It was not a new lesson for me, but it certainly is one that we should keep in the forefront. In the 1970s, we had to push through the network of “old white guys” in order to run campaigns. Even then, we served in secondary roles: deputy campaign manager; deputy press secretary; deputy director of research; deputy fundraiser.
We would go on into government when our candidates won to be deputy directors, special assistants, assistant adminstrators. In too many cases, women were making the key decisions, while men were carrying the “boss” titles. In 1972, a key political strategist suggested I not take a job offered to me on Capitol Hill at the end of the Presidential campaign because women were not given substantive positions, and he said I would hate it. He was totally correct. That would change, of course.
By 1976, the number of women going into government with President Jimmy Carter rose, but most of them took positions as deputy directors, special assistants, assistant administrators. We called ourselves the “new girls network,” and we still had a long way to go.
The United States is far behind other countries in terms of women in top leadership. The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University has accumulated much of the history on women candidates. Because of that, women historians recognize the names of Victoria Woodhull and Belva Ann Lockwood who ran for President under the Equal Rights Party in 1872, 1883, and 1888. Imagine what a stir that created.
When former U.S. Senator and U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, secured sufficient delegates to become the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee, the media pulled out video of Senator Margaret Chase Smith (Republican 1964) and U.S. Representative Shirley Chisholm (Democrat 1972). Patsy Mink ran for President briefly in 1972 also.
There are other names: Ellen McCormack, Sonia Johnson, Pat Schroeder, Lenora Fulani, Elizabeh Dole, Carol Moselley Braun, Michelle Bachman, and Carly Fiorina. They, along with Hillary Clinton, put themselves in the forefront of the nation to say women have a view about how government should run.
Frances “Sissy” Farenthold was a vice presidential candidate in 1972 for the Democrats. But the Democrats had a vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, the Green Party nominated Winona LaDuke in 1996 and 2000, and Sarah Palin was on the Republican ticket in 2008.
Colorado Democrats re-elected in 2018 U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette. But we were unable to nominate a successful woman candidate for the U.S. Senate race in 2020. Thank you to Alice Madden, Stephany Rose, Trish Zornio, Angela Williams, and all the others who stepped forward during the caucus and the petitioning process.
While the average percentage of women in the state legislatures is 29%, Colorado has 42% female representatives. Colorado has never had a female governor or U.S. Senator.
None of that takes away from the pride we all felt at having the first woman nominee of a major political party running for President, Hillary Clinton. And this strong, capable, intelligent woman made us proud to be Democrats. She was relentlessly attacked, lied about, demeaned, but she demonstrated to us that you can be in the middle of the melee and stand tall.
One of the complaints about women as leaders is that they are not tough enough. With Senator Kamala Harris as the Democrats potential Vice President nominee, I think we are in for a wild ride that will put that statement to the lie. Another complaint from women is that they are put to a higher standard than men. We are all reveling that former Vice President Joe Biden made a commitment early on to choose a woman his partner for the 2020 Presidential run. And we know that our opponents will pick over every aspect of Senator Harris’ background.
With the announcement of Senator Harris as Joe Biden’s running partner, you saw many of us crying, dancing, shouting, celebrating. This campaign season has already demonstrated the broad range of women stepping up to run for President, head change organizations, run for local office. It is an exciting time.
Let’s call on ourselves to be better, more flexible, more generous. Women know how to do that. That is what the call to leadership should entail. Not just listening to what the voters want but listening to our better voice that says we will not be less than we can be. Don’t underestimate us.