The 2016 election was a defining moment we’ll likely mull over for years before we can determine what lasting changes it brought — and who it awakened politically for generations to come.
Despite the jokes that Donald Trump is the 45th and final president of the United States, his time will come to an end. While some people despair about his rise to power, others have gotten to work, and there are clear signs for another political reckoning: women emerging to lead us out of this chaos.
EMILY’s List, a political action committee that financially supports pro-choice female candidates, reported that more than 22,000 women — from all 50 states and about half being under 45 years old — have reached out to them since the 2016 election. By contrast, the group sponsored about 900 women during the 2015-16 election cycle.
Emerge California, another organization dedicated to helping women run for office, has seen an 87 percent increase in applicants, according to Executive Director Maimuna Syed. The demand was so great that Emerge opened a Central Valley-specific program, causing a record-breaking training class of 73 women.
The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University reflects this national bump, finding at least 46 viable female candidates for the U.S. Senate and 383 for the House — and the number of Democrats far outweighs Republicans. In 2016, the U.S. Senate only had 40 female candidates and the U.S. House had 272.
With filing deadlines approaching in January, those numbers could increase.
“I have been waiting for this moment for a very, very long time,” Syed says. “I think what really shows is that women are frustrated where we are.”
As of December, data compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union ranks the U.S. — which has touted Western values as a mandate to infiltrate the internal political affairs of many other nations — as no. 101 out of 193 countries with the most women in its elected governing bodies. Rwanda ranks first.
Women comprise half of the population but make up only 21 percent of the Senate, 19.6 percent of the House, 25.1 percent of state legislatures, and 23.7 percent of statewide executive offices, according to latest data by CAWP.
But in a Republican-controlled nation, attention has shifted to elected officials we might actually have a chance of bumping into at the post office.
“There’s more meaningful impact in what happens in local offices,” Syed says. “Having women at the table creates a more representative dialogue.”
While San Francisco’s mayor and Board of Supervisors election filing deadline isn’t until Jan. 9, the potential candidate list has at least 18 women running for local office. Some Emerge alumni are listed, such as former San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee member and Bayview native Leah Pimentel for Board of Education, Recreation and Park Commissioner Kat Anderson, and former Gov. Jerry Brown staffer Schuyler Hudak for District 2 supervisor.
Other women running include former Sup. Angela Alioto for mayor, Sup. Mark Farrell aide Kanishka Karunaratne for BART Board, YIMBY Party leader Sonja Trauss for District 6 supervisor, and City College Board of Trustees President Thea Selby for reelection.
The Board of Education, which has launched the political careers of many supervisors, has the most women running for positions. Two of them are running for the first time — Alida Fisher, who is a class of 2018 Emerge trainee, and Sarah Thompson-Peer, who recently received training by EMILY’s List.
Thompson-Peer, who has a preschooler, has been concerned with the subtle racism of school choice and how our metrics for student success does a disservice to our public school system. Though it’s a crowded race, she has much respect for fellow candidates like transgender activist Mia “Tu Mutch” Satya, and feels that having more diverse and progressive people run will skew the board in their favor.
“Something is broken in politics,” she says. “Now is as good a time as any to try and see what I could do about it.”
The biggest benefit of the training, she says, was being in a room with a crowd of women trying to change the status quo. Not everyone will become a candidate, but the rest may offer their skills or join the campaign in some way to help along the way.
“It’s a very nerve-wracking process,“ Thompson-Peer says “[There’s] a lot to keep track of and hurdles that makes it hard for people who would be amazing in office.”
Money tends to be one of the biggest barriers for women running, as well as access to a good campaign staff. Ultimately, Syed says, sexism is at the core of the meager number of women in politics and interferes with the job once they actually earn that seat — something voters are starting to see amid the allegations of sexual harassment in the California Legislature.
Emerge touts women as great leaders with a natural knack to collaborate, compromise, and keep their promises. It even called for each elected official who steps down for sexual misconduct to be replaced by a woman, in an effort to change the gender dynamics.
Having a qualified female candidate run for the most powerful position in the world only to lose prompted worry that Hillary Clinton’s failure would discourage other women from seeking elected office. These women who seek training had been taking action, talking to neighbors, and pushing local officials — but the presidential election has prompted an almost uniform response to make important decisions themselves rather than relying on others.
“I’ve never experienced anything as intersectional in the volume that we’re seeing it now,” Syed says. “Women were just so angry.”
At the Emerge training, one speaker pointed out one other way to look at 2017: The year started with a global Women’s March in direct response to a self-confessed sexual assaulter entering the White House, and it’s ending with powerful men facing consequences for their sexual misdeeds. Plus, those in elected office — Democrat and Republican alike — are facing scrutiny and staving off challengers as 2018 elections heat up.
“I wish every woman in the state could have seen what happened at our class this weekend,” Syed says. “I didn’t just leave feeling hopeful for the future, I left knowing that the future is going to be better.”
Read more of this week’s feature on the political earthquakes we can expect in 2018.
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