By Senator, Lena C. Taylor
From the mother of slain 18-year old Michael Brown of Ferguson, MO to a former federal prosecutor, and every conceivable background in between, women from every walk of life decided to take their communities into their own hands. The recent spring election appears to be a continuation of a trend that is changing state houses and local leadership around the nation.
Inspired by any number of issues, candidates or events, women have once again demonstrated a commanding presence on ballots around the country. There were historic gains that regardless of political affiliation, were inspirational for all women. Young girls watched major cities and local municipalities elect women as mayors and village presidents. However, we must continue to work towards representation that is reflective of the fact that women make up more than half of the country’s population.
As of this year, women only make up 23% of the members of Congress. In the 242-year history of the United States, we have had only one woman to be elected as Speaker of the House of Representatives. It would take 240 years for a woman to be nominated by a major party for President of the United States.
At the state level, the numbers are only slightly better. Women make up roughly 29% of all the state legislators nationwide and 12% of governorships. Those numbers are fairly consistent at the county and city levels, as well.
Over the years there has been much done to raise awareness about the need and reasons why women don’t typically run for office. Self-doubt, lack of recruitment, gender bias, parenting responsibilities, and the unappealing competitive environment are just some of the reasons that women have traditionally said are reasons that they don’t run for office. However, groups like Higher Heights, EMERGE, and Emily’s List have made it their business to recruit, train, and support women that want to try their hand at elected office.
Other women have stepped out on faith. Many have learned along the way, while participating in advocacy events or raising awareness about a cause. Instinctively, they are bringing their daughters. They are including them as they increase their civic participation and broaden their governance skills.
They are creating new generations of female leaders. They are deciding for themselves what their roles should be in government.
Whether blazing a trail or igniting a movement, women of all races, ethnicities, orientations, backgrounds, and religious beliefs are putting down political stakes. Many of them are winning, like Lori Lightfoot who was elected as Chicago’s first black female Mayor. Right here in our own backyard, Wanda Montgomery became only the 2nd black woman in Wisconsin history to be elected as a mayor or village president.
And even when they don’t win, like Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother, who ran for City Council in Ferguson, Missouri they have committed to remain engaged. In her concession speech, McSpadden said “Tomorrow, the work continues and I intend to be a part of it no matter my position. I’m not going anywhere.”