(WOMENSENEWS)–Bemoaning political women’s fate was the predominant refrain among female political commentators after Election Day. Headlines and quotes like “100 Women in Congress? So What,” or “Another Year of the Woman? Not Exactly” were popping up everywhere.
But these commentaries missed the forest for the trees. The truth is: women are making great gains as leaders, and reaching 100 women in Congress is a big deal.
Take the appointment of Sen. Elizabeth Warren to the U.S. Senate Democratic leadership. Think about it: Would the 75 percent male leadership of the top Senate Democrats have selected Warren if her message and her voter base weren’t instrumental to the future of the party? Nope.
And then there’s the appointment of Sen. Amy Klobuchar as chair of the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach committee, which makes her responsible for developing external support for legislation. Klobuchar is the kind of popular retail politician and deal-maker Democrats need in this new Congress. And let’s not forget Sens. Patty Murray and Debbie Stabenow, who maintained their Senate leadership positions.
The elections of women (of both parties) demonstrate that women have, in 2014, moved to the highest rungs of the ladder –a ladder that yes, may poke through the glass ceiling one of these days. In the meanwhile, no worries, these ladders are firmly planted in rooms that matter.
Instead of searching for the negative take on 2014; it’s time to focus on the future and the strategies that will shatter the glass ceiling in every political room. Here’s how we get it done:
- Push Democratic party machines in every region to recruit women for every political office, both elected and appointed. The guys mostly pick the guys they know. Unless more women are in the pipeline, we won’t see the count needed to create big numbers of victories for women candidates.
- Insist that local political kingmakers become queenmakers, by identifying women’s issue advocates who have what it takes to run for office. Political scientists say that women choose to run for political office because of their concern about policy. Why not take advantage of that truth to mobilize the tens of thousands of women across the country working on issues outside the room, to get them to work on those issues inside the room.
- Create fundraising operations everywhere to fund local, regional and state women as candidates. Just as the financial support from political action committee EMILY’s List has dramatically increased the number of Democratic women in the Congress, similar local operations–whether non-partisan, Democratic or Republican–will help women launch and sustain political careers. This will break down the financial barrier to many women running for office and might even help engage new women donors.
- Identify and recruit female candidates who can self-fund. Finding more will help advance women candidates of every sort, for self-funders can make the case when others can’t.
- Write political checks only to female candidates. This strategy would result in women candidates raising more money and would have the dual effect of increasing their odds of winning and the odds of more women entering the fray.
- Identify young, gifted women and support their rise into political leadership. Fifty years ago, A Better Chance was created to identify gifted “[high school] students of color” and give them the opportunity to attend good schools. Why not a bipartisan better chance for gifted, young political women?
- Twin the campaigns to recruit more women candidates and to increase women-voter turnout. Every woman’s vote will build the political power women need to solve the problems plaguing their families’ lives.
These strategies require an intentional effort to bring more women into political office, but today’s climate is ideal for implementing these strategies.
America’s millennial women will soon be among the largest political leadership blocs, and we should engage them now.
A gerrymandered Congressional map means that significant change in the U.S. House of Representatives may be a decade away, so we should invest resources now at the local level to ensure viable female candidates will be ready to step up to Congress when the time comes. And voters want electeds who will address the big issues–the eroding middle class, stagnant wages and underemployment–and I have no doubt female electeds will take these problem head-on, given an opportunity. But we need to elect them in big numbers so that they can.
And, if, in the meantime, they shatter some glass ceilings, great. Meanwhile, let’s do like Debbie, Elizabeth, Amy and Patty: seize the day.