Emily's List CEO Talks Democratic Women in 2012 and Beyond

Emily's List CEO Talks Democratic Women in 2012 and Beyond

"Women made the difference in the 2012 election, and it's only just begun," Emily's List CEO Stephanie Schriock told reporters at the National Press Club last week, discussing the record number of women elected to the United States legislature in 2012, key growth in state and local races, and what needs to happen to keep this momentum going. BlogHer.com was at the table as Schriock highlighted the results of a poll the organization conducted with independent woman voters across the country about the election.

"Women recognized the total Mad Men agenda, if I dare call it that, of the GOP," she said. "And they didn't want it, and they rejected it."

Stephanie Schriock, Image Credit: C-SPAN

This resulted in a 113th Congress featuring these women, and more:

  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) are the first women in the legislature who have served in combat
  • Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is the first openly gay senator.
  • There are 16 new pro-choice Democratic women in the House of Representatives.
  • There is a record number of 20 female United States Senators.
  • New Hampshire is the first state to have an all-woman legislative delegation, plus the governor.
  • And indeed, 77 percent of the undecided woman voters polled said that they saw a Congress of "old, out of touch male politicians who don't have a clue what life is like for people like them," and they wanted change. Schriock, appalled by Congress's New Year's Eve decision to abandon the vote for Hurricane Sandy relief and to let VAWA lapse for the first time since 1994, "wants to get the speaker's gavel out of [Speaker of the House John Boehner's] hands and back into the hands of a woman."

    To keep policies for women and families moving forward, women need to get involved.

    "We need women to really get engaged in politics, and truthfully, we need them to run for office," she said, noting that one of the organization's goals is to go up the ballot from city councils, mayor's races, and state legislators, on their way to Congress. She added:

    2012 was a sea change election for women – and today’s research confirms what EMILY’s List has been hearing across the country this election cycle. Women understood the GOP agenda, and the harm it would do to their rights and freedoms, and they rejected it. But that wasn’t all. Women also sent a group of people to Washington who they felt good about supporting. Women voters believe in the Democratic women they voted for this year. They believe they have the right priorities and they believe they’ll make a difference.

    So how do you get started, if you want to get involved? Where can you focus? And to what should we be paying the most attention as move forward to 2014 and 2016 races that Schriock says are already firmly in their sights?

    State and local matter.

    While it's ultimately important for women to target the Senate, House of Representatives, and the Presidential cabinet -- and someday, of course, the Commander in Chief slot -- state and local offices are critical as well.

    "It's important locally, on who's sitting on your school board. Its important in the cities, on who's deciding where the money's gonna go between safety and education," Schriock said. "Talk about your state legislators. It's incredibly important."

    Governorships are crucial, as well, with 38 governors up for election between now and the 2016, in critical races for women and families.

    "2011-2012 saw the greatest restriction on women's access to health in our history," Schriock said. "We need to make sure we have strong pro-choice governors to draw the line in the sand, to protect women's health, to block voter id laws, and to make sure worker's rights are protected."

    It's important -- and entirely possible -- to reach across the aisle in our communities.

    Coalitions are key. There are women of all belief systems in states that vote decisively Republican or Democrat, and women everywhere who vote in a more progressive way on issues in ways that may not follow their party line. It is important to build networks in these places, to have discussions about community growth and shared priorities on the economy, women's health, and worker's rights.

    Economic issues are driving the conversation.

    While social issues often get the most focus, the Emily's List poll found that 70 percent of undecided voters ranked equal pay as the most important issue in this country.

    "There are key economic priorities that women find very important that the Republican party isn't addressing," Schriock said. "Democrats need to lean into them. Women are feeling like things aren't right out there."

    Communication is key, especially online.

    "So much of what we're doing is building a good community...and the best way to connect everybody is online," Schriock said, in response to my question about the role of digital engagement in women's political progress.

    She noted that online networking and coalition-building will be critical to her goal of doubling Emily's List's membership, and that the internet will be the key place to reach busy women for whom politics may not be a top, daily priority. She said:

    We need to just introduce what's going on to women who are leading busy, busy lives. [BlogHer's] readership...has women who have children, who are working one or two jobs trying to balance everything out. Politics for regular folks is not even on the top ten list of their daily lives. Our job is to make it part of the fabric, because its really important.

    Fostering substantial discussion beyond soundbites, with busy women who are tired of being "blasted with television commercials" is also key.

    "Our ability to meet women where they are and talk about the issues that they're facing...our ability to use online programs, to have long conversations with women, not just in one day or week, but over a year, to educate and make sure they know what is going on," will be crucial to building coalitions of women voters."

    Start early.

    There is an open seat in Illinois's second Congressional district, with three pro-choice, Democratic women running right now. Emily's List is already involved in this race. They are focused on an agenda for 2014, and looking ahead to 2016.

    Women need to do kind of coalition-building and compromising in their communities that they do at home and in the workplace all the time, Schriock said, and not just in government. We need more women on corporate boards, as law partners, as CEOs, because it's good for progress, and for the bottom line.

    "It's our time," she said. "We have to build these networks to help women up. That's when we get to the best policies for our communities. We gotta just help each other."

    You can view Schriock's press conference on c-span.org. Check out her nice BlogHer.com mention around the 22 minute mark!

    Contributing Editor Laurie White writes at LaurieWrites.  

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