Clinton’s defeat spurs more women into action, advocacy

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Beth Kelly, executive director of an organization that grooms Democratic women to run for political office in Michigan, signs her emails with a simple but hopeful word: Onward.

“Onward” may be the only place to go for Democrats after President-elect Donald Trump’s stunning victory in last week’s election. Blindsided by a result many didn’t see coming – including pollsters – Democrats are now asking themselves tough questions about how a man who admitted to groping women, mocked those with disabilities and many other things is now in the nation’s highest office. Maybe the biggest question: Where do they go from here?

For some women, Trump’s victory has been a call to action. They’re forming secret coalitions, banding together on social media not just to vent but to get involved and brainstorm ideas to fight for the values they hold dear. Pantsuit Nation, the secret Facebook group formed to support Hillary Clinton by wearing pantsuits to the polls, now has roughly 3 million members and continues to add local chapters across the country.

At Emerge Michigan, which formed last year and trained 15 women in its first class including congressional candidate Suzanna Shkrelli (she lost to incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop), phones have been ringing off the hook since last week’s election, says Kelly.

Last Thursday alone, 10 women applied for the program and 40 total have applied since the general election results were announced.

“We’re actually looking for new sponsors for our training program to accommodate all the new interest,” said Kelly via email earlier this week. “We want to make sure we have the ability to engage all these women and send them down a path to running for office.”

Across the country, women emboldened by Trump’s victory are stepping up to say they want to throw their hats in the political ring. Seven states that had no local Emerge programs to ready women to run for office are now asking about training, says Kelly.

“We have never seen anything like this before,” said Kelly.

Women are woefully under-represented in the Michigan Legislature. Only 26 members of the state House are women. Their numbers are even worse in the state Senate, where only four are female. All told, only 20 percent of the state Legislature is female, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

So why don’t more women run for office? Women often don’t run until they’re hyper qualified while men “often assume they’re qualified even if they’re not,” says Susan Carroll, a senior scholar for Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers. “Women have to prove they’re qualified,” Carroll told me earlier this year before the Democratic National Convention.

Some may say men do just fine representing both genders, but let’s be real: No one knows your unique perspective until they’ve been in your skin or walked in your shoes. Kelley says studies have proven that when women hold public office, they are more actively involved in a variety of gender-salient issue areas, including healthcare, the economy, education and the environment.

And “women legislators are more responsive to constituents, value cooperation over hierarchical power and can forge agreements in situations where men have trouble finding common ground,” she said.

So as traumatized as Clinton supporters are about her loss, maybe their next step is already taking shape.

Trump’s victory “has awakened a movement among Democratic women,” said Kelly.


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Twitter: @mfeighan