INTERVIEW: EMILY's List President Stephanie Schriock on Why Women's Milestones Still Matter
March is Women's History Month, and BlogHer had the opportunity to interview Stephanie Schriock, President of EMILY's List, about some of the major milestones for women in politics in the United States. Schriock is a veteran political strategist and fundraiser. Since 2010, she has been leading EMILY's List, a group dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to office. We asked her how these events in history continue to be relevant in 2014.
5 Milestones for Women's History and Why They Still Matter
BH: When we think of women’s history, we often see images of women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton meeting for the first women’s right’s convention in Seneca Falls, New York back in 1848. It’s been almost 100 years since women won the power to vote in 1920, so how does this continue to be an issue today?
SS: The right to vote is one of the most important rights we have in this country – and it’s under attack. Voter suppression and voter ID laws can have a big impact on women who often change their last names when they get married or divorced and may not have the right name on their driver’s license. That’s why we need to make sure we are electing strong Democratic women Secretaries of State who will protect the vote. And we have plenty of chances to do just that in 2014: Kate Marshall in Nevada, Nina Turner in Ohio, Maggie Toulouse Oliver in New Mexico, Nellie Gorbea in Rhode Island, Debra Hilstrom in Minnesota.
BH: While the 19th Amendment -- giving women the right to cast ballots -- wasn't passed until 1920, female candidates actually ran for office before then. And I wish that in 2014, female candidateswould be judged based on their experience and platforms, women still get criticized for their appearance, being too old or too young, whether they have children or not. Do you see this changing? What is EMILY’s List doing in this area?
SS: Women were running for office before they had the right to vote nationwide – in fact, the first Congresswoman in the United States was Jeannette Rankin from my home state of Montana, and she ran in 1916. She’s famous for having said “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.” And that’s exactly what we focus on at EMILY’s List. We work to elect more and more women and to change the idea of what a political candidate looks like. The more women we elect, the more voters and the media are going to see this as the norm. And eventually they are going to stop focusing on the things that make women candidates different from men, and focus on electing the best candidates with the best vision for our country.
BH: It’s been over 40 years since the Supreme Court upheld the legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade. Yet in the last two years, reproductive rights continue to be a source of contention in many states.
SS: What we’re seeing in Congress and in state houses across the country is that Republicans seem intent on rolling back the clock for women and attacking their rights. But we’re also seeing that voters think that not only are Republicans wrong on this issue, they are wrong for prioritizing it. Voters want candidates who will focus on jobs, and equal pay, and making sure their communities are safe. What voters are seeing is that Democratic women are the candidates who will do that, and who will rise above the partisan extremism. That’s why we’re seeing a real mandate for women’s leadership in this country.
BH: Economic issues continue to be a concern for many women, be it equal pay for equal work, paid maternity or family care leave, or even the ability of women to gain citizenship without being based on employment. What are the workplace issues that EMILY’s List is focusing on?
SS: EMILY’s List is always focused on helping candidates who have the best interests of American women and families in mind. That’s really what voters are looking for. Our affiliated research organization American Women recently surveyed voters and found that more than sixty percent of voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports fair pay for women, a higher minimum wage, paid family and medical leave and paid sick days.
BH: What do you foresee for female candidates in the 2014 midterm elections and looking toward the 2016 Presidential election? Since we’re talking about milestones, one of the major thresholds we’ve yet to cross is to put a woman in the White House. What’s your feeling about this as the campaign season starts to heat up?
SS: 2012 was a mandate for women’s leadership across the country, and we’re seeing that continue into 2014. What we’re also seeing is that because Republicans have been so extreme and have lost touch with the American people we are looking at real opportunities to elect Democratic women in new places. We could elect Michelle Nunn as the next Senator of Georgia, Natalie Tennant as the next Senator of West Virginia and Alison Lundergan Grimes as the next Senator of Kentucky. And we have Wendy Davis who could be the next governor of Texas. States like Georgia, Kentucky and Texas weren’t on the map for us before. And we know that voters are excited about the chance to elect a woman in 2016 – in fact our Madam President polling found that 86% believe that America is ready to elect a woman president, and 72% believe that it is likely that America will elect a woman president in the next presidential election.
News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs about raising an Asian mixed-race family at HapaMama.