial and oft-misunderstood law is more than a political talking-point; it is a giant leap forward that the women in my life–and yours–cannot afford to lose.

Emma Staffaroni is a second year graduate student in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College and co-edits this magazine. Her heroes include Frieda Kahlo, Adrienne Rich, Octavia Butler, and Barbara Kingsolver. Emma enjoys post-it notes, board games, and museum gift shops. She can be reached at estaffaroni[at]gm[dot]slc[dot]edu.

Egyptian Revolution

Heba Naguib

Even though the government has switched hands, have there been any real political changes?

There have been real political changes in Egypt. For the first time, Egyptians have chosen their president in a fair election (even though actually there is no election that is one hundred percent fair). The winner, President Mohamed Morsi, comes from the Muslim Brotherhood, a party that was barred from politics under the former regime of Hosni Mubarak. Morsi’s arrest by the former regime police on the morning of the Friday of Anger, Jan 28,2011, was actually the spark of the revolution. So, even though a large sector of revolutionaries do not like Morsi, they believe there is real political change is taking place. For example, no one can deny the importance of getting rid of the military rule, which lasted 60 years.

Do young people have confidence in the future of their government?

These revolutionaries have a confidence in themselves, not in the government. This is a good thing, from my perspective. When people do not trust the government, they always keep their eyes open to judge the government’s actions, while on the other side, the government does its best to assure them that they are doing what is right for the people. Because of this, the confidence that young have in themselves is the security to Egypt’s future. The government needs a deterrence, and these young people believe they can overthrow any government that would not fulfill its promises.

Heba Naguib is a third-year Sarah Lawrence Student. She is from Cairo, Egypt. 

Welcome to the ELECTION Issue!

Welcome to this month’s Re/Visionist! To tell you the theme of this issue, I’ve invited a very special guest.

This empty chair:

Chair, I mean, invisible President Obama, what is the theme of this month’s issue?

What’s that, chair? “Kill everyone,” you say? And raise taxes?

No, chair, you crack me up. The theme of this month’s issue is:

ELECTIONS.

How very topical of us.

The Re/Visionist team has come up with some great articles on women and elections (past and present) that I guarantee will not make you want to drive a railroad spike through your head. Sure, that’s a low bar, you might say, but I’d say it still beats about 80 percent of the election coverage I’ve seen thus far!

We have some pieces from a variety of Sarah Lawrence College students and faculty about women in elections.

  • Program Director Rona Holub writes a short piece about a topic close to her heart, the War on Women.
  • Emilie Egger has a piece clarifying how new voter-ID laws hurt women and transgender people.
  • Emma Staffaroni provides a thoughtful piece about how health care reform helps women in all stages of life.
  • Sian Leach takes us back to early America when coverture laws, meant to help women, helped silence their voices.
  • Marion Sader has a short biography of Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president, who did so before women could vote.
  • Brittany Chevalier describes her experience working for the Women’s Campaign Fund in Washington DC this summer–and tells you how to get involved!
  • And for political elections outside the US, an interview with Heba Naguib provides an insider perspective of the Egyptian revolution.
  • And, keeping it classy as always, I have a bit of a rant about sex scandals.

Remember to vote everybody, and thanks for checking out this issue!

Enjoy!

Katy Gehred
Co-editor, Revisionist