By Fran Cronin, Emerge Massachusetts Class of 2013
Last week’s turbulent passage of the expanded version of VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) was a vivid reminder of the political vulnerability of women in this country, especially those marginalized by race, ethnicity, gender orientation and poverty.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.), who has served in the U.S. Senate since 1992, said in a speech on the Senate floor last Thursday, she was “stunned” by the deliberate Republican delays and their exclusionary targeting of native Americans, undocumented immigrants and lesbian, transgender and bisexual women. Since it’s introduction by former Sen. Joe Biden (D.-Del.) in 1994, VAWA has stood firm as the centerpiece to the federal government’s effort to combat domestic and sexual violence. During the past two decades, the bill was reauthorized twice with bipartisan support and without controversy.
But all that changed in 2011 when Senate Democrats sought to add provisions that would protect marginalized women. In Republican speak, the inclusion of these minorities translated into more voting power for women and the Democratic party. The threat so great to Republican Congressmen, the bill spent two years floundering in the partisan wrangling that now strangles Congress.
Putting political cynicism aside, Republicans should pay exceptional attention to the female vote. The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) reports that during the past several elections, voter turnout rates for women equaled or exceeded the voter turnout rates for men. More than half our nation’s population is female and women have cast between four and seven million more votes than men in recent elections.
But passage of VAWA does not guarantee victory for gender equality and individual rights. Budget negotiations and fights for funding begin in earnest the end of the month. On the heels of the passage of VAWA weighs the Supreme Court’s decision on the necessity to extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
We know the power of a successful democracy lies in the representation of its entire populous. Yet there are those who use their political might to stifle individual rights. Women may dominate men in the population census, but in the halls of federal power, only 18% of Congress and 20% of the Senate is female. This unequal balance of power does not advance multiple perspectives nor does it result in leadership that values the general good.
But with the help of Emerge, women like me can launch into the political realm and change the discourse. With Emerge behind us, we women can give voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.
Republicans should worry. Emerge America is grooming Democratic women to run for political office and the political power scale is going to tip. I know. I am EmergeMA, class of 2013. For the past several months when I’ve look around our training room, I see a group of incredibly smart and confident women destined to make a difference.
I am so honored to be among you.