(WOMENSENEWS)– When I heard that U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer would not be seeking reelection in 2016 after 24 years in the Senate and 10 in the House of Representatives, it took me down memory lane to the early 1990s. That was a very different time in the world of women and politics and a simpler type of political campaigning.
That was also the time of the 1992 Senate Judiciary hearings where Anita Hill held the country spellbound with her charges of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas, now a Supreme Court justice. She vividly described encounters with him when they worked together at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The country was transfixed as the hearings played out on national television. In response, Boxer and a group of six other congresswomen marched up the steps of the U.S. Senate and knocked on the door demanding that Hill be allowed to testify. They were turned away.
National media outlets broadcast the picture of the seven congresswomen, which forever defined women as political outsiders at that moment in U.S. history.
The all-male member committee symbolized the lack of representation women had in the U.S. Senate. The anger and frustration that resulted from the disrespect shown to Hill during the hearings led to increased political activity by women across the nation.
That year both Boxer and Dianne Feinstein won seats in the U.S. Senate and California became the first state to have two female senators in Washington. Patty Murray from Washington State and Carole Moseley Braun from Illinois were also elected.
Now there were six women in the Senate, one Republican and five Democrats, and 1992 became known as the "year of the woman."
To this day, I have retained my button that says "I believe Anita Hill." Perhaps, it should have said: "Thank you Anita Hill."
In an interview on Jan. 8, Boxer told reporters "she did not believe she would have been elected to the Senate in her first run without the Thomas investigation."
Need for Gender Equity
In 1992 I was one of two self-appointed co-chairs of the Barbara Boxer Campaign Committee for U.S. Senate in Santa Barbara, where I live. My friend Judy Bennett joined me as co-chair.
I had come to the conviction that a woman must be at the table to participate in political decision-making. If we were to improve the lives of women and their families, our voices had to be heard and our votes cast in equal numbers to men. We needed gender equity in elected office.
Boxer’s record bears out that conviction. Today, Jan. 22, is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade so it is timely to note that she cosponsored the Freedom of Choice Act (2004), which would put the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision into law. She also cosponsored the Title X Family Planning Services Act (2005), which provides greater access to women’s health care, including family planning grants, and fought to overturn the so-called global gag rule, which denies American assistance to foreign countries that provide reproductive services.
She was an original sponsor of the ERA in each congressional term.
Boxer also authored the original Violence Against Women Act when she was in the House of Representatives and co-sponsored the bill in 1994 when it passed in the U.S. Senate. VAWA provides federal funds to investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women as well as to train local law enforcement agencies.
Boxer has also mentored many women, including many who were with her in the early political days.
After taking office, Boxer initiated a successful annual event called Women Making History, honoring women across the state. It has been over 20 years since the first one and the event continues each year. It is Boxer’s effort to recognize other women who have achieved.
Only 31 Women in Congress
Before Boxer’s election to the Senate in 1992, there were only 31 women in Congress: two senators, Nancy Kassenbaum and Barbara Mikulski, 28 in the House of Representatives and one non-voting delegate from the District of Columbia in the House. Now there was an opportunity to increase those numbers.
The Boxer campaign was a grassroots effort across the state of California to win one of its biggest political prizes, a seat in the U.S. Senate. Often during the campaign we heard it couldn’t be done, but we had faith. Sometimes, it felt like a crusade.
We organized coffees, house party fundraisers and demonstrations. The campaign team developed a series of products, including boxer shorts, T-shirts and hats, with the logo BoXer. We called it the BoXer Boutique and sold items out of the back of our cars to raise money.
The greatest challenge came when the Boxer team asked us to do a fundraiser. An impossible task, it seemed at the time, as Boxer was unknown statewide. We worked for weeks trying to convince supporters to attend the event and write checks. Then along came Hill, which enabled us to raise money way beyond our goal and drove the campaign to victory.
With Boxer’s retirement, it is time to recognize her for standing up for what she believes in and fighting for the issues that matter most to women. She is a feminist in and out of office.
In her goodbye video interview with her grandson, where she broke the news of her retirement plan, Boxer said: "As long as there are issues and challenges…I will never retire because that is the meaning of my life."
Thank you Sen. Boxer for being a voice for women and for all you have done for the state of California. And thank you also, Anita Hill.
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