For the First Time

It’s nearly midnight in Denver now. I have no desire to sleep. This is the third time I have supervised the coverage of a Democratic National Convention for Women’s eNews. And every four years since I was 14 and John Kennedy was a candidate, I followed the presidential campaigns with intense interest and growing sophistication. I have even been a poll watcher in my neighborhood.

I believe this is the first time in my lifetime that women’s issues, other than abortion, have been included in an presidential nomination acceptance speech and been a key talking point of the campaign. True, equal pay for equal work doesn’t seem to be that controversial, but Barack Obama mentions it repeatedly. True, being against domestic violence seems to be a pretty safe position, yet it rarely mentioned in political campaigns. Obama went beyond discussing it in “ain’t it awful” tones, he selected the architect of the Violence Against Women Act as his running mate.

This is likely the result of Hillary’s 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling and the fact that 51 percent of the delegates are female, but it is startling nevertheless.

One more thing. He mentions over and over again–lest there be any doubt–that his mother worked, raised kids and went to school and needed food stamps to provide for her family. Pinch me. Can this be happening. A presidential candidate talking about the stuggles of single mothers as heroic–not implying their need for assistance was a shameful personal failing best cured through marriage.

It may indeed be time for a change, but as far as I am concerned, Obama has already manage to change national political campaigns’ strategy for attracting women voters. What could be next? Paid family leave?”

Rita Henley Jensen

Women’s eNews Volunteer Is Awakened by Members of Congress

It is easy here in Denver to get caught up in the crowds, the security issues, the afternoon speeches on the convention floor that seem overly scripted and rehearsed. I wondered why in the middle of this convention with thousands of politicians, activists, media from around the world, that I felt rather numb to any of the messages. As some one who is worked for decades in the public relations, I was impressed by the process of the production, but left feeling indifferent by the overly produced spectacle. I was looking for that rare sense of authentic feeling when someone speaks and you feel moved by the message and the issue to take action and get politically involved.

I found that feeling Wednesday in a session held off the convention floor, hosted by Women’s eNews and the Women’s Media Center, where they gathered six congresswomen to talk in depth about issues included in The Memo: A Special Report on the Status of Women.

Listening to them, I woke up. Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut, Carolyn Maloney from New York, Gwen Moore, from Wisconsin, Loretta Sanchez from California, Jan Schakowsky from Illinois and Lois Capps from California were impassioned speakers about the necessity and urgency to bring women’s issues to the mainstream of political and media attention. As some one who spends her professional life working on developing communication strategies on issues important to women, I did not expect to learn that much. I did.

Congresswoman DeLauro spoke about the wage gap, that women make 77 cents to every dollar men make. I had heard that before. I woke up when she added that, given the same education and the same job track, the longer a woman was in the same job as a man, the larger the gap in her earnings. Now that the economy is one the country’s key critical problems, women are the ones hurt the most through the loss of health care, their lack of retirement benefits, the lack of unemployment benefits and underlying pay inequity. ” It is about women,” DeLauro said, “but health of entire families are at stake. “

When Congresswomen Moore spoke about her efforts to ensure that poor divorced single moms on welfare receive 100 percent of child support their families deserved and how 100s of billions of dollars exist of uncollected child support, leaving single mothers further burdened, I woke up. It is rare to hear someone speak so passionately and urgently about meeting the needs of the poorest and some of the most marginalized women in our country. I felt she gave a voice to women I rarely hear.

When Congresswomen Sanchez talked about the situation of women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and the numbers of rape cases reported by these women. I woke up. I had not been aware that there have been 900 reported cases of rape against servicemen who were serving side by side with these women. The need for policy and legislation to protect women fighting these wars takes on a new sense of urgency. And she said, preventing domestic violence in the military has to be a new criteria for which officers are promoted.

What also made this conversation so motivating was the frank, open, uncontrived discussion on the role of media in reporting on these issues. Carol Jenkins, executive director of the Women Media Center and Rita Henley Jensen, editor in chief of Women’s eNews, repeatedly focused on the lack of news coverage of these issues and the resulting lack of traction for legislation seeking remedies. . I woke up. As Carol Jenkins said, 3 percent of top management in media are women, that means that 97 percent of those making the decisions of how to report and what to report are men. How then can we move media coverage of women’s issues forward?

How do these pro women agendas then create traction with the media, congress and the general public? How do we wake more people up?

Tomorrow, I am attending a forum called: What Women Want: Journalists and Activists Connect Stories and Solutions. Maybe some ideas will emerge.

Anne Glauber is a vice president of Ruder-Finn, an international public relations firm, a Women’s eNews 21 Leader for the 21st Century and a volunteer member of the Women’s eNews convention team.

A Look Back at Ferraro

Sen. Joe Biden will speak to the Democrats tonight and accept his party’s nomination for the vice presidency of the United States. And this week’s convention has been filled with news of Sen. Hillary Clinton and her historic bid for the presidency.

But 24 years ago there was another historic first that occurred during these proceedings. I can remember how, at age 14, I was mesmerized by the selection of Geraldine Ferraro as Walter Mondale’s running mate and the “first” she achieved in becoming the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee. (California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, then the mayor of San Francisco, was also considered.)

After the announcement was made, the Washington Post reported a surge in voter registration by women. A look back at the coverage reveals plenty of parallels to this year’s race and references to the glass ceiling that pepper news reports. Back then, the Associated Press declared the American Dream “no longer sexist.”

Ferraro addressed the delegates in San Francisco on July 19, 1984, and she tapped the legacy of John F. Kennedy when she delivered her signature line: “The issue is not what America can do for women, but what women can do for America.”

In the end, the Mondale-Ferraro ticket lost by a landslide, one of the biggest in national history. She took most of the blame and her career never really recovered.

Maybe she was jinxed by becoming the first woman on a national ticket. After achieving national prominence representing a corner of New York in Congress, she was sullied by a scandal implicating her husband, lost two more elections while running for the Senate, then largely faded from the political limelight.

This year, she re-emerged as a strong supporter and advisor to Clinton but her involvement in the campaign was cut short after she blundered while criticizing Barack Obama and was accused of playing the political race card. She denied it, but rapidly retreated from public view to avoid doing further damage to her friend Hillary. Clinton tried to climb one rung higher on the political ladder than Ferraro did, and in the end, both women faltered.

Down the road, though, another woman will make it.

Jennifer Thurston

Sheila Johnson Talks of Race

Women’s eNews often encounters Sheila Johnson speaking publicly about her endeavors, the Women’s Sports Museum, the Women Moving Millions campaign or Care, the international aid organization that with her $4 million challenge grant launched a movement to activate and empower women in the fight against global poverty. She is usually a cool, professional and precise speaker that is consistent with her image of an enormously successful businesswoman, owner of her own hotel company and the Washington Mystics women’s basketball team.

Johnson dropped the cool demeanor, however, for her speech before the Democratic Women’s Caucus Tuesday. She was personal, passionate, frankly emotional when she talked about the racism within the expression of “High Yella” and the comments about Barack being “too black or too white.”

She asked if everyone of the several thousand women in attendance knew what the expression referred to. When some shook their heads, she said they were fortunate. And then she explained that is was a term used in the African American community to refer to people like her, light-skinned, but with the underlying accusation of acting “white,” meaning, in part, too ambitious.

With a tone revealing a sadness still present, Johnson said, “You can imagine the loneliness of a little girl called High Yella.” She quickly added that she had a loving family that helped her live with the hurt.

Wearing a bejeweled Obama pin on her breast pocket, Johnson said, “My friends ‘high yella’ is racism turned inside out.” The audience stood, cheered and shook their Obama tambourines.

Likewise, she said Democrats can’t let Obama’s opponents use his race and name to isolate him: “Too white for one world and too black for another.”

While critics attack him with “smoke screen issues,” she said, “Barack Obama is out there. . . urging us to taking responsibility for our lives. . . and daring us to dream of the day when we’ll come together as a nation.”

Rita Henley Jensen

Best Quote from the Women’s Caucus session

Cecile Richards, daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who was defeated by George W. Bush, quoted her mother during her presentation as head of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Explaining why the organization’s political action committee had endorsed a presidential candidate for only the second time in its history, Richards rephrased one of her mother’s favorite sayings: “Women voting for McCain is like chickens voting for Colonel Sanders.”

Rita Henley Jensen

The Hottest Condom in Town

The Planned Parenthood Action Fund has been distributing free condoms during the convention with the catchy slogan: “Protect Yourself From John McCain (In This Election).” The condoms have become highly sought after because they come in a series of 10, and some convention-goers are running around hoping to collect all 10 to keep as souvenirs.

The series offers 10 reasons to vote against McCain. One Planned Parenthood employee distributing the free condoms, Jaime Marston from Denver, said they ordered “600 pounds” of condoms to distribute and they were going fast. “It makes people laugh,” she said. Part of the giveaway is to help women become more aware that protection and safe sex is in their hands, and there’s no stigma associated with it, she added.

Colorado voters in November are facing a ballot question, Amendment 48, that will ask them to define life as beginning from the moment of conception. It is a mechanism to establish a complete abortion ban in the state, but advocates believe it will also imperil contraception methods that work by preventing the implantation of fertilized eggs, such as birth control pills and IUDs. Proponents of the amendment say it is about establishing “equal rights” for the unborn.

Women’s health care providers, including Planned Parenthood, have joined forces to fight the initiative, and Marston says it’s been great working with a coalition to help inform Colorado voters about what’s really going on with the amendment. But will the amendment be passed by voters? “I’d like to say no,” she said.

But reproductive rights are also at stake in the presidential election. My free condom served up reason No. 9 not to vote for McCain. Here’s all 10:

  1. John McCain opposes equal pay legislation, saying it wouldn’t do “anything to help the rights of women.”
  2. John McCain opposes requiring health care plans to cover prescription birth control.
  3. John McCain opposes comprehensive medically accurate sex education.
  4. John McCain opposes common sense funding to prevent unintended and teen pregnancies.
  5. John McCain opposes funding for public education about emergency contraception.
  6. John McCain opposes restoring family planning services for low-income women.
  7. John McCain opposes Roe v. Wade and says it should be overturned.
  8. John McCain wants to nominate Supreme Court justices who are “clones” of conservative Justices Alito and Roberts.
  9. When asked whether contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV, John McCain said he was “stumped.”
  10. In his 25 years in Washington, D.C., John McCain has voted against women’s reproductive rights and privacy 125 times.

You can check their facts at the Planned Parenthood Action fund’s Web site.

Jennifer Thurston

Moving a Message

Baur’s Ristorante in Denver appeared on Thursday afternoon as if it belonged in an alternate political universe, one in which New York Sen. Hillary Clinton managed to beat out Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. The guests in attendance–mostly women–wore political paraphernalia with the face of Hillary Clinton and unraveled banners with her name on it.

The vivid support for Clinton–despite her failed bid for the presidency–should be no surprise at an event sponsored by the National Women’s Political Caucus, an organization in Washington, D.C., that is aimed at electing women to political office. The group offered strong and vocal support of Clinton in her historic bid for the presidency.

The event was aimed at exploring sexism in the media, which some say played a part in Clinton’s narrow loss to Obama. But panelists–including former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin and Newsweek columnist Eleanor Clift–veered off message to urge members of the audience to back Obama.

Wearing a pin that said “Hillary Backs Obama, and So Do I,” Kunin said: “It’s no longer a question of comparing Hillary and Obama, it’s a question of comparing Obama and McCain.”

The appeals got a round of applause, suggesting that the women who backed Clinton in the primary and told pollsters they would support GOP nominee John McCain in the general election may be changing their minds.

Allison Stevens

Gen Y Women Vote Too

Young women flocked to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama during the Democratic primary election, turning down the opportunity to elect the first woman to the White House in history.

But just because they didn’t vote Hillary Clinton doesn’t mean they aren’t feminists, according to EMILY’s List, a political action committee dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women.

EMILY’s List unveiled a survey last week that showed that 77 percent of Generation Y women–those between 18 and 27–agree that sexism is still a serious problem for women; 78 percent see a need for a strong women’s rights movement; and 83 percent want more women in political office.

“There’s another kind of mythology that popped up over the course of the nominating process that younger women unlike us old feminists weren’t interested in the women’s movement,” said EMILY’s List president Ellen Malcolm.

The survey found “a lot of enthusiasm” among younger women, she said, for “dealing with some issues of inequity for women in the workplace, building a woman’s movement and electing women to office.”

Allison Stevens

Women’s New Best Friend?

In many ways, Michelle Obama played a conventional role at the Democratic National Convention on Monday night. She emphasized family over work in her opening speech at the convention, speaking about the gratitude she has to her parents, the love she has for her two daughters, and the admiration she has for her husband, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

At the same time, Obama hinted she would break out of the traditional mold, and may in fact be a strong proponent of the advancement of women’s rights.

She noted today’s 88th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

She gave a nod to Hillary Clinton, thanking her for putting “those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling”–a reference to the votes she received in the primary contest–“so that our daughters and sons can dream a little bigger and aim a little higher.”

And most importantly, she credited her husband for his fight to ensure women get the same pay for equal work, a line that got roaring applause from the packed convention hall.

Throughout the campaign, Obama has made issues facing women in the workplace a top priority.

A working mother, Obama has talked often of the difficulty women have balancing the demands of work and family life, an issue that has a particular effect on women because they are the nation’s primary caregivers.

Policy issues that fall under the work-family balance umbrella include allowing employees to take paid leave to take care of themselves or family members, encouraging companies to offer flexible work schedules and promoting telecommuting. All these issues are advocated by women’s rights groups.

“What about the vast majority of women, who are the lifeblood of our society–nurses, schoolteachers, bus drivers, single-parent mothers–who don’t have that structure?” Obama asked in a 2007 interview with National Public Radio. “Is there a way that we can invest differently in this country to bring more support and attention to the issues that are basically strangling the family unit?”

If her husband wins the White House, Obama, in fact, may be the strongest ally women have had in a first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt. First ladies of the modern era have focused on everything from beatification of the highways to drug abuse to literacy to health care, but Obama may be the first in a long time to make an issue of particular concern to women–work-family balance–her top priority in the White House.

Allison Stevens

A Tribute to Stephanie Tubbs Jones

A tea party held by the Feminist Majority Foundation became an impromptu memorial to the memory of Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who died on Aug. 20.

Jones, who entered Congress in 1998 and was chair of the House Ethics Committtee and was the first African American woman to serve on the Ways and Means Committee, died of a brain aneurism.

Connie Schultz, a friend and columnist at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, stepped up to the podium and spoke steadily to the hundreds crammed into Denver’s University Club. “She was fearless,” Schultz said of Tubbs Jones.

Schultz said when Tubbs Jones stuck to her support for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton until the end of the primary season, she faced pressure to support Barack Obama from colleagues along with death threats. Schultz expressed concern, “and she said, ‘Girlfriend, I got no time for fear.'”

“I am greater because I knew Stephanie Tubbs Jones, and I ain’t shuttin’ up any time soon, you can count on that girlfriend,” Schultz said, echoing one of Jones’ common refrains.

Lana Moreski, a Cleveland activist and fundraiser, became emotional as she described how Tubbs Jones drove her home to Virginia one night, even though it was late and the two were both tired. Tubbs Jones was a rare woman, she said.

“She was the woman who would go anywhere for another woman,” she said.

Moreski also told the audience how much Tubbs Jones enjoyed campaigning for Clinton this year.

“When I get very sad, I think about how she died in the year in which she was happiest,” Moreski said.

Ellen Malcolm, president and founder of EMILY’s List, invoked a phrase that Tubbs Jones used to spur on other women as the closing line of her remarks.

“Go get ’em, girlfriends,” Malcolm said to the audience.

Alison Bowen

Minard on Hillary

Sally Minard, a prominent fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, was spotted walking toward the Big Tent for an Air America interview. She sported a large “Hillary Supporter for Obama” button and repeated that Hillary Clinton’s supporters had no choice but to do all they could to see that Barack Obama was elected, just as Hillary was.

Many of Clinton’s positions have now been adopted by Obama, Minard said, particularly the health plan. And Clinton was looking forward to being the person in the Senate who made sure it came to pass; her supporters should too, she emphasized.

Rita Henley Jensen

Clintons 4 McCain

Here at the convention the lingering disappointment of supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton continues to be a topic for the media and attendees. Earlier this week Clinton officially released her delegates to support Sen. Barack Obama in a show of party unity. But some loyalists have not been persuaded, saying they will instead cast their votes for Sen. John McCain.

They include a small band of protesters who marched up Denver’s 16th Street Mall near the convention site. Catherine Couch of Kansas City, Robin Carlson of Los Angeles and Christi Adkins of Washington, D.C., led the group while carrying a banner reading “Clintons 4 McCain.”

It’s not just sexism as a major sore point, the three women agreed, but their disappointment in Obama’s positions overall.

“He’s the wrong candidate,” Carlson said. “We’re just not willing to give him the keys to the nuclear arsenal.”

The three women came together by seeking out like-minded voters over the Internet. A key moment was the Democratic National Committee’s May 31 decision to exclude the delegates from Florida and Michigan, where the primaries were disputed because the states broke party rules. (The party granted Michigan and Florida full voting rights on August 24.)

That last-minute decision did not change Carlson’s mind. After the states were excluded, Carlson turned to McCain, she said, noting that there are 3 million people involved in their coalitions who will have enough impact to determine the election’s outcome.

“We won’t let the Democratic Party do this again,” she said.

Jennifer Thurston

Code Pink Interrupts Pelosi

Clad in pink from head-to-toe and waving signs reading “Stop War” and “We Need Peace,” anti-war women’s group Code Pink interrupted the introduction of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi here at this morning’s Unconventional Women Symposium.

About a dozen protestors walked single file in front of the stage holding a pink banner with “IMPEACH” written in black. A few women trailed with signs saying “War Don’t.”

Audience members chanted “Nancy” as Pelosi maintained a smile as before reminding the audience that freedom of speech “Includes your right to hear the message you came to hear today.”

Protestors scattered in the audience yelled “She’s a liar” and “Do your job.” Three police officers with sheriff’s badges escorted the protestors out, the last of whom yelled “No war in Iraq” as officers guided her out by her elbows. They continued chanting outside.

Gael Murphy, from Washington, D.C., after thanking a police officer for respecting her right to protest, said the group wanted to remind Pelosi that she is the third most powerful woman in the country. “And yet she’s done nothing about the war,” Murphy said.

“We feel like we’re representing the majority of Americans who can’t be here,” Murphy said. “There’s a war going on and people are being killed on a daily basis.”

The symposium began with its creator, Swanee Hunt, the founding director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and BET co-founder Sheila Johnson, now CEO of Salamander Hospitality and the Washington Mystics–a women’s pro-basketball team–reading aloud Abigail Adams’ letters to her husband, John, urging gender equality.

The session also featured Page Gardner, president of Women’s Voices, Women Vote, Dusti Gurule, director of the Latina Initiative, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Ilana Goldman, director of the Women’s Campaign Forum.

The first segment of the six-hour program included a tribute to former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, headed by Maria Echaveste, chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton. Echaveste said Clinton plowed a historic path on the shoulders of centuries of suffragists and women’s rights activists. “Through our history we have progressed,” she said.

Alison Bowen

Ready for the Convention

The Women’s eNews team has arrived in Denver! Our team is ready to roll, including me, Rita Henley Jensen, Allison Stevens, Alison Bowen, Jennifer Thurston, Betsy Chandler, Holly Alden, Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich and Nancy Cook Lauer.

I shared the shuttle to my hotel with a New York state legislator who I have known for a decade or more. Talk turned to the realities of politics and she told the tale of one law-and-order Republican who she enjoyed knowing–for his frankness. She knew his district held many of the state’s prisons and that was the cornerstone of its economy. Chatting in the corridors, she once asked him why he was always proposing longer sentences. “If we keep getting fewer prisoners, we got to keep ’em longer,” he explained. “Brings jobs in my district.”

“What if we built community colleges in your district?” she asked. “They create a lot of jobs too.”

“No good,” he explained. “When they go to college, they don’t vote for me and they leave.”

And there you have it, she told me. No new community colleges, only prisons for his district.

Rita Henley Jensen